Do I have a balanced list? [LA resident, 4.0, 36, NMSF, <$25k, biology or physics, pre-med]

Hi! I will be a senior next year so I am trying to really focus on my college application list. I know I should have a balanced number of safeties, matches, and reaches, with mostly matches. However, I’m chasing merit scholarships, not simply admission, so it’s hard for me to gauge what really is a match, safety, etc.
I have a 36 in every ACT section (not a Superscore :laughing:), 4.0 UW GPA, will qualify for national merit. took AP human geo freshman year (5), AP world history sophomore (5), AP calc bc, AP French, AP bio, APUSH, and AP English junior year (no scores yet—predicting 4-5, 3, 5, 5, 5 respectively). Next year I plan to take AP stats, AP physics, AP music theory, AP gov, and AP English lit, but I may have a scheduling issue with physics and music theory :frowning: . My core classes that weren’t AP were honors or gifted.
I’ll also be in a program through a local branch of my state’s flagship university where I do research on the blood-brain barrier of sickle cell patients under a Ph.D. fellow. That will run through this summer and next school year.
Mock trial 9-12th grade, won at the district level and went to state. Expecting to go to state next year. Will be President next year.
NHS 10-12th. Was social media manager this year and will be President next year.
Tri-M music honors society 9-12th, social media manager this year, thinking of running for VP next year.
I’ve played the piano since kindergarten, won 2nd in my district’s biggest competition freshman year and this year, qualified for state both but didn’t have the competition freshman year because of Covid. State is this Saturday. I receive the highest scores possible at most of my competitions. However, my pieces aren’t at a level that will get me scholarships at a competitive music school like Vandy. Maybe 5-10k at a lesser-ranked music school (pieces include Debussy’s arabesque no. 1, chopins waltz in C# minor, Bach’s prelude and fugue in C minor, Haydn’s sonata in d major). I’m going to minor in music and may double major if possible, but it probably won’t be.

I’m looking to find more matches, but mainly more safeties that I would actually enjoy. I plan to major in either Biology, Biophysics (if offered), or Astrophysics/physics with a minor in music. I’d love to also take some astronomy classes but I don’t care if I take enough to have a minor. I’m deciding between being an OB/GYN or Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist (so med school) or an astrophysicist (so Ph.D. program). Also, are some of what I listed as matches actually safeties or reaches? Or others in the wrong category? For suggestions, I like 5-15k size the best but bigger is fine but not UT-Austin size. Smaller is fine but not under 2.5-3k. I like the mid-Atlantic area but I don’t care that much. I’d prefer not the deep south, but I have many there on my list anyway. I don’t like big SEC schools very much. I’m from NW Louisiana. I’m pretty sure my budget is between $20-25k/year. I won’t qualify for financial aid. I’d prefer not to go somewhere religiously affiliated unless it’s barely present.

Current list–
Extreme Reaches that I’m applying to w/their scholarship program bc why not:

Case Western
University of Richmond? Borderline target
Carnegie Mellon
Georgia Tech

UMiami (Florida)
Tulane (way easier to get scholarships if from LA)
University of Pittsburgh
UMass Amherst

LSU (will only go if I get stamps scholarship. I don’t like baton rouge or the party SEC school vibe)
University of Oklahoma
Colorado State?
University of Arkansas
University of Tulsa (National Merit)

Is this list accurate? Should I add more of anything? Should I take off some of anything? I will apply as soon as I can to most of these. I can’t ED anywhere because of $$, but I’ll apply early action to Tulane and Case Western for sure because they are big on demonstrated interest. Thanks!

Your list is interesting.

Safeties I think are all solid- all are within the 70-80% acceptance rate- is there any specific one from that list that you already are drawn to, or do you not like any of them very much? I can recommend other safeties if need be. /curiously

I wouldn’t say Lehigh is a target per se. Their acceptance rate this year was 28% (see here: Class of 2027's acceptance rate drops to 28% - The Brown and White) so I’d peg it as a reach for you. /thoughtful

UMass is a reach school of some sort because they admit like 10% of OOS students. /thoughtful

UPitt is a good target, I don’t know much about the merit aid, but I’m sure others can chime in- paging @AustenNut, @thumper1, and @DramaMama2021- I think they can help some more than I can. Plus they’ve given me solid advice. /warmly

I am going to shamelessly throw In Northeastern (15k undergrad population)- it’s in the heart of Boston and NMFs tend to get good aid packages- if you’re into the city, big school, not-rah-rah athletic type, with artsy and diverse vibey type place, that’s NEU for you. It might not be affordable depending on your FAFSA EFC, but they do give good merit aid to NMFs, fyi. You might make the Honors Program there too, and they also do the Stamps Scholars program as well as Torch Scholars (see here: Merit Scholarships | Undergraduate Admissions) If it’s not your vibe or unaffordable, I have other ideas in mind. /warmly

