Got into MIT, Cornell, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Purdue. Chose Berkeley for CS. ASK ME ANYTHING!

Neha is a senior at a high school in California, applying computer science. She was accepted to the following schools:

MIT, Cornell, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, UIUC, Purdue, Cal Poly SLO, UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State, San Jose State

She has a 4.0/4.6, 1550, will be valedictorian, and has leadership positions in numerous CS and humanities related ECs.

@penguin2 committed to Berkeley! Her plan is to study EECS and possibly graduate early to get a masters elsewhere.

Neha is our Guest Student of the Week and happy to answer questions on her application and why she chose Berkeley.


Neha, why did you choose to do CS in UCB(EECS) ? Did you ever consider other career options like Pre-med etc ?

Congratulations Neha, that is quite an accomplishment! UCB is a great school.

Two questions:

  1. What were your leadership positions in CS, and what were your ECs?
  1. Why did you decide on UCB instead of MIT?


My options growing up were CS, med, and law. From the start, I didn’t take to med or law because of the ethical concerns with law, the long hours (and the fact that I sucked at freshman year biology) for med, and the extensive schooling for both. Throughout high school, I cultivated my interest in CS and just kept trying out more activities to keep my passion for it alive.

@Lila Bear

Thank you for the support!

  1. I was president of our school’s computer science club, math team, and robotics team. I also did CS-related research all four years and held two paid internships.
  2. I decided on UCB because I’m upper middle class, and 320K for undergrad isn’t worth it even if it’s MIT. Going to UCB would let me graduate in 3 years and save about 220K. I also have the Regents scholarship, so I don’t need to worry about getting into classes, and there’s the benefit of being near home and Silicon Valley. If you’d like more detail, my MIT vs UCB thread ( has nearly 200 replies and helped me decide on UCB.
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Congrats on UCB! Few questions:

  1. How did you do CS-related research all four years? Did you use data sets and analyze them in new ways?
  2. What do you think was the biggest thing that helped you get into these schools?
  3. Any recommendations for summer programs?

@penquin2 Neha Congratulations on your achievements!! My son who is a rising Junior has his sights set on MIT for aerospace engineering. Any tips? Which other universities would be a good match since he will be applying to several even though MIT is his dream school?


Thank you!

  1. My school has an independent science research cohort, in which we are mentored by two of our faculty members who have PhDs and extensive research experience and are invited to compete and present at conferences. I realize that not everyone has this, so I would encourage you to form a team of two or three people and start your own research project as soon as possible! And sometimes I used available datasets, sometimes I did bio-related research and compiled the data, then analyzed it.
  2. I think it was my essays. I’m not an exceptional applicant by any means (no ISEF/IMO/USACO), so the differentiating factor must have been how I presented myself. It could also have been my participation in SSP, which I know is a feeder to many top schools. Most of my classmates from there ended up at HYPSM.
  3. I went to UCSC SIP after sophomore year and SSP after junior year. During all three summers, I also took a dual enrollment course at a community college.

Hi! I may be late, but you are living my dream. My passion is CS and I would love to go to UCB. I was wondering how you got into those positions and were able to do those opportunities (like the clubs, research and internships)? What did you write about in your essay? and how much computer science (like languages) did you know throughout high school and how did you learn computer science in high school? thank you so much for your time! I wish you the best of luck!


Thank you! MIT is an amazing school, and I wish him good luck. However, I would encourage you to try to shift the focus away from MIT a bit, because it’ll be crushing if he gets rejected. I was set on Stanford since middle school, and getting rejected REA caused a really low period in my life. Having a dream school this early on is ambitious, and I respect him for that, but the risk of being heartbroken is too much.
For concrete tips, I would recommend starting on essays as soon as possible and to not be afraid to restart them if they don’t flow. Also, he might be tempted to wax lyrical about his tech-related achievements in those essays since it’s MIT, but don’t do that. They’ll already know your STEM involvement from your activities list, and they’re looking for your character in your essays.
I’m not familiar with aerospace, but I know Caltech and Purdue are leaders in the field.

