Please help Undecided STEM (and Undecided about STEM) Girl’s college list

Hi, trying to help D22 finalize her college list, which I think is too reach-heavy. Would appreciate suggestions for narrowing the list, as well as other good fit schools she might’ve missed. Sorry such a long post, trying to anticipate questions:

She’s a STEM/STEAM girl, interested in learning so many things, truly undecided on a major. But also interested in non-STEM studies (if not as a major, perhaps a minor).

Current interests include (not in order of preference): Aerospace/Aeronautical Engineering, Astronomy, Computer Science, Economics, Neuroscience, Physics, Sociology, maybe something that involves art (Game Design, Graphic Design).

Demographics: Asian American, LGBTQ+ female, California resident

GPA Unweighted: 3.95
UC (University of California) Weighted GPA: school transcript says UC GPA is 4.55; RogerHub says UC 4.48, capped UC 4.28

11th: Calc AB, US History, Comp Sci A
12th: Calc BC, Physics, Microeconomics, US Gov’t/Pol, Lit/Comp, Statistics, Studio Art
Also community college: Psychology, American Sign Language
District doesn’t rank but she got a notice last year she’s top 9% for UC auto admission.

SAT: Canceled 3 times, hopefully can take next month. Practice tests range 1460-1520 but don’t know how it will go in a real exam (if it happens at all), so assuming Test Optional.

Extracurriculars: Strong leadership/awards in robotics, science olympiad, foreign language/culture; plus band, student government, other volunteer work. Not quite like some of the EC’s I’ve seen on this forum(!), but we’re proud (as is she). :slight_smile:

Her Wish List
Prefers a medium sized college (5,000-15,000), or a larger one that can feel smaller, or smaller one that can feel larger (consortium). No pre-med or pre-law plans (but not ruling them out), though likes the idea of a university surrounding undergrads with professional schools, grad schools, etc for the energy of a big academic institution and opportunities to attend workshops, events, etc.

Most importantly — she wants to challenge herself in a rigorous intellectual environment, but with more collaborative than competitive students, in a college that helps students maintain a healthy work/life balance. Schools with strong mental health and advising supports are ideal.

Wants to take classes where professors and students are truly engaged with each other and academic mentoring is encouraged. Would love smaller classes, but willing to navigate large classes and reach out to professors on her own too. Wants to be able to explore different majors, across different disciplines — common core would help for that, although she likes the idea of an open curriculum too (did I mention she’s undecided?). Also wants to be able to switch majors relatively easily, or at least be able to change her mind multiple times.

While not against being prepared for the workforce or grad/professional school, she prefers not to have a “pre-professional vibe.” Wants to be with kids who also love to learn for the sake of learning, who are collaborative and not cut-throat, and enjoy “nerding-out” over a variety of topics.

Not anti-Greek, but doesn’t want it to dominate the social scene. Wants to be able to find her place amongst fellow nerds, where she can play D&D but also join other extracurriculars like music, tennis, ultimate frisbee. Definitely not interested in women’s colleges or religiously affiliated schools (even Jesuit). Prefers open-minded, racially diverse, progressive-leaning student body.

We live in California and she prefers to stay in-state, but out-of-state is okay for the right school. Wants to live in an area that’s more liberal/progressive, racially/ethnically diverse, LGBTQ+ supportive, so does not want to consider schools in the South. No preference for city size, except not rural, and nice to have access to a larger city for internship and cultural opportunities, etc.

Dislikes super hot weather, loves rain (but we’re in a drought so it’s a real novelty here). I think she’d be able to handle cold, rain and snow, but fear the constant gloomy days of non-California winters may get depressing.

We (parents and DD) would love for her to attend a UC or Cal Poly SLO but, besides unpredictable admissions odds, we’re especially concerned she won’t have the opportunity to enter undeclared and “find herself” and her major over her first couple years in college. We are also nervous about the size of most UC’s — 30,000 and growing and we’re not sure if investment in faculty, facilities and housing is keeping up with undergrad numbers?

