How is This College List for My Daughter?

My daughter will start senior year tomorrow and we have a somewhat short list of schools since she’s not a great writer (we eliminated schools with extensive supplements). I kind of also accepted the fact that she’s laid back and somewhat lazy, thus unwilling to do too many apps. She does have stellar academics and wants to major in something engineering or CS. I’ll start with her stats then the list of schools:

  • asian female in IL, large competitive public HS
  • ACT 36, essay 9 (one sitting)
  • SAT 1580, math 800 reading 780 essay 7/5/7 (one sitting)
  • SAT subject math II Chemistry Physics, all 800's
  • GPA 4.0 uw, not sure of weighted but ranking should be top 2% in class
  • AP 9 tests so far, all 5's, including core subjects like Calc BC, EngLang, WH, Chem, Physics, etc
  • Senior year has 3 AP classes including Physics C and CS, plus other honor's classes
  • Awards: two time AIME (10th & 11th), two time MPFG, plus common ones like NMSF and some type AP scholar for sure.
  • EC is balanced but likely average for top schools. School math team has most time commitment (dozens of competitions each year, many awards), leadership in senior year at two clubs (one cultural one stem, four year participation). Piano 10 years (passed ABRSM grade 8, no competition awards, currently does piano accompany at music school for voice students), martial arts four years but just as hobby. About 200 hours volunteer without much focus.
  • Summer activities, mostly STEM related camps, including the Girls Who Code immersion program and a residential engineering camp at UMich (she loves UMich but not impressed with Bursley Hall).
  • Recs should be good but not outstanding. The school district is dead broke and the teachers union threaten to strike every year. She doesn't really know her counselor and teachers are over-burdened. Her essays will be the wild card, should be OK since she does have good work ethics and is aware of their importance, but essays probably won't be exceptional.

Here are the schools we planned so far (7 total):

Safety: UIUC CoE, CS or CE major, EA; Purdue CoE, EA
Match: UMich CoE, EA; Vandy, Rice, WUSTL
Reach: MIT, EA

Is this a reasonable list? We’ve visited every one except for MIT and she is ok with all of them. Cost is not a consideration for now, but we are hoping for sizable merit award at the match schools. I’d really appreciate any feedback/advice from this forum.

Thanks in advance.

For admissions, it’s on the border between reachy and reasonable. Pretty reasonable for most majors, but CS is often more competitive than the college as a whole. Still, she should get in somewhere from that list.

For sizable merit, add more lower-ranked schools that offer lots of merit for those eye-popping stats.

University of Minnesota as a safety or match, although I don’t know if any merit aid is available for OOS students.

Have you thought about Case Western?
If she demonstrates interest and applies EA, then she’ll likely be considered for their sizable merit awards.
Other schools might include U Rochester and RPI.

I’d hesitate to put UIUC as a safety for CS/CE just because it’s impacted. RPI could be a safety. She’d get merit.

For a reach you might want want to include Carnegie Mellon. Our friend’s daughter goes to MIT and it’s not the happiest of places for her.

I like your list. But my son had very similar stats and we were advised that schools like Vandy and Rice are still reaches. If she likes the two safeties, then it doesn’t matter as much. She’s likely to get into one or more of those matches though. Good luck!

Overall, the list looks fine. She definitely has some good safeties. Having said that, given her strong academic profile, and the competition at the top schools, I would seriously consider adding a few more colleges. Just there are too many strong applicants competing for the coveted spots at the top schools. Also, a not so great essay can derail otherwise a strong applicant. Here are a couple of colleges to consider…Harvey Mudd College, Carnegie Mellon

@fivesages Is UIUC really a safety if the acceptance rate for CS is 8-10% with an ACT average of 34+. It’s a tippy top CS school. Does her instate status push her into the safe zone? Should she have a real safe safety?

@gearmom For IL resident, for all practical purposes, yes for someone with her stats.

She can apply Early Action to both MIT and Caltech. Both are non-restrictive.

Why UMich and Purdue, out of state public colleges? Does she expect scholarships from these 2 colleges?
I would add some private colleges with good need-based financial aid. I think Penn is a match.

