Help to Build a College List (in dire need of help!)

Hello, I am an incoming senior in high school. I’m currently trying to build a college list with a good helping of safety, match, and reach schools. Here are my stats/info/interests:


  • I am a U.S. citizen
  • State/Location: San Jose, CA
  • Upper middle class (likely no financial aid)
  • High School Type: Large, diverse, competitive public high school
  • Gender/race/ethnicity: Indian female

Raw Data

  • Unweighted Cumulative GPA: 3.744
    Weighted Cumulative GPA: 4.140
    UC Capped: 4.042
    UC Weighted: 4.167
    UC Unweighted GPA: 3.59 (I’ll explain further in my essays/additional info box)
    Academic Unweighted: 3.725
    Academic Weighted: 4.150

  • ACT/SAT Test Scores: currently 32 (will be retaking 3rd time)


AP Biology: B/+ (pandemic 2nd semester is pass/fail)
AP Calculus AB: B+/A-
AP Physics 1: A/A-
AP Language and Comp: B+/ A-
AP Computer Science: A/A+
Dual Enrollment Japanese: A/A/B

(Senior year taking 5-6 APs)

Honors: Biology, Precalc
Accelerated: Alg 2, World History, English 3/4,

My high school offers only these honors and I’ve taken all except ones that could be replaced with AP, which I took instead if available (ex. AP Physics > Physics Honors). We aren’t allowed to take APs in fresh and soph year, but some of the students and I managed to weasel our way into AP Bio in soph. I took every available accelerated class if offered over regular ones.


  • AP Scholar with Honors - 2021

  • Speech and Debate Awards (1st place at Novice 2019, qualified to State Quals in toughest league in state, and qualified to State Championship 6th place 2021)

  • NaNoWriMo (considering whether to add this or not) - 2021

  • (currently applying to environmental/conservation awards)

  • Currently trying to get PVSA (may not be possible though)


I have many, so I will list some of my top ones here

  • Speech and Debate (team is #4 in nation, previously #1 for a while) - Original Advocacy Chair 2021-2022, competitor 2019-2022, placed at many tournaments

  • California Scholarship Federation (big club)- President 2021-2022, Project Coordinator 2020-2021, member 2018-2022

  • SGCSI Internship - Intern 2021

  • Stanford AI Camp - 2021

  • Science Club (small club)- Vice President 2020-2022, Team Lead Graphic Designer 2019-2020, member 2018-2022, Brought professors from Stanford and UC Berkeley to speaking events and founded the school’s first Science Fair

  • EduVisa AP Bio/SAT Bio/SAT Chem Tutor - 2021

  • NovaCrypt - Chief Design Officer 2021, Staff Graphic Design Artist 2020

  • 2 cultural dance teams (Bollywood and Korean) - 2018-2022, 2019-2022

I’ve done a lot more, if you want to see more I can send you my doc.

AP Exam Scores

  • AP Bio: 5

  • AP Calc AB: 4

  • AP Lang and Comp: 4

  • AP CSA: 3 (I did CS camps in summer after, this might help with the score)

  • AP Physics 1: 2 (for context, I was going to either not send this or send a medical record indicating my mental state last year. I’ll explain my context well in the extra info section)


  • UC PIQ1: I’ll explain how I’ve been “weird” and a “loser” my whole life and how I’ve embraced the love of being different to wanting to pursue abstract, unusual things. The reason why I decided to uptake speech and debate and how the event that I do (OA, which has only 1 member when I joined with little resources) actually causes it to become one of the most flexible, allowing me to express who I really am and pioneer new ways that OA can be done. I took it up because I was a kid who was bullied and I wanted to be able to have a voice for the voiceless, research and advocate urgent issues, propose and fight for the best legislative solutions for them, and to become a mentor to reach out to other kids and tell them you can make things you want to see in this world happen.

  • PIQ 2: I might explain other ways I’ve tried to improve the lives of people (such as when I joined a really cool dance club at my school, I found it a shame that so many kids who joined held themselves back a lot because the club was a bit judgemental and hierarchical about dance abilities. Many kids were too shy to try hard because they thought they would be judged. When I joined I would always break the ice with others by saying really weird, random stuff to them and they would immediately get super comfortable with me. I would spend a while at home practicing, even if the practice was to learn the dance, so I would always dance my best at each practice to show those kids that it’s okay to do that. After a while, I saw a lot of the other kids began to try their best too and some of them breaking out of their shells entirely and becoming great dancers.)

