Junior Deciding between Cornell, Penn, and Princeton Early Action/Decision (Chance Me/Match Me)

Demographics: Asian, Male, US Public School (relatively difficult grading), New York, upper middle class
Legacy: Cornell, distant legacy at Penn

Intended Major (s): Computer Science/political science (have not really decided)

GPA (my school does not weight anything): 4.0/4.0, 99/100

SAT: 1550 (superscore)

SAT2s: Math II (800) → I could not take any others due to Covid

APs (sophomore): AP World (5), APCS (5), AP Calc (5)
APs (junior): AP Stats, APUSH, AP Spanish, AP Lang
(scores pending)
APs (senior): Planning to take 4 APs

College Classes:
Calculus 3 (A)
Linear Algebra (A)

Awards (in no particular order)

  1. Regeneron ISEF Finalist: 2nd Place in Category, Rob and Melani Sustainability Service 1st Award
  2. Genius Olympiad Bronze Medal
  3. Harvard Book Prize
  4. Gilder Lehrman-RISE Prize
  5. Regional Science Fair 2nd Place (qualified for ISEF)
  6. National Academic World Quest 4th Place (I had to qualify for this by placing at regional competition)
  7. National History Bowl Qualification
  8. Scholastic Writing Awards: 1 regional gold key, 2 silver keys
  9. Borlaug Scholar awarded by New York State Food Institute
  10. Global Youth Institute (World Food Prize) delegate (selected to represent my state)

Founded environmental modeling platform/software

  1. Won at competitions listed above
  2. Received research grant
  3. Pitched to scientists at NASA and the Department of Environmental Conservation (collaboration pending)

Founded history/political science/economics competition club in my school district

  1. Members competed in several national competitions and have won awards
  2. I run an academic journal to publish student research
  3. I have a Junior High program as well to garner interest in history there

Freshman/JV/Varsity Soccer (3+ years)
Freshman Baseball (1 year)
Travel Soccer (4 years)
Squash (2 years)

Publication in economics journal
Publication pending for environmental modeling research
I have written papers about computational ecology (for ISEF), economics (one was published), economic history, food security

Internships/Summer Programs:
NASA SEES Program internship
Boys State 2021 delegate

Computer fluency:
Python, machine learning, Java, GIS…
I specialize in ecological modeling mostly

Schools I am considering for early decision/action:
Cornell, Penn, Princeton

I am unsure at which “level” I should apply early. Any help or school suggestions would be greatly appreciated. (sorry if I made an error, I am new to this platform).

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I disagree with your premise that those 3 schools are at different “levels”. I’m guessing you figure that Cornell is the “easiest” Ivy, Penn is the “average” Ivy and Princeton is the “top” Ivy- apologies if I am mistaken. But if I am right- get over that mindset!

The “best” school is the one that suits you best. Because you have two strongly defined areas of interest and are undecided between them, look more closely at

  1. the specifics of each subject at each school - dive deep into the department info. Do any of them seem more interesting to you than the others? Put aside all other considerations for this exercise: where do you see things that make you think 'oooh, that sounds really interesting?

  2. look at the practicalities of how CS and PoliSci work together: if you decided that you want to continue doing some of both (whether majoring in one and just taking some classes for fun in the other, double majoring, major/minoring, etc) , how practical is that? (factors such as distance on campus, required course loads, when typical class sessions are).

  3. look at the larger things about each school (eg, environment, campus culture) and think about which one is the best fit for you.

In your world you may be caught up in “people will think I am more impressive if I go to Princeton than if I go to Cornell” or “my legacy card only works for Penn or Cornell if I ED, and I don’t want to waste that bump” or “if I don’t get into an Ivy I will have wasted all that hard work / my parents will be disappointed in me”. If any of those thoughts are playing in your head, do your best to put them away- they are not helpful.

There is no meaningful difference in what you will be able to achieve as an UG between them- yes, rep-wise for CS they are typically seen as Cornell > Princeton > Penn, and for PoliSci the other way around, but 1) it is splitting hairs, and more importantly 2) irl all 3 will offer you more opportunities than you can take advantage of in 4 years, and any ‘ratings’ differences will be much less important to your experience than what you do with those opportunities.

tl;dr- spend some more time figuring out which school’s combination of course options / campus / culture is the best fit for you

ps, “distant” legacy doesn’t carry at UPenn- parents and grandparents only. IIRC Cornell is direct descendent, with the most weight going to children of parents who attended UG, and legacy has less impact at Cornell than Penn


For your intended major, and as a legacy, Cornell ED gets my vote but only if it is really your top choice school.


Thanks for the advice! My top choice is Princeton socially/academically/location. I just think it is risky to apply there because if I am rejected, it is going to be hard to get into places regular decision due to the volume of applications. So I guess my question is: what are my chances of getting into Princeton?

Princeton is my top choice right now. I was unsure if am qualified to get in. I guess I should have said what are my chances of getting into Princeton specifically in my question.

Your chances are the same at all of them, with the exception of the bump in the ED round at Cornell. All of these schools get way more qualified applicants than they have room for. At Princeton, that means 94 out of 100 applicants are turned away, many who have awards and recognition. At that level, it is pretty much a roll of the dice.

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If you think you want to do Poly Sci, consider ILR at Cornell vs Arts and Sciences.

If this year is anything like last year, your chances at any of them are going to be harder than you expected and there will be tons of ED applications. That said, don’t apply to what you think is a given as ED, apply to what you want and what will be the best fit for you.

