College suggestions for chemistry-interested junior

Hi there! I’m a high school junior from Texas and I’m beginning to do research and build my college list. I’ve gotten input from several sources but I thought it would be good to hear from some other voices and these forums have been informational in the past. As of now, I am probably interested in a graduate degree related to chemistry, not pre med or other professional tracks. My current interest is mainly organic or bioorganic chemistry but of course, I’m also still in high school so that could change. Here are my “stats”:

Financial Situation: Our EFC, as calculated by the College Board page, is around $35,000-$40,000 a year. We have significant college savings (a little over $100,000) and I’m an only child. My parents are hoping to not pay more than $40,000-$45,000 a year and I will definitely apply for financial aid.
Demographics: White male from a large city in Texas
GPA: 4.00 UW, 4.67 W
Rank: 4 out of around 600
SAT: 1590; 790 ERW, 800 Math
PSAT: 1500 (NMSF decisions obviously haven’t come out but I feel pretty confident with my score)
Course Rigor: I’ve had 6 APs with 5 5’s and 1 4 and I am taking 5 more this year. Additionally, a few college-level non-APs like organic chem


  • Junior State of America (JSA) chapter president and state-level cabinet member
  • Member of varsity tennis team since freshman year and current co-captain
  • Co-president of science club, which competes in state science competitions
  • NHS
  • Working on two social justice-related projects about racial segregation at my high school and policing in our city
  • Hope to participate in a chemistry research internship this summer, mainly dependent on the COVID situation
  • Plan to compete in the US National Chem Olympiad

As far as a college list goes, I have a preliminary list but I would like some feedback on its feasibility, what schools might not be best, schools to consider, etc. I’m not picky on location, school size, and city/town size (I first thought I would lean towards an urban campus but I think I can see myself in a secluded place like Williams). I would like a place where I can participate in ECs that interst me, including playing sports at a casual level and social justice causes.
Right now I am thinking:

  • UT Austin (I will be auto-admit and it is very strong in most areas, including chem)
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (seems to be strong, especially for chem, and is fairly safe for admissions but I don’t know how financially safe it is??)
  • Northwestern
  • Williams
  • Amherst
  • Carleton
  • Harvard
  • Columbia
  • Case Western Reserve
  • Stanford
  • Johns Hopkins

I plan on applying to around 10 colleges (I realize I listed 11). My main questions include: does this list have a good mix of safety, match, and reach? I realize it includes quite a few reach schools but because I will be auto-admit to UT and it is a very good school I think I have a bit more room to apply to more reaches. Are there other schools that you would suggest looking at in the safety and match category, particularly if they’re financially generous?

Lastly, I am leaning away from certain very STEM-focused schools like MIT, Caltech, and Harvey Mudd because I would enjoy schools with a bigger diversity of academic interests.

Thank you for the help!

Do you have an idea of what you want to do with chemistry? It makes a difference whether you are applying into something like chemical engineering vs biochemistry.

Berkeley has a top College of Chemistry . You would need to pay out of state tuition but it is a big campus in an urban setting with sports and social justice. You might also look at the SEEDS Program

With Texas as both a admissions and financial safety, you can take a bunch of moonshots. I wouldn’t look at other public schools, most of the ones at UT level or better will likely have a higher net cost. The only exception is if you want to go really cheap.

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I agree with @Eeyore123 that UT-Austin is a fantastic safety for you.

Given that you have UT-Austin in your back pocket, I don’t see that Case Western Reserve is a substantial upgrade from that. And in terms of public schools, I would only count UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and Michigan as being better overall. While I know that UIUC is very strong in chemistry, and that is your intended major, realize that a large majority of students change their major.

From your listed accomplishments, you are competitive for every elite college, but without a “wow” spike yet, admission to places like Harvard or Stanford is still a longshot.

I recommend you seriously consider Yale. Not only is it very strong in chemistry, but they actively recruit strong STEM students who would otherwise go to Harvard, Stanford, or MIT. An example of their emphasis on STEM is that they are the only HYPSM that gives likely letters to strong regular decision STEM applicants. And then the recipients of these letters get invited to Yale Engineering and Science Weekend (YES-W) where Yale convinces them to join the class. All things being equal, you have a better shot of admission to Yale than to Harvard or Stanford.

One other place to consider is Vanderbilt, mainly because they have merit scholarships.

Sounds like you’ve got a good list going! Congrats on all of your achievements thus far- very impressive!

I think in Chemistry, you can be successful anywhere. You listed the top of the top - but don’t forget, many “lesser pedigree” schools offer great financial options with your stats. So if money is an issue, if UT is too urban or big, going to another school and taking part in Honors could be for you. Schools like Arizona and Alabama bring big $$, South Carolina, Clemson, UGA, etc. have great Honors Programs.