UNC- which campus? If you’re talking about Chapel Hill, I would throw that into the high reach category. It’s ridiculously hard to get in if you’re not in-state. If it’s one of the other campuses, I’d throw it in the target category depending on which campus. /musing

UVA, Case Western, GTech, Emory- all reaches, for sure. Emory might even make the high reach list along with CMU. /thinking

Have you looked at music-specific schools- conservatories? Or are you looking for more general schools? There are LACs with great programs- the more selective ones are schools like Hamilton, Grinnell, etc, but there are some that are less selective- which aren’t quite coming to mind right now. I’ll add more later if I remember. /warmly

also y’all if i’m incorrect about something let me know- this is from some minimal search and from my own experiences of applying to various schools. /warmly

Good school :slightly_smiling_face: but…

OP states she doesn’t qualify for aid, and NEU’s merit aid will likely not get her COA all the way down to $20-25k. Plus, they have a strong preference for ED and it’s getting increasingly hard for unhooked applicants applying EA/RD to get admitted to the Boston campus.


For each school you need to make sure 1) that they offer merit and 2) what their highest merit award is - then add that figure to your budget and see where it comes out. You should then eliminate any schools that aren’t going to be affordable. For example, I don’t think UVA and UNC are going to come in at budget (unless you have been nominated for the Morehead Cain) since they largely award need-based aid (although you should double check this). Academically, your list seems good - it is the financial piece that will be toughest.


That’s what I thought- wasn’t sure if it was possible but I thought it might be worth a shot mentioning it- EA also skews a lot of acceptances as well. NEU would give OP decent merit aid regardless if accepted, although I can’t say how much. Whelp, at least I gave it a shot. :rofl: /warmly

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Congratulations on your achievements.

You need to run the net price calculators at all the schools on your list, I think a lot of them won’t get to your price range. Some may if you get the big merit/named scholarship awards like at Vandy and Duke and a number of others on your list.

If you like Tulsa and Oklahoma as your safeties, you can be done for safeties because Tulsa is full ride for NMF, Oklahoma full tuition. Not sure if Arkansas will be affordable, I think max NMF is $10K/year, but they do stack so maybe that would work out. I don’t think Col State will be affordable.

I also doubt Pitt will be affordable (but it’s an easy app so get that submitted in August). UConn, Northeastern, Bucknell, and Lehigh likely won’t get close to your budget, so I might rethink/drop those. Do you think you need more matches if you are happy with Tulsa and Oklahoma?

CMU offers no merit aid, only need based aid, so off the list it goes. Any school that doesn’t offer merit aid is not a possibility for you.

This is quite a few apps, and the essay load will be high just for the applications, not to mention more for the various scholarship programs. I would cut the number of reaches.


I don’t have a specific safety that I just love. They all have pros and cons. UNC was chapel hill. I might just take it off the list because I didn’t love it when I toured it. It’s still on because it’s in the area that I like and their tuition is relatively low. I’m not going into music as a career so I’m not looking into conservatories. I do like LAC’s and I love the concept of studying a lot of different things, but I’m worried about the science programs. A lot of the LAC’s that have good science programs don’t have merit scholarships.

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Pitt would work if you win a Chancellor scholarship. They do offer a med school guarantee for stellar students. You would be competitive. Excellent school for anything medical.

Georgia Tech would work if you win a Stamps. They offer 40 I think. Maybe being a female would be a boost?

Maybe look at more schools that offer guaranteed money for NMF? UTDallas? I think FSU offers money plus Honors. Pretty campus and happy kids. S21 is very happy there.

Have you shadowed doctors yet?

If you’re looking to chop the list maybe schools like UConn? Probably too expensive and a pain to get to unless there’s direct flights.


Yeah. My school is a nominating school for the UVA scholarship and I am hoping and praying that they pick me. I go to a really competitive school but I’ve casually let it be known to my favorite teacher and counselor that I love uva. If I don’t get nominated it’ll go off the list though.


Arkansas does a 90% OOS tuition waiver for neighboring states and I might win a scholarship on top of that. Either way, that alone makes it affordable.

I don’t love Tulsa or Oklahoma, but I know I could be happy there. I can make pretty much anywhere work (except like Liberty or a 900 person college) and I’d rather go somewhere that isn’t my first choice than be in debt. But they aren’t my favorites either. I haven’t toured them though so that may change things.

I must have missed that about CMU. Thanks!


I’m worried about the social scene at UTD and it’s a little close to home. I know a girl who is going there next year though so I’ll ask her about how she likes it. FSU is too big for me.

Based on this and someone else’s comment I will chop UConn.

I want to shadow doctors this summer or next year

Prioritize getting direct experience with patients like as an assistant CNA, or EMT (I think you have to be 17 by the end of the HS EMT course to take it) over physician shadowing experience. You might also consider volunteering in a hospital, hospice, or long-term care setting too.