  • PIQ 3: I was thinking of talking about how in sophomore Precalculus Honors (a notoriously hard class at my school) I got a C+, but it was the best class I’ve ever taken in my life. I can elaborate on how that was the only math class I felt like my mathematical intuition was truly challenged, and how I felt like the curriculum for once wasn’t about memorizing but truly understanding math and it’s depths. I know it will prepare me for so much more in the future.

  • PIQ 4: I was thinking of maybe further explaining my circumstances, or maybe talking about my love for Physics and natural sciences in general and what my goals in them are.

  • Common App: Not entirely sure yet, but I was thinking of doing some kind of spinoff of the 2nd UC Essay or the 1st one because those things really matter to me a lot.

  • Why Major/Why College: For some of the higher up colleges, I’ll explain that having a rigorous environment and a structured environment is imperative for me to be at my optimal level and do well in classes (I’ll aim for STEM focused LAC’s, or interdisc public/private schools). I’ll also explain my ideas of changing the world of physics through using differing perspectives to investigate the extent of merit that certain phenomena can exist, and under which circumstances they can (under their resources, I can do that). I’ll also explain my passion of interdisciplinary science subjects and why I believe they are necessary in the world, how I would make use of it, and why I like the school/major because of it. I’m also interested in environmental policy/advocacy, so I might also end up talking about that too. Obviously in all of the essays I would throw in a story and mention relevant (but likely not on the EC list) extracurriculars to prove my actions here and there.

  • Interviews: If there’s anything I can do that’s better than expressing myself and my passions through writing, I can do 10x better in talking. I’m definetely taking interviews.

  • Other: I was thinking of just mentioning/linking doctor’s write up with my mental health in junior year. I basically lost all of my friends once quarantine started, and as an extroverted person who really relies on a good support system, it was difficult as with many other students. There is more I can say, but this basically explains my AP score.

  • My first LOR will be from my AP Calc AB teacher, which will likely talk about me as a student who likes to participate and (hopefully, as written in my pointers) take their work very seriously and diligently. My second will be from my AP CSA teacher, who will likely talk more about me as a person and how I love to intersect myself in environments a lot and find places where I’m needed. There is, though, a chance that my Calc teacher talks about my personality and my CSA teacher talks about my rigor. My optional 3rd will either be from my CS Internship Director or speech and debate coach, which will explain my work ethic and positive attitude hopefully (if I decide I’ll use the letter).

Intended Major/Interest

  • I want to get into engineering programs to do Engineering Physics, but if it’s too hard to get in, I might apply in just Physics or Environmental Engineering/Policy (since my stats and interests fit better, all of my OA speeches were on environmental policy) and try to switch to the Engineering Physics major within that college.

Cost Constraints

  • 45k at the very most so likely ~30k highest for TUITION ONLY, unless a merit-based scholarship, FAFSA, or some other scholarships happen to knock off over 10k a year.

Current List

Reach: UCSD, UCI, UCB, CPSLO, UCLA, Tufts, USC, CWR, UIUC, UIC, UT-Austin, CWR, Rice, Northeastern, BostonU, GWU, Scripps (and/or Harvey-Mudd/CMC) + Pepperdine, Occidental, LMU with merit aid
Match: UCD, UCSB, UCSC, SDSU (need more!!!)
Safety: UCR, SFSU (also want to consider more)

College Preference:

  • Preferably, big school with a public school atmosphere and research resources and connections near a big tech hub in California (out-of-state only if very prestigious) that is cheaper/generous financial aid, but also allows you to switch majors relatively easily and where you can get closer to professors (I might do grad school, but not sure).
    This can be public or LAC (private), but if it’s a LAC, I’m looking for one with an engineering program with good STEM resources and connections that prepares you well both grad school and career-wise.

:pray: Thank you so much for making it down here. It means a lot to me.

I would make some changes to your current list such as the following:

  1. SDSU and UCSC should be in the Match category
  2. UCSD along with UCI in the Low Reach category

You have Occidental in the Safety and Reach category. If the maximum budget is $45K then Occidental, Pepperdine and LMU would not be safeties since Safeties need to be affordable and within budget. With merit aid they could meet your budget but merit aid would make them more of a Reach which places them in the Match/Target or Low Reach category.

