I would like to hear your opinions about this. SCEA, International, and NOT a high school senior.

I am an international student, currently a freshman at National Taiwan University.

Applying as an incoming freshman ( I would readily give up my place and all my credits at Taiwan’s best university if I get accepted), I just sent out my SCEA application to Harvard, and would like to hear about what you think of my background.

First of all, my stats (or lack thereof)

  1. GPA and ranking: Are not calculated nor included in my official transcript. I have less than stellar grades (I'm guessing anywhere from 3.3 to 3.6) at a high school that only accepts the top 1~2% scorers on a mandatory, state-issued exam for all Taiwanese ninth graders. My school is insanely competitive, likely even more so than Philips Exeter or other American high schools of that caliber.
  2. SAT scores: Will be out in a week or so. My estimate is 1500+/1600, but I cannot be sure. First (and last) attempt.
  3. SAT Subject Test scores: Will be taking Biology and Math 1 or 2 in November Hopefully 800's on both?
  4. Taiwanese College Entrance Scores: Top ~2 percent for all Taiwanese high school grads (Even more competitive pool compared to the high school entrance group as many kids went to vocational school after junior high)

Specifically, I ranked in the…
99.94th to 99.96th percentile for Chinese


99.99th percentile for English (second highest scorer in the country)
96.13th to 97.16th percentile for Biology


I’m giving this info in order to try and convince the admissions committee that my terrible high school grades are not an accurate representation of my actual academic potential.

My extracurriculars and awards include:

  1. Senior Patrol Leader of my Venture Scout troop (pretty much translates to President) Received the Taipei City Scouting Award and spent a lot of time recruiting new members: we started out as a failing club with only 4 members and by the time I left there were >12 kids. It took a lot of hard work. We also went on many trips (climbing, camping, cliff-diving) and did community service whenever we had the chance.
  2. Completed Academia Sinica's Biology Program for Gifted High School Students Three years' worth of weekends that went towards lectures, lab work, internships, and finally authoring a paper and presenting it in front of some of Taiwan's most influential biologists. Most of the original members eventually dropped out but I stayed to finish everything. My lab PI (who is well-acclaimed in his field of neuroscience) knows me well and wrote my recommendation letter.
  3. I did Biology Olympiad and made it to the National Top 5%.
  4. Taipei City Honor Student, as well as Taipei First Girls' High School Honor Student. I guess my teachers and classmates just like me a lot despite the fact that I have bad grades.
  5. Principal's Award upon high school graduation Voted for the award by faculty members.
  6. I have a Tumblr blog centered on academics and the experience of living in Taiwan with ~10000 followers. I regularly update it with infographics I make, photos I take, tips, and help fellow students out.
  7. Mountaineering Six Peaks above 10000 ft on three separate expeditions.
  8. Translation I'm a published translator. Not the Amazon self-publishing kind...my work was published by a major publishing company Translated two children's books in sixth grade and they are still in print today
  9. Misc: Drama competition, Diplomatic Envoy Competition (in which my team won 6th place nationally), Learning French and Japanese. I'm also involved in an unofficial LGBT Club at my school, me being trans and asexual and all.
  10. Not sure if this matters-I did triathlon in school, gave it up for four/five years, and recently met someone who made me want to complete a full-distance Ironman!

I think I have very good rec letters. I asked teachers who knew me well and like me a lot to write my letters, and they all agreed quite enthusiastically.
My counselor is my Chinese teacher, my biology teacher trained me for the Taipei City Biology Competition and Biology Olympiad (first-hand witness of how geeky I can be), and the aforementioned lab PI.

In my essay, I was very sincere writing about my greatest passion for 16 years: Medicine.
As an aspiring research rheumatologist, I really, really love medicine and I did everything I can to make sure the adcom gets that message. It’s an essential part of who I am and drives every single one of my academic endeavors. I would literally marry medicine if I can.
(No, my parents didn’t push me to become a doctor. They actually want me to go into finance or law or linguistics. Atypical Asian parents)

In the additional information section, I explore the reasons behind my horrible grades: EC’s that became all-consuming, prepping for Taiwanese college entrance exams that had nothing to do with the curriculum, and my personal struggles with a systemic autoimmune disease.

