My Experiences

I have decided to share my experiences with the college admissions process in order to help future applicants get through this strange and often convoluted process. This wasn’t written for CC but I believe it may serve some purpose here, as well.

Some brief background information (a narrative essentially):

I went to a tier-2 (not overall but by CC standards) boarding school where I was roughly 5th out of 100 with a 3.86 GPA and a 2370 SAT score with an average of 790 over 4 SAT IIs. I had numerous ECs and leadership positions in the archetypical-overachiever clubs, sports, and awards with some HYPSM-level research experiences in the elite labs of the world. Essentially a well-rounded, smart kid with a ‘spike’ as we on CC call it.

My results are as follows:
California Institute of Technology: Accepted (Attending)
Harvard University: Denied
Harvey Mudd College: Accepted
Princeton University: Denied
Rice University: Waitlisted
Stanford University: Waitlisted
University of Chicago: Accepted (20k Merit)
University of Wisconsin-Madison: Accepted

Now for some (hopefully) useful information:

<li>Apply somewhere with rolling decisions or early-action; it makes life less stressful as you can limit your applications to fewer places where you would truly rather go. I had the privilege of being accepted to UW in early in November, before my EA decisions even came back! Then, a month later, Caltech and Uchicago both accepted me as well. Obviously, with such great luck, March was far less stressful and I was able to discard about 4 other colleges from my college list that were no longer important to me!</li>
<li>Show interest in your essays! It may sounds self-rationalizing but I genuinely believe that I was denied (for the most part and especially at Rice) because I didn’t show the colleges that I really wanted to be there. Also, don’t think just because colleges receive 30,000+ applications that they don’t value the applicants who show they want to be there. In my Harvard essay, I barely glazed the surface of why I wanted to go to Cambridge because the essay didn’t specifically ask for it. In the end, I may have come off as a disinterested student who was ‘forced’ to apply to Harvard or maybe my multifaceted interested appeared bland and one-dimensional because I didn’t mention that I wanted to write for the Lampoon. In the end, while colleges may claim that they don’t want you to show interest, interest is what you will ultimately need to best utilize the resources and opportunities that the top institutions provide.</li>
<li>Decisions are (nearly) arbitrary and the Admissions Committees are fickle. One of the many privileges of attending strong boarding schools are the relationships that the GCs at our school develop with admissions representatives. My ultimate rejection at Princeton was a surprise to my GC as just weeks earlier our regional adcom there had been raving over my chances: “his test scores are at our top end and we need a boast this year, while his research experiences are so impressive! His chances seem to be set.” Three weeks later, I was rejected without even a waitlist offer. Thus, one admissions counselors idea of me was apparently drastically different from even a single other member of the committee and I was therefore dropped. Why did it happen? Who knows but it demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the process and the degree from which you can be almost guaranteed a spot at the institution of your choice and then subsequently denied. </li>
<li>For your college essay, the subject doesn’t matter just your description or telling of it. In my common app essay, I wrote about how I try to win (and have won) my school’s Halloween costume contest each year. Is the subject particularly impressive? The answer is certainly a resounding negative. On the other hand, it was playfully written in a way that described my creativity and aptly described my love and implementation of the scientific process. The point of your essay is for the admissions committee to get to know you. So, let them!</li>
<li>Chill out and enjoy life. In the end, I received some good news and some bad news. I was humbled to be considered by both the colleges who accepted me and those who denied or waitlisted me. I was most angry about my waitlist-status at Rice over any other decision. Why? Well, to be honest it hurt my pride to have been waitlisted somewhere less selective than several of my other acceptances. In the end, I think either I didn’t seem to really want to go there in my application or it was just the luck of the draw as far as college acceptances go. On the other hand, I was most happy about my waitlisted status at Stanford as I have seen how capable and impressive the students there are and the thought that they had considered me to be in the top 10% of their applications humbled me. </li>

Remember this: I ended up being accepted to the schools that best fit my personality: HMC, Uchicago, and Caltech. I can honestly say that I believe that most everyone will be guided towards their best environments to grow and learn through acceptances and rejections. Denied from Yale? Don’t fret, you’ll thrive better elsewhere and love your time in college.

Bravo and well said. Welcome to California!

Congrats, Pasadena is a fantastic place to live… Just don’t have your kids go to school there, there are better schools just minutes away from JPL. Apparently La Canada HS is #3 in California, but I don’t believe it.

Congratulations! I have a close friend that’s at Caltech finishing up freshman year right now and he’s loving it. If you’d like to get in touch with him to get to know the school a bit, just shoot me a PM.