You might want to consider Cal Poly SLO (another High Match/Reach school depending upon applied major) or Cal Poly Pomona which would be a Match.

For the majority of the UC’s and the Cal states, they admit for Engineering by major so if your first choice is Engineering then apply for a direct admit. A couple of UC’s consider alternate majors so Physics would be a good 2nd option.

Environmental Engineering is either a direct admit or part of the Civil engineering program at the schools and Environmental Policy would be a separate major so you would need to choose one or the other when applying.

You really only need 2 safety schools and UCR/SFSU would qualify.

Below is the 2020 UC admit data since 2021 has not been posted. Engineering admit rates will be lower and require higher GPA for the best chances. Since UC’s and CSU’s are test blind, your UC/CSU GPA along with grades in your science and math courses will be weighted heavily.

2020 Freshman admit rates for UC GPA of 3.80-4.19 capped weighted and not major specific:

UCB: 14%

UCLA: 8%

UCSD: 39%

UCSB: 40%

UCD: 55%

UCI: 38%

UCSC: 82%

UCR: 90%

UCM: 97%

2020 UC capped weighted GPA averages along with 25th-75th percentile range:

UCB: 4.22 (4.13-4.30)

UCLA: 4.25 (4.18-4.31)

UCSD: 4.16 (4.04-4.28)

UCSB: 4.15 (4.03-4.27)

UCI: 4.11 (3.96-4.26)

UCD: 4.10 (3.95-4.25) Updated for 2021

UCSC: 3.94 (3.71-4.16)

UCR: 3.88 (3.65-4.11)

UCM: 3.68 (3.40-3.96)

You are a qualified applicant so best of luck.

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Thank you so much! I’ll definitely make those edits right now.

California has a great in-state public university system. I expect that you will do well there (probably not at UCB or UCLA, but the other UCs are all very good). However I will let people from out west comment on them.

Speaking about my side of the country, I would be very surprised if BU or Northeastern or Tufts would fit your budget. Frankly, given the quality of the UCs I am not convinced that I would fly across the country to be full pay at any of them either (although they are also very good schools). Have you run the NPCs for them?

I would also run the NPCs for the other private schools on your list and the out of state public universities.

Have you looked at WUE schools?

I do not know whether your safeties are really safeties for both admission and cost, but if they are then you have plenty.

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Thanks so much for the response, I’ll edit my list to be more financially conscious of that. I didn’t consider the price of east coast schools but my parents were fine with paying more as long as it was worth it. But that is a very good point. I’ve run the NPC on Tufts and it wasn’t that awesome, but I left it on because it’s hard to find a big university/college that offers interdisciplinary emphasis and has STEM focuses/connections in my fields of interest. I’ve actually never heard of WUE schools but they look very interesting, I’ll definitely look into them more!


Discounted tuition for WUE schools but some have restrictions on majors.


You have a very solid record. Congrats. But at $45K, you’ll have some limited options.

Your reaches are really reaches - UIUC for engineering, UT Austin (brutal out of state), Rice, Neastern, etc. I would at least take out UIUC, UT Austin, and Rice as I don’t see a path - and expense wise it’s not going to work for you.

Take a look at Rose Hulman (may be too small), RPI, WPI and then in public schools to hit your budget, Arizona, maybe Arizona State, Alabama, MS State, and Arkansas. To stay regional, Oregon State. If you say - UIUC and UT are higher ranked - I get it - add a Purdue instead of UIUC (will meet your budget) - it’s a reach as is UIUC. And instead of UT, add Texas A&M. add a Colorado School of Mines or UF. Again reaches. But UF for sure - is within budget.

There are smaller schools like Pepperdine -Gonzaga, that may work. Or Union in NY. But again, your budget is an issue. You may consider Cal Poly Pomona, btw as an instate option. Bradley, a regional school, but they’ll tell you your scholarship up front on their website and you’ll get in.

You might look at W&L - they are seeking diversity - it’s likely a no. But sign up on their and anyone else’s email list and they’ll send you free apps. Their Johnson Scholarship is unreal - unlikely, but hey why not try if you have a slot left.