Agree that CMU might be good, and the couple essays aren’t too long. She would have to decide 1st choice between CS and engineering, which are in different schools at CMU. Their math department is also very good if she has considered that as a major. It would help to visit and/or interview for admissions, and she may be able to interview with an alumni locally. Being female gives an edge in CS at CMU, which is a top 4 CS program. (There are some merit scholarships, but I think you need to have financial aid paperwork in early–Dec. 1?)

Fair warning, the MIT and Caltech supplements include a lot of essays. But, she has a chance at either one. (No merit scholarships at either one.)

Thanks everyone who posted above. Well, we don’t plan to add more reaches unless she falls in love with Princeton when we go visit later this month. I doubt she will but have to give her a chance to see and decide for herself.

For safeties, our thinking is “no place farther from home but no better” than the two we already have. Is this sound logic? We eliminated UW Madison, UM-TC, CWRU, RPI etc for this reason. Even with comparable costs, D is unlikely to choose them over UIUC or Purdue. UIUC CS may not be a total safety, but D isn’t set on CS anyway. She’ll likely have CE and Engineering undecided as 1st and 2nd choices. I doubt UIUC would turn away an instate female for engineering with 36/1580/4.0. We added Purdue because it’s slightly less selective and admits to college instead of major so she can explore a bit in freshman year before declaring major. Seems Purdue offers merit to OOS as well.

I’ll discuss CMU with her. Somehow she thinks it’s a depressing place. Does CMU give good merit though? We won’t qualify for need based aid. We picked UMich in hope for some large merit award after her summer camp there.

@gearmom do you mind elaborating a bit on why your friend’s daughter doesn’t find MIT a happy place? MIT is actually the only school my D is itching for, everywhere else she’s just fine with.

I’ve tried really hard to keep her list short so she can concentrate on producing some quality essays. If anyone thinks we should replace some schools we have now I’d love to hear it. Eight schools is probably her max so we may have room for just one more, preferably a match with merit potential.

@carbmom That is a difficult major anywhere but at MIT, she found it absolutely grueling. There used to be a really good “day in the life of an MIT student” but I can’t find it. Basically, the students are very similar to your daughter as in they are academic superstars back home. At MIT they are just one of many. No matter how much time was put in the grades didn’t reflect the effort. Quite a shock to go from straight As to Cs, Ds and even failure. A local paper wrote about this.

The parents would not let the daughter leave. Dad is an MIT grad. She ended up switching to an easier major. You just might want to consider fit. If she had a choice between MIT and say Carnegie Mellon or Caltech, she might make her final choice based on fit. And perhaps it’s the same at Carnegie Mellon. IDK It’s not local for us.

Thanks so much @gearmom for the info. Yeah I’m a bit unsure her laid back attitude may not fit MIT’s “drinking from the fire hose” style. We plan to do “shadow a student” there later this month but that may not get us a good feel of how it’s like. Good thing that through many years of math contests D already knows there are plenty of people better than her, so she should have realistic expectations IF she gets admitted. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Any more suggestions about our list? I’m worried it may be a bit reach-y but can’t think of any better matches myself.

@carbmom Honestly, UIUC is such a top, top school for CS. I’d rank it as your second best school after MIT for CS. And it’s a safety and affordable. That could be a dream come true as long as she is alright staying in state. It ranks around 4th or 5th. Anything else suggested would be not even close to the standard of UIUC as a match or safety. You could always sweeten the deal with a study aboard summer.

Shadow a CS or CE major.

@carbmom my daughter is a sophomore in IL large public school, and has similar stats as your daughter. I am thinking ahead for her plans for next summer. Do you mind sharing the name of UM summer camp program? Thanks.

Encourage her to reconsider CMU, as others have already suggested. My impression is that it is rigorous but not with the same intense vibe as MIT. Maybe others can confirm - or not.
Does UMich give awards based on just merit , and not need? I would double check before assuming a good chance at a large merit award .

UMD is worth a look. With such impressive stats , there may be merit available, and they have a top notch CS department. Must apply by Nov. 1, as CS is a popular major.

Also keep in mind that binding ED’s account for a large percentage of slots at WUSTL and Rice. So RD at those places is more of a lottery.

I think you need more safeties - and they have to be financial safeties as well. I think it was mentioned in another thread that high stat kids have safeties and reaches - nothing is really a match any more with so much competition. Even then, many “safeties” turn down kids with high stats because of yield protection.


What level of awards did you daughter win for AIME?

MIT EA is unrestricted.