Please chance my daughter and critique the college list

Gender: Female
Ethnicity: South Asian
Finances: Will have low EFC
Intended Major: Neurosciences/Biology+Cognitive Sciences

SCHOOL: Selective, ranked 1st in state, and in top 10-30 in the US depending on year. Extremely rigorous
IB Diploma: Anticipated
GPA: 3.95 Unweighted, 4.26 Weighted
(1 B in IB Math, 1 in local community college taking a 2nd year college level Physics course. All others have been As since childhood, School is very anti-grade inflation by weighting grades hence low weighted GPA)
Class Rank: 2/103 (Yup there is a 4.0 kid who is oddly not ambitious)
SAT I: 710M, 740W, 780CR
SAT II: Taking Math II, Bio and Chem on 10/3, maybe Physics, Spanish on 11/5 (but confused if she needs to)

Straight A’s in all honors, and IB classes (except 1 B in Math last year and the College level Physics course)

IBHL Biology
IBHL Mathematics
IBHL English
IBHL History
IBHL Art (Taking HL classes but will be allowed to take max of 4 HLs so Art will be SL exam)
IBSL Spanish
IB Theory of Knowledge
IB CAS (Community Action Service)


  • Physics 200 level class at local community college since Physics was not offered at her high school and got a B - this was during the Sophomore to Junior summer.
  • Drawing 200 level class at same local community college and got an A
  • Was in Honors classes (Humanities [teacher invitation only] = History + Literature, Spanish, Math, Bio) at previous high school where she attended 9th grade. All As


  • National Honor Society
  • National Spanish Honor Society
  • National Art Honor Society
  • Won Scholastic award for Art nationally, twice
  • Some state literary awards she says don’t mean much but she was on TV. I don’t know


  • Recognized artist - invited to contribute at art charity events
  • Tutors espanol to kindergarten kids through Spanish Honors Society Program
  • Model UN
  • Gay Straight Alliance
  • Represented school in Debates, Trivia, Literary events - some awards
  • Math Club
  • Active in the Art blogs and literary blogs


  • Summer at National Primate Research Center working with PhD students assisting in analyzing Ethanol addiction in primates. She did all the mathematical analysis of the data and observed the behavior patterns
  • Only 3 high school interns chosen out of 140 applicants, extremely prestigious


  • Art, Spanish, Bio teachers
  • Counselor (he doesn’t know her or any other kid - not sure why colleges ask for this)
  • Her Supervisor at the National Primate Research Center


  • Visual Arts: Extensive art portfolio, of which she will submit 10 - 20 best images
  • Research: The NPRC research abstract she worked on

In alphabetical order

Brown - ED maybe
Claremont - Target
Harvard - Reach
Princeton - Reach
Reed College - Target
Scripps - Safety
Stanford - Reach
Yale - Reach
UC Berkeley - Reach
UC San Diego - Target
UC Santa Barbara (CCS) - Safety + Target (CCS)
USC - Target

(Mom she is dependent on and brother are relocating to California so she will be in state in 1 year)

As a parent, I believe she has a great resume but then I keep seeing all these chance me threads with kids who seem to have 8 arms and 16 legs (god only knows how they did all they did) and I wonder if this is enough. Her extra-curricular list is very focused on Art. Unlike many others who list 20 activities - she chose to be passionate about 1 thing. She does have a few other activities but they do not compare to her involvement in Art. They are for the purpose of developing her personality, making new friends and hopefully doing some good.

She has no sport under her belt now because it was inconvenient for her with her course load and Art involvement. Everything in her resume is genuine, she did not do any resume padding for the sake of applying to the colleges but I don’t know if that is enough. Another aspect that I can’t figure out how to emphasize is how she has been there for her younger brother and cousins in many ways - she is a kind, nurturing, mature teenager who took on additional household responsibilities that are impossible to communicate without sounding artificial.

Her career aim is to be a neuroscientist. She reads up on scientific articles and researches the subject enough for it to be clear that that is her passion, she is going to try to work again at the Primate Center during the winter and summer breaks. Hopefully she won’t create the “Planet of the Apes” lol. She will stay active in the Arts wherever she is but it is more of a creative outlet for her rather than an academic pursuit.

A few comments:

  • Better to have two core academic teachers for recs. Bio is one, but is there an English or Social Studies teacher she could use instead?
  • It is a little out of synch that ALL her ECs are art, but that isn’t her proposed major,
  • You need to carefully read the CA residence requirements to be eligible for in-state tuition an FA from the UCs. Depending on the timing of the move, she may or may not be eligible. They are quite strict.
  • Regarding low EFC, it sounds like maybe you and her mom aren’t together? Just want to make sure that you know that regardless whose dependent she is, both your and her mom’s and any new spouses for either of you will have to provide income and asset information to most of the schools on her list. And they will base need based aid on all that information, not just mom’s.
  • Just to confirm, is your D a U.S. citizen?