As @helpingmom40 said, it is really a roll of the dice. Is Princeton back in the ED/REA game this year after sitting out last year? Look at your school’s naviance and where they send kids. Our high school never gets anyone into Princeton, so someone applying there will know it’s a huge longshot. We always get someone into Penn, but they are always some sort of super legacy. We usually have good luck with Cornell, but this year our school was completely shut out. My son, who is legacy (but via step-parent) was deferred then rejected. They took about 40% of their class from URM, and 60% POC so maybe that helps/hurts you. CS/Poli Sci is a great mix at Cornell in Arts and Sciences for sure. Cornell has that rumor of being the easiest Ivy to get into, but it’s also the biggest Ivy so that could be why, it is also known as one of the hardest once there. My D is there and loves it, but works very hard. Also, their career placement center is not great. A lot of the response is to contact alumni and to leave the students to really do much of the legwork on their own, which is disappointing when you know other schools with programs that are not as highly regarded have much more of a focus of job/internship placement. Every internship my D has found she did it without their help, but it has been harder and I know for a lot of her friends same thing. Her Professors for CS have been phenomenal. She got to see just how well of a job they’ve done during her internship this summer with what she knows vs what other students from other schools don’t know, or haven’t yet learned.

All 3 are different settings and sizes as well so if you’re leaning towards Princeton, then that’s where you should point to. Also for the record, going to an Ivy is not everything. Make sure you cast a wide net. If this year is anything like last year, peopel will need to be prepared for a long process and lots of applications.


Yes, Princeton resumes its SCEA program this year.

You may have a better than average chance, which, unfortunately, doesn’t really mean much, especially considering the demographic group you’re in. Your odds are certainly better with Cornell ED (especially with your legacy status), but you do have to give up your other options by going the ED route. If you aren’t sure Cornell is your first choice, you may regret it later.


@contnmom Thank you for the suggestion!

Also I forgot to list some things in my original post:
Research Intern/volunteer for 2 years at local nature preserve
App Developer at a local environmental non-profit

My school does well at Cornell and Harvard, and we do ok at Penn. I have not heard of anyone going to Princeton from my school, so that is definitely something I should take into consideration.


I did not see any AP sciences in your original post. Do you have any and just forgot to list them? Keep in mind that these universities look for rigor across all core courses.

Especially as an in-state applicant. Contract schools at Cornell give some weight to in-state applications.

Only two issues with ILR - 1. smaller college size (but I think higher acceptance rate?) than A&S, 2. Most of the folks I know from ILR showed a strong interest in labor studies before applying.

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My school does not allow students to take an AP Science class before senior year. I will be taking AP Chemistry senior year. There was not room in my schedule for AP sciences anyway since I am 3 years ahead in my math classes, so I have been fitting in college courses as well. (The prerequisite for AP Physics, AP Chem, and AP Bio is Honors Physics, Honors Chem, and Honors Bio respectively at my school.)

@CountryMom2 yes, ILR may not match with my interests that well, so I probably will not consider it early decision. Thank you for the feedback.

I was also wondering how much winning a grand prize at ISEF increases my chances at these schools. I have heard many different opinions regarding this.

Winning at ISEF is no doubt a great accomplishment and will help your chances. However, ISEF winners aren’t viewed in the same way as medalists in math or one of the major sciences Olympiads (even though one of the CC threads on HS accomplishments list them pretty close to each other). The reasons are simple: a) winning ISEF is typically much less an individual effort (mentoring and collaboration plays a much bigger role) and it’s difficult to assess the student’s own contribution; b) inaccessibility to mentors and projects makes the competitions only available to relatively few students; and c) judging is much more subjective (than the Olympiads).


This is not accurate. There is a reason why our local public high school gets anywhere from 6-12 students admitted to Cornell each year (and similar numbers to Vanderbilt) and no more than five to all the HYPSMs combined. Cornell is an easier admit.

@applyingtocollege121, in terms of admission, I think you have a good shot at Cornell ED, and your chances diminish rapidly at Penn and Princeton (unless you actually qualify for legacy at Penn, as they define it).

@applyingtocollege121 , the ISEF Finalist is top 600, correct? That’s nice to have, but it won’t move the needle much at Princeton. Can help a bit at Cornell.


@hebegebe According the their website, ISEF is top 1,800 out of 7 million students. I won 2nd place in my category (grand prize) as well as a special award. I should probably emphasize the fact that I did my ISEF project without a mentor in my application. Probably still not as sought after as the Olympiads, but it is still something good to emphasize.

Thanks for the feedback!

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So you won prize money? If so, that is definitely worth mentioning as I think that fewer than 100 win prize money.

Also, are you participating in Regeneron STS? If possible, you should.

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Thanks for clarifying about the AP science courses.
I am in agreement with many of the posts here that Cornell ED would be a good bet, although not a guarantee by any means. I believe their college of arts and sciences would be a good fit for both CS and your interests in the social sciences. You also have legacy,which you do not have in the other two.
However, if you want to aim only for Princeton, ask yourself “Why Princeton?” What unique talents would you bring to their program? What do they offer in their programs that is distinctive to you?

When my rising senior had MIT stuck in his head,I encouraged him to reflect on these types of questions. Along with looking at Naviance and my insights gleaned from CC and our college counselor, he was able to get a better sense of what to look for in his college list.

ISEF grand award winner is a big deal. 2nd Place is not too shabby. This will certainly get noticed.

You mentioned distant legacy at Penn. What exactly do you mean by that? I believe Penn only values legacy if one of your parents did their undergrad at one of the Penn colleges. Graduate legacy is more of a black box.

Also your class rank. Are you valedictorian? Or in contention for it?