Next steps for talented, hardworking student

One important thing that you & your son should consider if you’re thinking about him taking a gap year is this…

Do a little research this weekend on the National Merit Finalist scholarships. I don’t think that you can ‘postpone’/defer the NMF scholarship UNLESS you’ve:
a. been admitted to a specific college
b. gotten permission from the college to defer your enrollment to the following fall
c. declared to the National Merit Foundation by 5/1 that you will be attending College X (whichever that one happens to be).

IF your son decides to take a gap year off and has NOT committed to attending a particular school (i.e., is going to start over fresh & try again at all of the Ivy League schools), then he MIGHT end up not realizing that he might NOT be eligible for the NMF full ride scholarships at various non-Top 20 universities.

The US is pretty much a meritocracy when it comes to higher education & the job market. for example, in certain other countries outside the US, if you majored in, let’s say, Biology and became a biologist and later wanted to change careers into computer science, nobody would hire you as a computer programmer even if you were self taught or took some night classes…you’d have to go and get a whole additional college degree in computer science.

Generally speaking, it doesn’t work that way in the US.

Also, generally speaking, US employers won’t care very much after your 1st job out of college WHERE you got your degree from. What employers will care about is what you know, what can you do, can you work well with other people, are you going to be a hard worker & reliable employee, etc.

For example, in the tech industry, MOST employers won’t care that your son got his Comp Sci BS from, let’s say, University of Arizona, Univ of New Mexico, Ole Miss, Univ of Alabama, or UAH instead of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. What the employers WILL care about is stuff like “Does he know how to code?” and “Does he understand the material?”, etc. MOST employers won’t give a care that he didn’t go to Yale.

Your son DOES have a future!!

I think applying (immediately) to schools which award full rides to National Merit Finalists and are still accepting applications is a better option than planning to take a gap year. National Merit Finalists need to enroll in college the fall after graduating from high school in order to be awarded a National Merit Scholarship.


Also re: student loans - Usually, undergrad college students can apply for and obtain a subsidized student loan on their own for up to $5500 regardless of their parents’ income. Just throwing that out there in case you weren’t aware.

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Your son sound amazing and I am sure he will be successful wherever he ends up. I am sorry for the results he has received. These have less to do with his resume and more to do with the randomness and subjectivity of admissions process. I second the suggestion by @mynameiswhatever of considering a gap year. There is a thread on CC about a similar case as your son where the student got completely shut down, took a gap year, and got acceptances from MIT and other highly selective schools. You should definitely read it. I tried finding it but couldn’t. Perhaps some longtime CC users can point you to it.

Edit: By the time I wrote this post, some people have given good arguments against the gap year option.

Maybe keep an eye on this list. It starts to expand after May 1st.

@KT12325 i have the link to that thread, but it’s not the same as the OPs situation at all. In that older thread, the student didn’t get accepted anywhere. Not one acceptance. This student has acceptances…they just are not affordable.

PLUS…this student needs as close to a full ride as he can get ASAP.

I would suggest this student apply to the schools named above.

University of Alabama (both Tuscaloosa and Huntsville)

University of New Mexico

But get going. Time is of the essence.

This student could take a gap year…and apply to different schools…but I’m thinking getting a decent NMF award NOW is a better bet for him. This kid will not get accepted at schools where he has already been rejected. He would need a totally different set of schools that meet full need.

Here is the thread you are referencing…but really it’s very different than this kid.


At UAH, your son would qualify for:
UAH Academic Excellence Scholarship - brings out of pocket tuition per year to $2226. room & board is $10,094. Must maintain min 3.0 cumulative GPA to renew scholarship each year.

Also would qualify for National Merit Platinum Scholarship at UAH:

  • must be admitted to UAH by April 15 - so apply TODAY
  • must list UAH as your college choice by 5/31
  • covers full tuition for 8 semesters
  • covers 1 year of on campus housing
  • includes course fees up to $500 per year
  • also includes a 1-time $3000 award for study abroad during the summer.

For planning purposes, on campus housing & meal plan is $10,764 at UAH, so this would be a factor starting in year 2, which could be offset by a $5500 federally subsidized student loan and getting a part time job.


Maybe I missed it but what state does OP live?


They should have been helping him all along. Covid has certainly made that hard these past couple of years. I am sorry if he was not getting that support.

Concerning the financial aid, definitely ask RPI for additional financial help if you need it. They are not as endowed as others, but they may be able to do more.

Thanks! I agree that OPs situation is different and gap year may not be in their best interest. I have edited my post.

Your son is amazing young man - that’s quite obvious. Essays can be a real deal-breaker at the highest levels, where the competition is insanely tough. There are so many super-high-achieving applicants that schools will pounce on anything to weed some of them out. A less-than-ideal essay would serve just that purpose. Remember, thousands of kids work with essay coaches and editors just to get the perfect feel. And your son didn’t even have a guidance counselor take a look at his, which likely put him at some disadvantage from the very beginning. This, coupled with the lack of leadership positions (also very important to schools) probably really hurt him. Throw in a lack of sports or something similar, and you’ve got another check against the applicant. Looking at it from this perspective, one can see how even the academically perfect applicant can have a rough college application season. As other posters have noted, you should be assured that RPI is a stellar school for CS with fantastic job placement, and it sounds like the ultra-STEM-leaning, geeky (offered in a good way) community there might be a good fit. A place where a super-smart science kid would feel at home.

