Got into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke: ASK ME ANYTHING!

Ethan is a Colorado native, burgeoning tech enthusiast, and graduating high school senior interested in studying the intersection of computer science and public policy. Having been raised middle school, gone to a public high school, and received offers from top colleges without any legacy status, @ethancollege2020 is happy to share his perspective on how best to craft the narrative of your application and narrow down your college search/decision process.




To learn more about Ethan’s journey, check out his videos profile, stats document, and reflections.

Ethan is our special Guest of the Week, so make sure to ask him all your questions!

You have schools like MIT and Caltech (hardcore engineering schools) on one end, and on there, Amherst, Middlebury etc. What is you intended major, and why such a range of schools?

@vhsdad Definitely, I see what you mean about the range. I think when I first began piecing together my college list, I was unsure what I was looking for in terms of school fit. I found it hard to figure out my preferences (small vs. large, liberal arts vs. specialized, etc.) without visiting.

The two schools I did end up being able to spend a longer amount of time at were Colorado College and CU Boulder. I honestly loved both and could picture myself as a student at either.

But altogether, I would encourage people to do more reflecting than I did about fit. My intended major is computer science with a minor in public policy.

Hopefully this helps to answer your question, and thanks for the comment!

Where did you end up attending and should ranking matter? Not only in terms of superficial prestige but also the alumni network, the endowment, and the recognition of the degree to employers that a top 20 ranking entails.

Congrats on your many acceptances. Which school will you choose and why? Interesting that you were rejected by Cornell because that was always said to be the “easy Ivy” to get into.

As many students with higher stats and impressive profiles get waitlisted and rejected from these schools, there is usually always a hook that results in this many acceptances.

You probably know what hooks are, do you have any?
Financial need of any kind? recruited athlete, legacy?

Also, you say you come from middle class, will you be receiving ANY financial aid?

Thank you for sharing your story. Besides your high stats and outstanding extracurriculars, can I ask what competitive competitions you participated in?


Congratulations Ethan. How did you land so many prestigious internships during high school? What were some specific things you worked on during your internships?

I see that you have done 4 internships in your HS career. Any tips about how to find internships for high school students? What kind of prep is needed to pass the screening for these types of internships? And were these all summer internships?

Thanks for doing this AMA.

My daughter is headed to college in the Fall, and my son will be entering high school this Fall. He’d love to know the math classes you took starting in 9th grade. He already took Algebra and Geometry in middle school and will be taking Algebra II/Trig this coming year. He is looking for a track that can lead him to a school like Duke…our school is a gifted charter school and gives the kids the opportunity to be at the level they need to be but I also don’t want him to go completely crazy if he didn’t have to. Thank you!

@COmama24 That’s super exciting, congrats on your daughter heading to college in the fall! I would not stress out about the math sequence that you decide on. I know people who felt pressured to skip math classes to get an extra edge in, but I think it’s best to find whatever track you’re most comfortable learning at. In 9th grade, I started out in Honors Geometry, but between my freshman and sophomore years, I self-studied Algebra II on Khan Academy and skipped to Precalculus the following grade. Then junior year, I took Calculus AB and now as a senior I’m dual enrolled in Calculus II and Calculus III. I’d even say that taking Algebra II online was unnecessary for me; a better route would have probably been to stick with the 1-year-ahead track. But ultimately there are no wrong choices. Thanks for your question

Congrats!!! You are obviously very happy. But I’m unsure what exactly you can tell us. Do YOU know why you got in? Did the Admissions folks share with you their deliberations?

You seem like many kids- great school, hard classes, loads of EC, etc. But I’m not sure what another high achieving students can “share” that will be helpful.

Your story, like most kids, is great, unique, and, well, your own. Not sure what I can glean from this without having some insight into how you were evaluated.

Please don’t take this as me being rude, mean, etc. I work at a college and have done Admissions for a prominent Graduate program and I know how haphazard the process is, which is why I asked if you had insight on how you were evaluated.