  1. Yes, she will get reco from english, history and math teachers too but her bio, art and spanish teachers are known to be good recommendation writers with extreme detail on each student they agree to recommend. lets see what each of those work out to be. i see your point of using a history or english or math teacher reco.
  2. Yes, she likes free format art and experiments herself but is not sure a structured art school curriculum will even appeal to her. For example, she finds art history very uninteresting but give her a pen and a paper and she can't stop herself.
  3. They are moving June 2016 so we know she will be treated as out of state for 1 year if she goes to a UC and she will be instate only in 2017.
  4. Yes, I am aware. We have been separated for the past 3 years and given that I am developing a new business with some partners, my income and asset levels are not going to cause a high EFC.
  5. Yes, she is
  1. You don't get to read the recs. Well, I should amend that. Your student can choose in the common app to see their recs, but the concensus is that colleges take those recs less seriously because they feel teachers may not be as honest if your kid can see the rec.
  2. I didn't say she should be an art major. What I am saying is that a student who says they want a STEM major who has only 1 late EC related to STEM is noticed by schools. It isn't usually a point in the student's favor in admissions.
  3. If she has a low EFC, how would you pay the first year's OOS expenses? The estimated cost for one year of UC on campus tuition, room & board, & fees is about $57,000.
  4. You are aware that your business information will also be included, right? It is very difficult to get an accurate Net Price Calculator estimate if you are divorced and one parent has ownership in a small business.

In general, your D had some strong qualifications. But there are a couple of red flags, and it seems like you may have trouble paying for some or possibly most of the schools on her list. Also, I don’t see the “pop” in test scores or ECs that the very top schools want.

Regarding her list, I think Claremont is a low reach, given their 10% acceptance rate. Has she visited Reed? It is fairly quirky, and seems like an outlier on her list. I have a hard time seeing how a student that would be happy at CMC would also find Reed to be a fit.

Assuming she shows interest and admissions believes she is a fit, she is likely to get in at Reed and Scripps. She seems to be in good shape for USC as well. But odds are good that those may be the only ones she gets into (except some of the UCs, but I don’t see how those are affordable). She has a lot of reaches – I’d suggest she drop Yale, Stanford, and Harvard, and add more matches.

  1. Ah had no idea you dont even know what the teachers are writing. I guess we have to then choose the Bio, English teachers and keep fingers crossed.
  2. She did a college level Physics course [which blew past anything the schools could have taught her] and the Primate Center Research. Thought those being very difficult and high prestige might overcome the number of STEM ECs she could have done. Her school is more non STEM focus and she is one of the few trying to study sciences and having to supplement her education in other ways. The only 2 ECs she had available to her were Math Club and National Science Honor Society (which I forgot to mention she is also a part of).
  3. She will be a day scholar if she is in SD or Bay area (her mom or her her aunt respectively)
  4. My business is not worth much at this point - could be worth something at some stage but at this point it will show big losses and low revenues for the past few years. And no new investors at higher values. So I doubt the EFC will be positively impacted. If needed, the money will have to be bridged with selling some assets or loans or a combo.

Got it about the ECs - this was what was available to her. She interned at the NPRC this summer and the summer prior to that she took the Physics college level course at the Community college. I thought 2 rigorous summers would show adequate interest.

Got it about Claremont - we visited Reed, CMC, Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Scripps during the summer - she found Reed very interesting because of how extremely high the rate to PhDs is at the school, the academic rigor and their unique style of teaching. She was not sure she quite understood the cultural aspects of Reed to be honest but being one of the more academically intense experiences, supposedly, is why she was interested in it. CMC & Pomona - she liked both but decided to apply to CMC only (not quite sure why) and Scripps as a safety with her profile.

Which matches would you recommend based on her profile? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

If you know that the Spanish teacher writes really good recommendations, I’d choose that teacher. My D used a stats and French teacher for recommendations and she had good results.

@suzy100 thanks. She is certain she will get glowing recommendations from the Spanish & Bio teachers and they are known to be great recommendation writers.

I have been told I am a dummy and that she is the President of the National Science Honor Society. I guess that helps…

The target and safeties look very realistic and we’ll chosen. The reaches however seem a bit too reachy, especially considering her dearth scientific ECs (considering she’s going into that field, and not say, art), which may have slightly tipped the scales. If finances are not a key issue as of now, perhaps you could encourage her to apply to near ivies, such as Johns Hopkins (well regarded in bio), Rice, etc. After all, getting in some semi reaches, in addition to simply targets and safeties, could be a confidence booster (I would not invest too greatly on the reaches at this point. Fall in love with Stanford after getting in, not before).

So she is still looking at $39k/year for UCs freshman year if she is not living on campus. She can only borrow $5,500 freshman year, do you intend to borrow. the rest? She could end up with pretty hefty loans, as loans will probably still be part of her FA package for the last 3 years – could be a total of $50K, which is a lot. If you have assets to sell to pay it, those will need to be considered in her FA information as well.