Thanks, We thought about that too. How to qualify leadership? How many leaders we need for our community, or our country? You cannot expect a layman to build a google search engine overnight. You cannot ask a guy never graduate from high school to develop relativity theory. But you can bet on any person become a leader, such as Zelenskyy. On the other hand, each year there are 3.5 million new college students out of 3.7 high school graduates. If everyone is a leader, who are the soldiers? Leaders are managing people, only professionals managing the world.


Agree, leadership, teamwork are skills that “holistic” admissions may prioritize. Edited to add - Or maturity, confidence.

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The UNM scholarship requires a 3.3 cumulative GPA to renew each year + complete 15 credits per semester. NMF students live in the honors dorm with other honors college students. Other key details:

  • must be admitted to UNM by MAY 1.
  • covers “base tuition, fees, and housing”
  • $25 app fee to apply to UNM

Univ of Arizona:
Your son would qualify for a TON of merit aid here, like somebody else mentioned earlier.

  • MUST be admitted to UofA by 5/2.
  • award good for 8 semesters (fall & spring only, not summer)
  • must start attending in fall semester
  • must maintain 3.0 cumulative yearly GPA to renew scholarship
  • must complete 24 units by end of Year 1, 54 units by end of Year 2, 84 units by end of Year 3.

Tucson is a cool town. We lived there for 13 yr up until 3 yr ago. There’s a lot more Asian people living in Tucson than most people in the rest of the US realize. UofA has a brand new honors dorm which opened up last year or maybe the year before that. If your son is a techie (I’m guessing based on his ECs), he’d fit in well at UofA.


Yes, and if you look at some of the traits of the highly successful people in life, it often comes down to: leadership, communication, service, ability to mentor/inspire others. Given the highly qualified applicants, I think the top shools are trying to identify folks who have traits that are highly correlated with future success in life…

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I wonder about the soldiers, too. My kid didn’t have a ton of traditional leadership positions, so she focused on showing how she works well with teams and groups and collaborates. Some schools really liked that; others were not as impressed.

But I think if you cannot show leadership at least maybe try to demonstrate you are a great soldier.

Best wishes.


Found another one…
University of Texas at Dallas. NMF scholarship details:

  • covers full tuition & fees for 8 semesters
  • $4000 per semester cash stipend
  • $1500 per semester stipend to go toward on campus housing
  • 1 time study abroad stipend of $6000
  • they also automatically admit you into the honors program
  • must be named as a National Merit Finalist
  • must list UTD as 1st choice college through National Merit Foundation online portal
  • must be admitted to UTD
  • you CAN use the scholarship for graduate-level courses
  • must maintain a 3.0 GPA each semester & earn 15 credits per semester

UTD NMF scholarship deferral info:
“Incoming freshmen that accept a National Merit Finalist Scholarship may seek to defer their scholarship for a maximum of two semesters if they do not attend an institution of higher education prior to enrolling at UT Dallas. Incoming freshman attending another institution of higher learning prior to enrolling in UT Dallas will have their scholarship offer revoked. Recipients must receive approval from the National Merit Scholars Program prior to the first day of classes and must also receive approval for a deferral from the UT Dallas Office of Admissions and Enrollment Services.”

UTD has a similar mix of nerdy students to UAH, but has fewer space industry-focused employers in the immediate area compared to Huntsville.


OP - your son should also (doesn’t have to be now, can be at any point during undergrad or even grad school) apply for the SMART scholarship:

pays for full tuition, annual stipend, & provides internships for US Department of Defense. In turn, the student agrees to work for the Department of Defense for a certain # of years after graduation. This is a STEM-focused scholarship. ONLY eligible for US citizens, so international students cannot apply.

A lot of people don’t realize that this program even exists. But, for example, let’s say your kid decides in college, “Hey, I think cybersecurity is pretty cool. I might want to pursue that as a career after graduation,” if he’s got a min college GPA of 3.0 and he’s a US citizen and attends an accredited US college or university, then he’d be eligible to apply for this. They hire for way more than cybersecurity stuff, though. There’s a list of 21 different fields on the website.

The student basically ends up working every summer at a DoD location and then lands a full time job at 1 of the locations after college graduation.

Even PhD students can apply for this, by the way.


The NMF is critical, but OP also is concerned about top schools for his son, who appears to be the number 1 student at a highly nationally ranked high school. Several things that could have been done for this admissions cycle don’t appear to have been done. The financial aspect and the amount of aid seem very low.

@davidng, while I feel for your son, he did get into some good schools. I too am surprised that he didn’t get into more and also didn’t get merit/financial aid. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the great folks on this website on a Saturday afternoon/evening have collectively come together and given you real wisdom. This is why College Confidential is a tremendous site, and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about the admissions process that I had NO idea about just a couple of years ago.

Given your son’s stats, his desires, and some other issues you mentioned, I do think a gap year is something to be considered. That being said, there are definitely schools out there where he still might be able to get into with good/great financial or merit-based aid without taking a year off.

I think your son and you need to decide by tomorrow what you want to do and start doing it. Critically examine ALL the issues, use the financial calculators etc that are available, and be realistic.

If you have any questions whatsoever, just ask! The CC community is AMAZING about giving people sound advice, with options and quickly.

I wish your son, you, and your family the very best of luck. And I see you changed the title of your thread! That’s a great sign already.


If a gap year is taken, I think the focus should be on what can be done to improve the application to the extent it can be substantively improved. At the very least, finding someone with expertise in college admissions that you trust who could take an objective/dispassionate look at the narrative/package would be worth its weight in gold.