@Sierra Brandt

Thank you! You’re not too late. Out of the four club presidencies I had, I rose up in the ranks of an existing team for 3 and founded 1 of them. I found that applying on Linkedin for internships didn’t work, so I just cold-emailed a dozen nearby startups and got into those. As I mentioned above, the research program existed in my high school, but I had to do the work for it at home. My essays for UCB and MIT were very different, since UCB is more straight to the point no nonsense, and MIT is quirky. For UCB I wrote about robotics, and for MIT a magazine I’ve been subscribed to for years and how my perspectives on it changed over time. I know Python, C, Java, and C++, but I never put that on my application and I don’t think it matters very much to admissions. I learned Java through APCSA, Python because most CS research uses Python, and C and C++ for robotics. Hope this helps!

Hi! it’s me again. I love the idea of emailing startups directly and for sure will use that knowledge in the future. My biggest hold back is that I don’t feel confident/qualified for the intern. For example, not knowing enough programming or engineering skills. How did you gain the confidence or knowledge to apply to these interns? And did you need to know skills going into them? Thank you again for the response and help.

@Sierra Brandt

Thanks for your question! You can only apply for internships once you’re 16 (government child labor laws), and by then I had research experience with machine learning and Python. I suppose it depends where you’re interning. At a hardcore AI startup, they can only support 40 employees so are looking for people who know their stuff. If you’d like to ease into the internship sphere and gain some knowledge before applying for a tech role, you could apply to be a marketing or web development intern. Those are easier and can be learned alone at home, whereas being a CS intern requires team effort with the rest of the startup to get accustomed to what platforms they’re using.

@penguin2. Neha, thank you for your timely response! I was thinking the same thing about him not getting too caught up in a “dream school”.


You’re looking really good! I don’t know which colleges you’re applying to (I assume JHU’s on there, and maybe Brown PMLE), so I suggest applying ED to one of those. If cost is a concern, consider applying to a public school and for scholarships, because med school bills stack up. If you can get HOSA of FHW up off the ground, colleges love seeing kids who start something on their own. Also in your essays, steer clear of talking about how you want to become a surgeon to save lives. Maybe mention it once, but your whole common app essay shouldn’t be identical to every other pre-med’s essay. Good luck!

Thanks for your reply. Good luck at UCB. Really, freshman biology was so bad that you dropped medicine out of consideration. D had admission to UCB (CS) a few years ago but opted for a bs/md program. So I was curious why did you not go to med.

Please consider applying to bs/md programs like NU HPME, WASHU bs/md, Brown PLME and UPitts GAP. They are also very selective.


Thanks for your question! Think about whether you want to have a shot at Stanford, even if it’s 4%, whether you want to have a 30% shot at JHU, or a 4% shot at Brown. Personally, I’d recommend EDing Brown and RDing the rest, since you still have a decent chance at JHU RD but very low chance at Brown RD. Stanford’s hit or miss either way. Your essay topic is heartwrenching, but the trap a lot of these essays (family member dying of cancer → kid becomes a doctor/global citizen) is that you describe the setting too vividly and don’t talk about yourself. AOs can imagine how awful it is to watch the health of a loved one deteriorate, but that story can be told by anyone. They want to know specifically what it taught you, what you were thinking.

Hey, Congrats on your big achievement! I just wanted to ask which college is better to choose and hope you can give me some input. So I recently just committed to SJSU for business Management info systems and I was ready to go. But then the UCSC waitlist got out and I got in for Tech and Info Management. I’ve been confused ever since because I don’t know which school gives me the best opportunity to succeed. Pls let me know. Thanks!

I got off the waitlist at Case Western and I received a 25K scholarship. I plan to study biology and later on go to medical school and then become a psychiatrist. If I go in-state to the University of Arizona, I will be paying about 15K for housing. But, if I go to Case Western, I will be paying about 53K a year to go. What do you think is the best decision for a pre-med student?