If you decide to go Physics instead, look at a College of Charleston (a couple engineering majors), U of Pacific, and Eckerd in the Tampa area - which might work budget wise.

Good luck

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I was thinking CWRU as you described what you’re looking for. (Open door policy re: major, option of Engineering Physics, and a nice environment for a student who considers herself somewhat “weird”) I think the likelihood of enough merit to get you down to $45K/year is fairly low, but it’s worth a try.

LMU seems like a promising target that has your desired major, but getting enough merit is by no means a slam dunk.

This program at U of Arizona seems like a possible fit, and I believe you could count on affordability with your stats: Requirements for the BS in Applied Physics | UA Science | Physics UNR could be a nice safety that’s driving distance from the Bay Area and likely very affordable with the WUE discount plus merit. Bachelor's Degree in Engineering Physics | Degrees & Programs | University of Nevada, Reno Also in the WUE network, Washington State and U of Utah could be worth a look - both have applied physics options. All of these universities have Honors Colleges that could enhance your experience.

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Thanks so much for your thoughtful response! I’m honestly considering talking to my parents again and hopefully bumping the budget up to around 50-60k since I’m starting to see that my options really are quite limited with these prices. I’m actually not able to edit my post above for some reason, but I will add all of these to my actual list and look into their programs.

Thank you sincerely for the detailed response : ) CWRU’s fit seems really amazing, I will certainly look into it more. I think I might consider increasing the budget a bit higher since I realize many reach schools likely need some compromise, but those programs seem very fit for what I’m looking for right now! I can’t edit my post above for some reason, but I will add these options on my real college list document.


I am not sure that UIC is a reach - it depends which major. If you are looking to major in any type of engineering, though, you need to be in the top 30% of your class to be considered, unless your school does not rank. Although they are test-optional, your ACT is in their college of engineering’s top 25%, so you should submit it.

If you are applying to LAS, UIC will be a low match for you, or even a likely, and you can transfer to engineering, if you do well in the required prerequisite courses (look at the requirements on their website).

UIUC for LAS would be a match/high match. Engineering would be a high reach.

Harvey Mudd, CMC, and Rice are very high reaches, but apply if you want to.

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Update: I’m not able to edit my post anymore for some reason, I see that CWR is there twice accidentally and I’d like to add other things to my list that other people have mentioned-- but for now I can’t make those changes directly on there : ( So sorry about that.

I have two kids going to school. One is an engineer at Bama (60% OOS, lots from the Northeast, Midwest, and West - his first roommate was from Phoenix. After the $28.5K OOS scholarship, I’m paying $17 or $18K including room and board. Note - most colleges - there’s an engineering surcharge of a few thousand dollars you won’t see in tuition. At Bama, with a 30 ACT, they reverse it- they give you $2,500.

The second is at College of Charleston - a nice, mid size school. Her stats are a tad better than yours but similar. She’s a Charleston Fellow - sort of their prized students - and I just stroked a check for less than $4K for the first semester - including room and board.

If your search is wide and you find schools where you over deliver, you can easily beat your budget. @aquapt gave you some great ideas.


In your financial calculations, consider that it’s not unusual to take a little more than 4 years to complete an engineering degree.

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There’s little reason to go above this range, especially since you should have some instate options costing $30K-$35K and you are looking for a “big school with a public school atmosphere and research resources”.

So most of the OOS and private schools you listed seem to be too expensive. There are other OOS choices in the western US that fit your criteria: Arizona, ASU and Utah are all fairly comparable in costs to UCs (Arizona/ASU with auto merit and Utah with WUE) and should all be big school safeties. Personally I’d choose any of those over UCR/SFSU. We really like the outdoor lifestyle at Utah and Salt Lake City is definitely developing as a tech hub. But I think you will also end up with some options amongst the mid tier UCs/SLO/SDSU.


Thanks for the response! My school does not rank actually, but I do know that I’m in the top 50% at least with GPA.

Thanks so much for this insight, I had absolutely no idea about Utah and Arizona. It’s so cool that Salt Lake City has growing resources and that there might be other cities with similar environments as well! I’ll definitely look into more universities in the West and edit my safeties list to include them : )

That’s a good point, I didn’t consider that at all-- I’ll definitely be more conscious of college costs and allow more room for extra tuition in case this does happen. Thank you!!

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