This got really long, and I would just like to know if you would vote me in if you sat on the adcom.
Obviously my biggest insecurity is my transcript, but aside from that, do you think I could stand a chance?
Would Harvard be the school for someone like me? Given that I’m also applying to Yale, Amherst, Penn, and Duke, what are my odds at these schools?

Thanks so, so much for your answer.

I stopped reading after #1.

You are an international student, you attended a highly competitive high school in Taiwan similar to Philips Exeter, and you had less than stellar grades.

Students from highly competitive high schools like Boston Latin, Stuyvesant, Phillips Exeter etc who are NOT in the top 10% of their class DO NOT get accepted to HYP, no matter how high their test scores. According to Harvard’s Common Data Set (http://oir.harvard.edu/files/huoir/files/harvard_cds_2014-15.pdf), 95% of admitted students are in the top 10% of their graduating class. If you are not in the top 10% of your class, I would think your chances as a US applicant are slim to none.

However, international applicants do NOT have the same odds as US applicants. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford and MIT (among other colleges) limit the number of international students to about 10% to 11% of an incoming freshman class. That means that Harvard admits about 160 to 190 international students per year – and most of those students are from 6 countries: Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, China, Japan and Korea.

To see how many students from your country are currently attending Harvard, go to: http://www.hio.harvard.edu/statistics. From the pull-down menus, select STUDENTS, HARVARD COLLEGE (the undergraduate school) and TAIWAN. There are currently 3 students from Taiwan enrolled at Harvard who are freshman, sophomores, juniors or seniors – which means Harvard admits about ONE STUDENT from Taiwan every year. .

Harvard doesn’t publish the number of applications from each country, but to be admitted for that ONE SLOT, you have to be the best-of-the-best from your country. As you are not, it is highly doubtful, almost to the point of improbable, that with your less than stellar grades you will be admitted.

Having registered at a university, you don’t have the option of applying as a freshman anymore. Your application will be considered a transfer application. Which – as an international, from a country/culture that is well represented at Harvard and generates tons of applications – is pretty much the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket.

You are clearly an interesting person, and have a lot to offer, academically and otherwise, which is why I suspect your chance of getting accepted is greater than 0%. But probably not greater than 1 or 2%. Harvard only takes 12-15 transfers per year, and some of them are athletes recruited to plug holes on teams. I don’t know if any are ever internationals; at most it would be one or two, out of hundreds of applications. I think your application will get read and considered, but I have a hard time believing that it will be the very strongest international transfer application received. And that’s what it would have to be,

You are not in the middle of nowhere. You live in a sophisticated city and attend a great university, one that can give you the tools you need to have the kind of life and career you want. You should try to take advantage of that. If you can’t handle staying in Taipei for your education, there are probably dozens of places to which you could transfer. But probably Harvard is not among them.

@JHS: Technically, if the OP were to be accepted in the SCEA round, they could drop out of college, forfeit their credits, and attend Harvard as a freshman applicant. See: https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/application-process/transferring-harvard-college/transfer-eligibility. But as I said, I just don’t see it happening – not with less than stelar grades from a highly competitive Taiwan high school.

Guessing and hoping are pointless endeavors. This really means nothing until you have actual scores to report.

Thanks for your opinion. I applied with pretty much exactly what you said in mind, but the schools I’m applying to are the only ones that fit my situation.

Although H is clearly my first choice because of the financial aid program (hence the SCEA) I don’t think I’ll stand much of a chance. It never hurts to try, though. Who knows?

There are problems with Taiwanese applicants that have never really been addressed before, which I think would make me somehow stand out from the relatively small applicant pool.

Also, the Taiwanese crème-de-la-creme typically do not apply to Harvard: the majority of the ones that do hold Taiwan-US dual citizenships and hence are not included in the international student count you linked me to.

