Help find math heavy colleges for math head (jr)?


Dual citizen, Germany & USA, male

  • State/Location of residency: (state is important if you apply to any state universities)
  • Type of high school (current college for transfers):
    Tiny, tiny college prep, currently a junior
  • Gender/Race/Ethnicity (optional):
  • Other special factors (first generation to college, legacy, athlete, etc.):
    see above - dual citizen, grew up in Europe, fluent in German & English (in case that matters to anybody)

Intended Major(s)
Pure math

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 4.0
  • Weighted HS GPA (incl. weighting system): 4.7 out of 4.7
  • College GPA (for transfers):
  • Class Rank: hs doesn’t rank, guess would be either 1 or 2
  • ACT/SAT Scores: SAT 1540, 1 attempt
    might make NSMF, but seeing as its CA probably not

(AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes, AP/IB scores for high school; also include level of math and foreign language reached and any unusual academic electives; for transfers, describe your college courses and preparation for your intended major(s))

School only offers honors, is in all honors. Will finish with 4 years of foreign language. Hs finishes with calculus.
Has always done math courses on the side, first through CTY, then through community college. Just finishing calc 1, will move on to calc 2, wants to do calc 3 and either multivariable calculus, linear algebra or topography in senior class

Not quite sure what awards are meant? School does not give out awards, 2020 OMER (not sure this is meant here)

(Include leadership, summer activities, competitions, volunteering, and work experience)
Has been involved in Odyssey of the Mind (international problem solving competition) since 4th grade in Germany, brought program to current school and coached younger classes - made state finals all through high school, placed 16th in world finals in 2020, winner of the OMER for outstanding creativity
Founder & president of math club
Runs a monthly chess club for the city as community service
Tutors math
has been involved in cooking for homeless shelter for years
Spends hours creating Desmos graphs
Watching videos on math, big fan of numberphile
has been taking piano lessons since age 6
Summers: 3 week coding course at Haverford college, 3 week cryptography course online, 5 week civil rights tour through the USA with the goal of learning to discourse with people of diverting values & opinions (NRA lobbyist, gun reform lobbyist, senators, MAGA supporters, etc.), hopefully MathiLy this summer

(Optionally, guess how strong these are and include any other relevant information or circumstances.)
Guessing LORs will be strong
good writer, so essays should fall on the better side

Cost Constraints / Budget
won’t qualify for financial aid, is not necessarily seeking aid


Well, this is what we (I’m the mom of this kid) are asking you wise people. This is a kid very passionate about very theoretical math, is interested in things like hyperbolic geometry and topography. Looking mostly for peers that are equally interested in it, does not want to compete but to collaborate.
Does not want a large school, does not (not, not) want greek life. Location: California preferred, but would go anywhere for the right school. Caltech and Harvey Mudd are on his radar, however those seem very reachy schools.

The difficulty seems to be identifying schools, as almost every college offers a math major, however quite a few tours left the impression that it is not the kind he’s looking for. How do we narrow the search down?

Thank you to everybody who can help, it is much appreciated.


  • Safety (certain admission and affordability)
  • Likely (would be possible, but very unlikely or surprising, for it not to admit or be affordable)
  • Match
  • Reach

One idea might be for your son to look through the online course catalog at colleges he is considering to see what math classes are offered by the schools.

For large universities he can see if there is an honors program and if grad classes are available to undergrads.

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My first instinct was Europe- ZTH Zurich? Oxbridge/Imperial? UParis? They would let him do all math all the time. But if that’s too far, maybe western Canada? They are more subject specific than US schools.

Splitting the difference between CA & Europe, Brown comes to mind- their minimal course requirements would give him lots of freedom, and their math department is strong.

UCB and UCLA are super choices, and while he might not love the university size, the math departments are sub-worlds within the larger university.

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This suggests that a research university with strong graduate math offerings will be the best fit for the student’s math interests, since the student will enter college already very advanced in math.

In California, many of the various UCs have well respected math departments. They are large, however. But upper level and graduate math courses are mostly small.

Recalculate your HS GPA with GPA Calculator for the University of California – RogerHub . Use the weighted capped version for the table below.

Fall 2020 admission rates by campus and HS GPA range from Freshman fall admissions summary | University of California :

Campus 4.20+ 3.80-4.19 3.40-3.79 3.00-3.39
Berkeley 37% 14% 2% 1%
Davis 86% 55% 16% 7%
Irvine 60% 38% 9% 1%
Los Angeles 38% 8% 1% 1%
Merced 98% 97% 95% 88%
Riverside 97% 90% 65% 30%
San Diego 78% 39% 8% 1%
Santa Barbara 81% 40% 9% 2%
Santa Cruz 92% 82% 59% 26%

These are for the whole campus. Different divisions or majors may have different levels selectivity (usually, engineering and computer science majors are more selective).