@colyou Thanks for this question, I think the internships were a great way to gain some exposure to possible areas of study. When finding an internship, I would consider the size and hiring requirements of the companies you have in mind. For my first job, I tried to find a small-scale startup who would be more flexible to accommodate a high school student without experience. This role was also without compensation besides vested shares in the company. It lasted through the school year and into the summer. Then once I gained technical experience with that role, I applied to more competitive research internships through summer programs. I would be careful to avoid any that have a price tag to them. Even though the mentorship can be valuable, I don’t think it’s worth it for the student to pay to be doing professional work. After this second role, I applied for a job listing aimed towards undergraduate students at a local aerospace company which was much larger in size than the start-up. I think having exposure to start-up culture made me a more dynamic applicant and helped me get the position in the end. This lasted for half of the summer, and then for the remaining half, I did another research internship at a lab. The free program was administered through a Space Grant Consortium. Hopefully that helps to answer your question! Please let me know if there’s any more help I can provide.

@snsh17 No problem at all, I’m happy to share a little about how the process looked for me. Linked in the post is a stats document with some information about my extracurriculars and test scores. As far as how I crafted my application, I think I focused on communicating two separate but related themes— one that would introduce a more human side of myself through the personal statement and the other that would bring the different extracurriculars together. When you come up with these themes for your application, try to go beyond just combining two fields of study. I knew I wanted to study both computer science and public policy, but my theme was a way to explain how the intersection of both is important. Hopefully that makes sense, and thanks for your question!

@caz0743 Definitely, I’m really grateful for getting these acceptances. I wasn’t expecting it going into the process, but I know that it’s extremely competitive and that there are many more deserving applicants than me. I indicated financial need, and my expected family contribution ranges from about $18k to $40k per year at these colleges. As far as hooks go, I know people stress the importance of having a “spike”. I don’t completely agree in that I think you should stray away from using just one label to define your application. But I think my hook may have been that there was a clear themed developed in my extracurriculars with solid recognition through national and international awards. And the theme that I chose was probably uncommon. Another possible hook is that I go to an average public high school which typically does not send a large amount of students to ivy league colleges. Thanks for your comment!

@profwilliams This is a great point, it’s hard to give advice about the process without knowing how my application was evaluated. After hearing back from colleges, a lot of them sent hand-written postcards or emails with information on what the admissions committee thought of my application, or why it stood out to them. There are two pieces that they seem to highlight:

(1) My personal statement had an intellectually curious, but not overly serious voice. The admission officers enjoyed reading about my interest in a relatively uncommon/unique hobby.

(2) They felt that the mix of work in computer science and political advocacy would suit their colleges interdisciplinary approach to learning.

Hopefully this helps answer your question! I’m not sure exactly what they thought of the application, but these are some pieces I’ve picked up from their feedback so far.

Do you think your letters of recommendation were very important to “validate” your body of work?

I could see your teachers/counselors saying something like “in my 25 years teaching I have not seen a more accomplished student as Ethan, etc.” IMO, these kind of statements will carry a lot of weight.

As I look at your stats, here’s what jumps out at me:

  • 4.0 GPA having taken 17 APs by senior year
  • 35 ACT
  • #1 class rank out of 450
  • "Packaged" yourself well
  • Middle-class from underrepresented state (CO)
  • Excellent awards (International & National)
  • Great internships and experiences
  • Stellar LOCs from your teachers/counselor
  • Well-rounded and consistent student, who seems very humble and likeable

At the end of the day, you have the whole package that would make it very easy for the admissions committee to accept you. Well done!

I think for the lessor applicant, they will have a more difficult time and less success in the college application cycle to highly selective colleges as they will only have some of the above, but not all. At the end of the day, you need to have the adcom “go to bat for you” and be your advocate as there will be many kids with excellent stats that you are competing against.

Thanks for sharing your story and giving back to CC.

How did you get the internships?

I’m 17 and i wanna study in a college in US but i’m not from america and i don’t know how can i get an scholarship for next year can you give me some information please

Congratulations!! What kind of skills did you need going into your internships? Were you expected to know how to code?