Look over the list of colleges that meet need for more ideas to research. Her current choices are kind of all over the map, which makes it hard to recommend. She had large, small, women’s, hippie-flavored (sorry, Reed!), conservative (CMC), school with a reputation as fun for kids with money (sorry, USC), and schools evidently picked for prestige. I can’t get enough of a handle on her preferences to suggest,

I have thought about JHU as well. What about replacing HYPS with say Cornell, Dartmouth, JHU, Northwestern? Is that more realistic?

Good responses so far. I just wanted to add something regarding the apparent mismatch between EC’s and a STEM major: that’s something that can be addressed in the essay. My D is a Pomona freshman who applied as a chemistry major and didn’t have a single STEM extracurricular. Her EC’s were debate, mock trial, and a city youth council. Her Common App essay was about how she loved science but wanted to go into some public policy aspect of science. I think if you’re trying to get into Harvey Mudd, CalTech or MIT, or applying somewhere as an engineering major, and have no STEM EC’s, that’s a bigger problem than applying to a liberal arts college as a neuroscience/bio major.

Also my D had no sports background. (On the other hand, on Move In Day it seemed like everybody we met was a recruited athlete.) Also in yet another silly ranking, CMC was just ranked the #2 “fittest college” in the country.

Those are low reaches instead of high ones. So better, but still not really matches. And they feel like a list made on prestige instead if fit.

Does she have a true financial safety – a school you know you can afford that is one of the safeties on her list? What is her current home state? Does she live with her mom now? What state do you live in? Asking to understand her in-state choices.

@intparent D’s school choices are mostly determined by perceived academic rigor - she is largely ignoring cultural, size, location aspects - doesn’t think she will quite be a liberal hippy or a conservative or care if she is a college town or a large city.

For example she liked Reed because of rate to PhDs, CCS @ UCSB because of open graduate school type of rigorous curriculum, UCSD because of high u/g involvement in research, ivies, stanford, berkeley because of expected academic focus (good peers, professors = good education), USC because they poached a big life sciences team from UCSD which indicated they were serious about making a massive push in life sciences. CMC because of their joint Keck Science Institute which has large resources. So it has been driven by a purely academic choice - i.e. where will she learn the most…

On finances, i will be borrowing the rest. I live in Florida, she in Oregon - no decent academic programs in either state.

@Corinthian Yeah she isn’t interested in any of the Caltech, MIT, Mudd, RPI engineering focused schools so for her. Thanks for making that point. Its not that easy to get true STEM ECs that aren’t just about joining a club/society or a science fair. She has been invited to continue working at the NPRC as an intern but is unable to do so with the academic and application workload currently but hopefully she doesn’t need more with a Liberal Arts/Bio focus.

So she can get in-state tuition in Florida if you live there, I believe. That is one reason I asked, in case you live there. I am not sure if she can get Bright Futures or not. Are you sure you can take out the loans? If your income is low enough to not affect her EFC, it seems like qualifying could be an issue. And honestly… it doesn’t make a lot of sense to take out $50K in debt for undergrad. Maybe makes a little more sense for a high paying major where it is easier to pay it back, but that is not neuroscience. You yourself may or may not be well positioned to pay it off the in future… even if you can’t get the loans, what if your business doesn’t take off like you hope it will?

So the thing about those low reaches, is that they end up scooping a fair number of those high stats kids (higher than hers) that don’t get accepted by the top 4-5 schools. So it is still pretty competitive. Take JHU, for example. The admission rate is only 17%. Her stats are a hair above the 50% mark for her ACT. Her CR is above the 75% mark, but her Math is below the 50% mark. Because of the low admit %s, I would still call it a low reach. My advice would be to dig a little further down on the US New rankings, as that seems to be the criteria for selection. And I would look into adding one Florida public that you know will be affordable as a safety.

*also in the 1st line of the last paragraph not so

So because i am in Florida, she qualifies for instate even though she is in Oregon? She doesn’t have to graduate from here? I did not know that…

Who does she live with in Oregon? Is she at boarding school?

she lives there with her mom

I get the impression she lives with her mom. Yes, Florida is kind of funky that way. Here is a link to the University of Florida page on this:

I get the impression that if you are the parent and reside in FL, and she COULD be a dependent on your tax return (I think you don’t necessarily have to be the one to claim her, though), then she gets in-state tuition. But read this info carefully and see if it applies.

I sort of think you have to be a Florida HS graduate to get Bright Futures, but you could Google that info.

It is important for her to have a safety where she is very likely to get accepted and you KNOW you can afford it without large debt or dipping into something like your retirement accounts. If your business is still sputtering in the spring, and you don’t qualify for loans as the parent, you will be really glad she has an inexpensive option.