Other less reachy schools than Caltech and the like may include Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin.

It looks like many of the strongest math departments are at big state flagships or at smaller very reachy private universities (Caltech, Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Rice, etc.). Big state flagships often have fraternities and sororities that appear big in absolute numbers, but may be small in percentage of students participating.

The German language is generally considered helpful for advanced math students (at the graduate level), since some math research papers are written in German. French and Russian are also helpful. Math PhD programs may require a reading knowledge of one of these languages.

Wesleyan - take a look at its offerings and see for yourself whether it is Math-y enough for your son. Be aware that it supports a Phd. program (rare for a LAC) and there would be no problem for exceptionally advanced students to enroll in so-called, 500-level courses:
WesMaps - Wesleyan University
About the Major, Mathematics and Computer Science - Wesleyan University


Math is a strength at Williams College. Hard school to get into, but worth a look. Also, no fraternities.

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This topic may be of interest: For Students Seeking a College Strong in Mathematics. You will see a variety of colleges especially strong in math (including six in California), which you then can research individually.

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Reed is a unique school that places well into math PhD programs if that is a path of interest. They show the top 10 here: Doctoral Degree Productivity - Institutional Research - Reed College.

And this thread may interest you: A place to study pure math— for the love of it

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Reaches might be easier to name. Since your son is so strong, the obvious reaches are famous schools that are strongest in math. Caltech and Harvey Mudd come to mind. Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, Harvard, and MIT are also possibilities. One goal might be to pick about half of these which are the best fits. Caltech and Harvey Mudd might be better fits than UCB but you would know better than me. Your son might also want to look at the graduation requirements for each university, including general education requirements, and see which ones have fewer required courses that he is not interested in.

ETH Zurich also comes to mind, along with something in Germany.

I do not know universities in Germany. I do know a couple of people who live in Germany, one of whom is currently in university in Berlin (he stayed with us as an exchange student) and one of whom works in high tech in Germany (and I need to call him anyway for a different reason). Let me know if you want me to ask them what to suggest in Germany.

Safeties are important. I do not know which Universities of California would be considered safeties for you, nor which other than UCB and UCLA would be best for math.

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Check out Rose-Hulman.

Check whether the upper level pure math offerings are sufficient for a student as advanced as the one in question.

Pure math: 311, 321, 322, 332, 342, 361, 372, 442 (8 courses)
Pure math topics: 341, 411, 412 (3 courses)
Statistics: 343, 344, 345, 391, 392, 393 (6 courses)
Computer science: 382, 387, 388 (3 courses)
Computer science topics: 441 (1 course)

Looks like there is a strong emphasis on applied math (statistics and computer science are also listed there). Check whether pure math offerings are sufficient.

Looks like an extensive listing of pure and applied math courses, but many of them have not been offered in several years.

That’s what I said — "Check out Rose-Hulman". They can check it out and see if it looks like a good fit.

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Re: UC’s for pure math: A couple of math professors I know have said that UCB and UCLA are at the top; next down and still very good would be UC Davis and UC San Diego. Almost all of them are good, though. Also, check out the College of Creative Studies at UCSB— as I understand it, it’s like a grad school at the undergrad level, with fewer (no?) breadth requirements.

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I was just about to recommend the College of Creative Studies at UCSB also. I think it would be a very good fit!

I third this recommendation. It sounds like the OPs kid is a self-motivated learner that could do great in the College of Creative studies. It’s a separate application so a little more work, and requires references and evidence of original work if available. It’s a very small school within the larger university and affords the students some perks but I can’t remember what they all are. And yes, the students do have access to upper division and grad courses.

Good luck!

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One of my kids applied to the College of Creative Studies (for a different discipline) and I was quite impressed with their offerings. Agree that it requires some extra work in the application, but it wasn’t a lot more, at least a couple of years ago.

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Utah would be a good option as a safety. They have a great track record with the best math students winning Churchill scholarships and going on to top grad programs (

A kid who grew up in Europe and would be comfortable there should look at Oxbridge. Oxford is more straightforward than Cambridge for most US students because STEP exams are done along with A levels and so the results come out very late (mid August). But if you like a challenge then see what you think of past STEP papers: a very strong math kid could do them after junior year of high school and a really great result (two S’s) would make Cambridge close to a safety (About STEP | Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing). It is very heavily weighted towards pure math, reflecting the UK A level curriculum.


B/c @Twoin18 is modest, I will point out his bona fides as somebody who did math for both UG & PhD at Cambridge.