All in all, I definitely would not count on getting accepted, though it would be nice if I got in. Thanks for taking the time to reply-I really appreciate your help!

^^ Best of luck to you. If you haven’t already, you should also note: https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/application-process/what-we-look/interviews

Yes, I am aware of the interview situation. It would’ve been nice if I had an interview, but oh well.

Thanks, that’s exactly the reason why I opted for SCEA instead of attempting to transfer next year. I would never be able to transfer to Harvard in a million years-or Yale, Penn, Amherst, and Duke for that matter.

I know. I’d try to update this post once the scores are out. Thanks anyway.

I think that having high scores and grades that are lower than expected considering those scores, is a red flag for admissions. It can actually be worse than the same grades with lower scores, for college admissions in general. The mismatch you have might indicate a problem with work ethic.

I am sorry you were/are ill. In this country, there are accommodations for students with chronic illness, so you may be at a disadvantage where you are in that regard. Harvard would accommodate you as well but you would have to demonstrate an ability to overcome the obstacle of illness to do the work. In other words, if your illness interfered with work prior to Harvard, it might do the same in college.

Therefore I would not use the illness as an excuse, so to speak. I personally know kids with serious chronic conditions who excelled in school, even while missing months due to illness. They find a lot of support at Harvard and can excel there too. If you were to get in, I hope you would register with the office for disablilities and apply for acommodations.

I am sorry you were not previously given accommodations for your illness, and hope that it is better, at least for a time. I understand how hard it can be. But you will need to do the work at Harvard. Your scores show that and you can certainly try to explain your struggles to admissions. It is tough to get in and you know that already.


Thank you so much for your kind words. Unfortunately the lupus-ish condition has decided to make an unwelcome encore a few weeks ago but I am currently doing well in college :slight_smile:
I’m not disabled, however, and my illness isn’t as damaging as those of many other people. So I only mentioned it in one or two sentences in my application. I hope the admissions committee wouldn’t consider it as just a bad excuse for bad grades. I am glad to hear that Harvard offers people with chronic conditions great support (though hopefully I won’t need it).
Thank you for being so understanding: I “sucked it up” and dealt with it on my own most of the time as friends and family often do not understand “invisible illnesses”.

For now, my fingers are crossed!

I understand the trouble with “invisible illnesses”, believe me : )

You misunderstand. “Disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (which I assume applies to international students) does not mean the same thing as, say, having a car placard for handicapped parking. It is a term that you qualify for if you have an illness like lupus, even if it just flares, say, once a year and even if it does not affect organs but makes you fatigued or have pain. (I have lupus also by the way, get sick in the sun mainly.)

You don’t want to wait for trouble to register with the Office for Disabilities. You just want to do that routinely as a person with a diagnosed chronic illness. They then give you a letter that says you are registered with them, which you give to professors. Your choice what to tell them. The system at Harvard is complex and to save you time, I will tell you, most accommodations happen through a dean. If ill, you must go to the MD, then the dean communicates with professors. It works great.

You should have had extensions on papers or postponements of tests or whatever would have helped you, in high school too. And could have had them in the US.

But now you are applying to schools and I am sure you will do fine. Do let the colleges know. You, your family, or your guidance counselor can write a note to accompany your transcript. It IS good information for a college to have, Harvard or any other school.

I would retract my earlier post in some ways. I think some explanation would help.


Thanks!! I definitely would register if I get admitted! I didn’t imagine any school would go this far to accommodate students with health issues. Certainly without a handicap or a definite Dx (ANA’s just 1:80, ugh) it would be impossible in Taiwan. I’ve already submitted my application though. Would it be a good idea to add something after the submission or just leave it as is?

Also, regarding health insurance coverage…I’m worried about not being able to see a rheumatologist in the US. Do schools cover medical expenses even if I’m a foreign national with a preexisting condition? I heard that healthcare is pretty complicated in the States as opposed to Taiwan where we have access to affordable specialist care without needing a PCP referral…
I’m not exactly in the stablest of conditions right now (currently in flare with persistent low-grade fevers et al.), and worry about inconvenient flare-ups that could cost my family the house.

