Do I have a hook and what college is right for me?

Looking at some forums on CC, I found that a lot of people agree that only hook applicants have good chances for EA in colleges like Harvard and Stanford. I have seen varied definitions of a “hook” student, so I am writing it down to ask in the forum.

I am an immigrant (moved from S. Korea to the U.S in 6th) as my dad works in the automobile industry. That being said, I learned CAD and other engineering knowledge when I was pretty young and had a particular interest in cars. I started doing independent research for the science fair, which qualified for ISEF in 2018, 19, 20 (also placed high). The researches done are related to electric vehicle technologies, which I very well understand the current and future trend. I have a paper on energy published in an Elsevier Journal (IF: 4, youngest person to publish in that journal), have a paper being proceed in SAE International (novel hybrid EV powertrain, done with peer review), and doing research for electric truck powertrain development (will submit to IEEE conference). I did not really need any assistance for my projects as they are all in engineering (no need of labs and dangerous equipment), so I am the first author of all my researches.

So, as you may have found, I have an interest in automobiles and will work in that industry in the future. The question is, does this count somewhat of a hook for the college application? Also, I still don’t know what college is the best for me. After visiting Harvard and seeing their new engineering building, I would like to submit my EA to them. Your thoughts?

Also, I am from a southern state (not so great education…) and middle-class income (~60,000) if that contributes to anything.

No. I do not think it is a hook, though it is an interesting activity, probably rare in applicants at such schools and should be mentioned in your essay. Also write a bit about this interest and activity to your GC in the papers s/he’ll ask you to fill out about yourself so a tie in to that is in your application

A hook is something that a college wants enough to have a specific category to give it extra consideration. Development is a hook because colleges need money, and those who donate a lot to colleges do get some special consideration for their children in admissions. Legacy can be a hook— alumni’s children are often considered in a whole separate pool from the other applicants. URM status often also has such a pool. Athletes are considered in conjunction with the Athletic Dept and coaches. These are all hooks.

There are also winners of academic competitions and those who have done truly unusual things. That’s where you are inquiring about your interest and activity in automobiles. If you have accomplishments in this area that are truly noteworthy, it certainly can generate interest but I do not see a college specially seeking such a thing.

First, you have some interesting and impressive things listed but those aren’t really a hook. A hook is something a college really wants: a big donor, a famous relative, a recruited athlete, URM. You don’t mention grades or test scores and admissions go way beyond that anyway. It is hard to say what the likelihood of being admitted is at a school with a minuscule acceptance rate. More important, the only thing worse than a rejection letter is an acceptance letter with a price your family can’t afford. Run the NPC of schools you are interested in and talk to your parents about how much they can, and will willingly, pay. If you come back with your stats and price range, people can recommend schools that would be a good fit. Harvard is a great school but they turn away many highly qualified applicants every year. If you love it and it’s your first choice, there is nothing wrong with applying. Just make sure you have affordable options and better chances of admission.

Actually, I am going to make a suggestion anyway. We toured Lafayette College with D20 and one of the things that stuck in my mind is they have an engineering program that has a motor sports component and students have worked to design award-winning cars. One of them is on display in the engineering building, which was pretty cool. Lafayette is a great school and you would have a better chance of admission.

If you are interested in the auto industry, look at U. of Michigan and Purdue.

Michigan has super close ties with the big 3 auto companies.

Purdue partners with Subaru and one of their main supplier, Yajima, is establishing their US headquarters in Lafayette:,-aerospace-leader-yajima-to-establish-us-headquarters-in-purdue-research-park.html

Both schools have amazing engineering facilities with well established industry ties.

IMO, both are much stronger for engineering than Harvard.

Just curious: why Harvard and not MIT, if you want to start from the very top?

After visiting Harvard and seeing their new engineering building, I would like to submit my EA to them


So, you toured the Lamborghini showroom and decided you would like one.

Do you have the deposit (the grades and the test scores)? As @helpingmom40 asked, can your family make the payments? If yes to both- and if you are Green card holder, not here on a different visa - then you are a competitive candidate.

If you are here on a work visa, then you are applying as an international student and all bets are off.

Read this from MIT:

It could be a hook for a university with a special program with the automotive industry.

Northwestern University has a long standing, well established program with Ford through NU’s engineering department. Northwestern is a very wealthy university (top 10 endowment fund) and has a generous (no loans & meets full need ?) financial aid program.

Check out the large Southern public universities (Univ. of Alabama, Univ. of South Carolina, and the Univ. of Mississippi) for any programs with auto manufacturers. The South attracts auto plants through generous incentives.

Also look at the University of Texas in Austin as Tesla recently announced that it is building a plant in Austin.

Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois (adjacent to Chicago) may be your best & lowest cost (possibly free) option.

As inexperienced I am in both colleges, its based on,

  1. few of my older friends went to MIT and I heard the extreme difficulty.
  2. Although my career is probably chosen in STEM, I would still like be friends with and to have conversations with future writers, historians, lawyers, and politicians.

Luckily, we got our citizenship pretty fast after telling about my age (need to get it before certain age or I will have to apply again).

“2) Although my career is probably chosen in STEM, I would still like be friends with and to have conversations with future writers, historians, lawyers, and politicians.”

That would still happen at Michigan or Purdue…or most other US universities!

@kalicmariw What is your home state, budget and stats. Don’t overlook the southern programs (depending on your home state): UNCC, Clemson, UTC… These schools have great connections with racing (Nascar), performance vehicles (BMW), etc.

The OP said that their family income is around $60k. That likely makes the B1G Engineering schools unaffordable. Without some academic stats from the OP additional speculation is useless.

Additional info.

  1. I already have scholarships.
  2. Top 1 percent in rank (4.6 gpa), 1550 SAT.

Michigan gives OOS need based aid.

@Eeyore123: I disagree that a family income of $60,000 makes all Big 10 engineering schools unaffordable. If OP applies for need based aid & is accepted by Northwestern, OP may receive a full ride or close to it due to Northwestern’s generous financial aid policy.

P.S. Middle income families tend to be the ones for whom higher education is “unaffordable”. An applicant with outstanding numbers from a modest / low income family can afford to attend schools with a “meets full need” financial aid policy.

$60,000 per year is middle income, since it is the 47th percentile of household income in the US, even though it may be modest in terms of affording college.

Since colleges with good need-based financial aid are mostly highly selective ones, it is mainly those students who have top end credentials (perhaps like the OP) who have a good chance at getting admitted to them (or big scholarships at other colleges). Most other students from middle income families are likely to be limited to commuting to local public colleges.

In the world of higher education and private school tuition, $60,000 per year family income is low.

Everything needs to be viewed in context.

If OP is fortunate enough to get into Harvard, at a family income of $60,000, and assuming commensurate assets, Harvard would be pretty much free.