Edits bc I can’t figure out how to edit the post: taking off UNC, UConn, and CMU. Clarifying that if I don’t get nominated for the big UVA scholarship, I’ll take it off.


So I like your list and don’t like your list.

The first thing I’d ask is and maybe I missed it - what is your budget?

I know you’ve posted before - but chasing merit is one thing - but what price point are you trying to get to.

Tulsa is very respected - it’s the kind of school someone might attend if they didn’t get into Rice, as an example or WUSTL. So if you’re like - worst case I’ll go there - free. Then take your shots everywhere.

But budget matters - because if you said $10K a year, then Alabama needs to be on your list - because it’s automatic free tuition and four years housing. Unless again, you’re ok with Tulsa…or UTD or Maine.

So let us know if you’re at $10K, $20K, $50K, etc.

Then we can gauge your list better.

Also, let us know if you have demonstrated need - i.e. run a net price calculator for a Case Western or UNC and let us know what they say. You may say $20K is tops but if Case says $50K is what you can pay, then we need to remove a lot of these.

I can advise better after but I’m guessing a lot of your list should come off.

And if you’re doing physics/astrophysics, you won’t get better bang for the buck than Arizona. Cheap, easy, and top ranked.

25 Best Colleges for a Physics Degree 2020 | GradReports

Given the FA picture for you I’d suggest you not “fall in love” with any of the schools you’re applying to. You may get into a good number of the schools on your list but the one that’s affordable to you may not be the one you’re in love with.

Not an advertisement for Jeff or his methodology but can give you a good idea what colleges offer substantial merit versus not (broadly).


My budget is $20-25k. Maybe $30k. We probably won’t qualify for need. My parents are divorced and remarried. We’d barely qualify for need if they weren’t, but most schools look at stepparents and parents so we definitely don’t now.

Did you mean Tulsa or Tulane? If Tulsa then that’s great, I had just never heard of it being that highly spoken of before. I don’t think I would like Alabama. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like everything I don’t like about LSU…but worse. With sororities, SEC sports craze, etc.


I ran a npc for my dad’s household and the efc’s ran everywhere between 30-35kk (uva) and 80k (brown). He makes 250-300k (stepmom doesn’t work) but I have two sisters, two brothers (one of whom is a baby) and a baby sister on the way and my dad has very little in savings. I’m guessing schools that didn’t list any aid don’t pay attention to siblings. But, most schools that gave us aid (like uva) look at both households. I’m assuming my mom’s household will have an efc of 35-45k so when you add them together, you get no aid.

U of Tulsa.

Tulane is a no go unless there’s some type of locals package.

You need to go visit - so many kids go and fall in love. My son did - chose it over Purdue. Only went because three kids from his HS invited him to go. A recent kid on here was going to Pitt and visited Bama and it was game over once he went. It’s different than LSU - much bigger area wise and it’s 58% OOS. Not saying you’d like it - but they have Randall Research and Blount Scholars and more National Merit Scholars than any school in America…so it’s a big southern state school but it has differences. And when you have a $25K budget, there will be tradeoffs.

Again, if you visited Tulsa and were worst case I’d go here and be happy - then anything else is fair game. Arizona, given your interest in astrophysics - yes, another big state school but would be a home run given their reputation (and merit…before you get to the NMF part - it’s good even without as would be Bama).

I would remove UNC and UVA - unless you’re willing to grind it out for their full rides - and they are huge grinds. Same with Ga Tech although they have some full rides - but how many can you chase if they have so much work involved. Not sure if Emory does full rides - I know at least half. A USC might be a better chance - they give half and full to NMF.

Don’t understand Bucknell - won’t hit price. Miami - maybe they have full rides but if not remove. Pitt - unless a minority - gone. UMASS, UCONN, Colorado State - what is different about these than LSU/Arkansas/OU - gone. They won’t meet budget. Lehigh - unless they have a full ride - gone.

Instead of a Bucknell or Lehigh, go for an SMU Presidential (full ride) or Washington & Lee Johnson - full ride to 10% of the incoming class.

But as someone pointed out - you have to have a school that you can afford and would be excited to attend - whether LSU, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tulsa - if you say - I get into 10 but this is the only one I could afford and I’d be excited to go there - then great. But if this happened and you wouldn’t be excited - then you need a more focused list - with more schools that not only can get you to your # but will. You have many that - only with a prayer - will get you to your #. So if you want smaller, it might be schools like UAH or Truman State or Missouri Science and Tech, etc. You might also look at Hendrix as they’re likely to match LSUs tuition. Ogelthorpe will too - but not as strong a school.

Good luck.


If your dad is making $250-300K, no school in America (except maybe Princeton) is going to give you need aid. My guess is something was filled out wrong for UVA.


I think it was the basically no savings? I thought the same. But I have a feeling he has more savings than he’ll let me know about. Either way, I’ve given up on financial aid and probably won’t even apply for it.

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