Thanks so much. I really didn’t expect someone so knowledgeable on this topic on CC. Figured that’s just something I should keep to myself.

Do you have other evidence of lupus or autoimmunity? A diagnosis would be needed for accommodations. Of some sort. Or an MD letter describing your problems, perhaps.

I assume you would get health insurance through the school, which would mean you can see physician’s in the school’s health services, in network - out of network (more money for appointments).

Tuition refund insurance is a good idea too. One of my kids has chronic health conditions and took two leaves, and we got our money back.

Try to protect your transcript while at college. Many students come on here after the fact, saying they are failing due to a health or other problem. We tend to suggest a medical withdrawal, to keep grades clean and to help get money back. It is better to be proactive and register with the Office of Disabilities, pay for the insurance, and let a dean and an MD at the school know you have an illness. The response is usually very helpful.

I wonder if something other than lupus is going on…but maybe there is other documentation besides the ANA.

I am so surprised that no one mentioned the most obvious. It is really difficult to get into a medical school as a foreign student. Less than 1% of medical students in the US are foreign nationals. Those who are admitted need to set up an escrow account equivalent to 1-4 years tuition and fees before the school starts.
If you are truly passion about medicine, you should try the medical school again next year in Taiwan. The difference in medical education between two countries makes it very unlikely for you to pursue the medicine in the US. You may still seek residency in the US after completion of medical school, and it will be easier by then.


I understand. I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to go to med school in the US…which is why I’m preparing for med school entrance exams in Taiwan. If all goes well I’ll defer med school matriculation for two years, go to the US for college, finish med school, and go back to whichever college I was enrolled in to finish college and perhaps apply to residencies/higher degrees.
Sounds like a waste of time and money, but the college experience and possibility of a “real” liberal arts education is what I am in for. Grad school is too “specific” for my tastes, and med school alone is too career-oriented.

Of course, there’s still the possibility of getting a green card while I’m studying in the US (my dad could technically start working for the US branch of his newspaper anytime he wants to), though I wouldn’t want to interfere with his career choices. If that happens, I will be able to apply to med school as a non-international.


Yes-my current diagnosis is Autoimmune Disease NEC. And you’re right- rheumy also diagnosed me with spondyloarthritis due to peripheral arthritis and enthesitis. So yes I do have a diagnosis-it’s just not the complete picture yet.

I’ve scoped out H’s student health services, and they do have rheumatologists! I’ll also go back to Taiwan once or twice a year for follow-ups with my usual doctor just to be on the safe side. Hopefully that’ll prevent exorbitant medical costs. Anyway, I’ll be sure to contact the school before matriculation to sort things out.

Thanks! :slight_smile:

Health services at Harvard are excellent and with a student health plan, costs are minimal. You do have a diagnosis (at your age autoimmune diagnoses are always evolving) so you will be fine in terms of registering with the Disabilities Office.

Uh, I just got my SAT scores and they’re not great. 1480/1600.

This is my first ever attempt at the SAT and I’ve registered for the Subject Tests in November. I’m wondering if I should register for the December one (meaning that if I get deferred they’d review the hopefully higher score in the RD round)?

I’m pretty disappointed in myself. Didn’t think this’ll happen, even though I do know that this is my first attempt and everything.

That’s a fine score. Don’t waste energy on worrying about scores that are excellent. There is little difference in chances of admission between, say, 740 and 780. It doesn’t work like that. (If your scores were not balanced, so that one was 680, that might make a difference, because there are, I believe, benchmarks).

Meh. A 1480 on the NEW SAT is equal to a 2130 on the old SAT, which is a bit on the low side for Harvard. See: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/pdf/higher-ed-brief-sat-concordance.pdf

@gibby @compmom

It’s way, way too low for Harvard especially when my ethnicity and GPA is taken into account. I’m taking it again in December. Aiming for a 1550+ this time and I’m getting it no matter what.
I hope the score gets there in time for RD!!

Also, I have a 710V and 770M