Honestly, so many schools send out admission waivers - no need to stop at 10 - and put some schools in there that you can be assured are cheap - as I mentioned and Florida State. Most “essays” can be recycled and many today let you self report SAT until you accept, so costs is less a factor.

Your #s are fantastic - but at many schools you listed even the best of the best are no sure bet.

Also, you list small liberal Arts Schools and bigger schools. You might add an Emory, a Wash U St. Louis (free apply this year), Washington & Lee - Free Apply and Johnson Scholarship which is the best program in America, and SMU.

Lots of ways you can go - do you have monetary needs (scholarships)? If so, depending on your families finances you might be limiting yourself.

btw - what FAFSA says your EFC is and what the colleges say - and all those privates use the CSS - you will find is very very different.

So you have spending limits - add some “cheap” publics…as I re-read your note I see that.

Have you tried the net price calculator on the web site of each college in your list?

For further ideas, you may want to search “15 Best Value Small Colleges for a Chemistry Degree,” in which schools such as Swarthmore, Hamilton and Bowdoin appear (as does the tech-focused Caltech).

Note also that chemistry is not associated with as high paying careers as some other majors like chemical engineering, so be wary about taking on a lot of debt.

However, PhD programs worth attending should be fully funded.

This could all change but as of now I am leaning towards a general chemistry major, not chemical engineering. I am thinking organic or bioorganic for a graduate-level degree.

Berkeley is certainly on my radar, the only downside is the high cost of attendance for an out of state student like myself.

Thanks for your reply, I had been wondering if the “moonshot” strategy would be worthwhile given my situation and interests. My family would be very comfortable paying the cost of school at UT which alleviates some concerns about cost as far as safety schools are concerned

I agree, Case Western would probably not make sense compared to UT, since UT is as strong or stronger academically and would be almost certainly cheaper. I’ve thought about those three state schools but as I mentioned in replying to @lkg4answers , those schools are all very expensive for an OOS student like myself.

Schools like Harvard or Stanford are certainly a longshot; I have quite a few schools on my list that are the reachiest-of-the-reach but given my interest in and auto-admission to UT, it seems like it doesn’t hurt to try for some longshots. Thanks for the recommendation about Yale and the information, I wasn’t aware of much of that. I will do some more research!

@tsbna44 Thanks for the recommendations. I think that I would be happy at UT, the money shouldn’t be an issue there, and I am strongly considering applying to honors programs there like Dean’s scholars. I will think about those suggestions for Emory, Wash U St. Louis, etc., all schools which have come up in my research.

@ucbalumnus I have. They range from very affordable for UT Austin, Harvard, and Stanford to a bit expensive but probably worth it for the program for Northwestern and Johns Hopkins. And yes, I have noticed that chemical engineering tends to have higher salaries than chemistry, especially at the undergrad level. I currently do plan to pursue a PhD program.

Also I have just now received a recommendation to reply to several posts at once using @ instead of replying to people separately; sorry about that, I’m new to posting on the forum.

That’s good because the job market for those with a BS in the sciences isn’t that great. There’s a PhD glut (spend a few minutes looking it up online) so you’d want to get a PhD yourself to be able to compete for good jobs in industry if you don’t want to go into academia.

In order to get into a top PhD program you’ll need good grades and letters of rec. This is on your shoulders. It’s too easy at a larger college to just go to class and assume that if you do well then your future is taken care of. You’ll need to make the effort to stand out by getting to know some profs (there will be office hours for every class you take) and looking for research to participate in.

I would add UChicago to my moonshot list. They do give some merit, and it is stackable with need based aid.

With your stats and UT as a safety you should shoot for the stars!!!
MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Rice, JHU …

OP should consider UCB a high reach, because the OP would need a Regents’ scholarship for it to be affordable.

Someone else on this thread suggested a similar strategy. Would most people here recommend it, considering I have a great safety school? I see posts on here about people receiving an onslaught of rejections but I guess with my safety I can afford to take more risks?

Do you have an application budget? I would apply to at least 3 safeties (but many may not even require separate applications or supplemental essays), and however many of your match schools that you can since you are such a strong applicant. Obviously, with $80 application fees, some people may have an application budget. Plus, many of your match schools will have a lot of supplemental components. Some people may not like me calling them match schools but your stats do truly match the applicants of the school. Admission to all is still unlikely since they have such low acceptance rates so you could call them reach it’s whatever you want really. Nothing is assured but I’m pretty sure you’re going to a great school:)