Also a concern with Cal Poly SLO and other technical schools is if she decides not to do STEM at all. She wants to attend a school where she could thrive as either a STEM or non-STEM major (or both!).

Haven’t run NPC but did MyIntuition and expect to pay full cost wherever she attends, which we are fortunate to have saved for and can afford. We prefer to pay up to the highest UC costs (~$40,000/yr) especially if she does want professional schools later, unless we are convinced a more expensive school is truly the best fit for her. We imagine that final decision can’t be made until she’s admitted and actually visits schools, so for now we’re looking for good places to apply.

[Edited to Clarify: $40k is not a hard limit, it’s our comparison point of UC versus any private. It’s more like a “floor,” in that we’re already expecting to start at that cost. A CSU would seem like a windfall of savings in comparison; while a private would likely be money over $40k (possibly double) that we’d rather not spend but can comfortably afford and willing to spend if we are convinced she couldn’t get a comparable experience at a UC or CSU.]

She’s still doing more in-depth research on schools on her list, but I’ve grouped them into schools she currently thinks “fit” her best (categories borrowed from @cosmopolitan2022 :blush:). Would love to see more realistic schools in the “most enthusiastic” group, either because she learns more about schools in other groups and moves them up, or discovers other great schools we hadn’t considered.

Most Enthusiastic
Case Western

Very Enthusiastic
Harvey Mudd
UC San Diego
UC Santa Cruz

Somewhat Enthusiastic
Carnegie Mellon
UC Berkeley
UC Irvine
Boston University
UC Santa Barbara
Cal Poly SLO
UC Davis
CSU’s (San Diego, Long Beach, San Jose, Sacramento)

Still Deciding Enthusiasm Level:
University of Southern California
Cal Poly Pomona
UC Riverside

Schools considered but removed from list:
Princeton, CalTech, Northwestern, WashU, Haverford, Northeastern, Wellesley, Vassar, Univ of Rochester, Brandeis, Reed, Santa Clara, Univ of San Diego, Whitman, RIT, UC Merced, Lewis & Clark

She knows several are crazy reaches, but doesn’t want to cut the ones she loves then later regret not having tried. Yet I don’t want her to put so much energy into too many intense application essays only to get crushed by a flood of rejections. So would really appreciate feedback I can share with her to help reduce the number of moonshots and add more targets/safeties in case we missed some that would really suit her.

If you’re still reading this, thanks for your time and any help!

Have you looked at the breadth of majors at Cal Poly? It’s pretty vast, much more so than HMC, MIT, and CMU.

You can’t enter undeclared, but you can change major.

Go visit some of them. It’ll help focus her.

BTW, the private schools, and OOS publics are all well over your budget. It’s best to cull those ASAP if you want to stick anywhere $40k.

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On the LAC side, perhaps Williams, Amherst (part of a consortium), Swarthmore (also part of a consortium) and the like? Those are (super) reaches, though.

Ack, you’re killing me, okay, we’ll check those schools in case they should replace another super-reach on her list. :wink:

Seriously, I just did some quick reading and they all sound great. Swarthmore especially sounds like it might suit my daughter. The only concern that pops out to me is the size, as the other consortium schools seem far away? But I will share and let her look into it more.

Will share all your suggestions – thank you so much!

Yes, lots of good options out there. Well, if it helps to winnow down the number of schools, my D22 has removed a school from consideration because of “ugly buildings.”


Thank you so much! I can’t believe folks actually read my post – now I know why college essays have word limits!

We know kids at Cal Poly SLO and I guess we’ve just always considered it a STEM school, but I’ll have her look into their other offerings with an open mind and ask those kids too. She needs to look into how hard changing majors, taking classes across colleges, etc will be as I believe it’s an issue with some of the UC’s. I think generally if she gets admitted to one of these schools in a competitive engineering or other impacted major, it’d be easier to switch to the liberal arts programs, than vice-versa.

And yes, I think CMU was lower on her list because we didn’t know if it would give her as strong non-STEM options. HMC seems pretty connected to the consortium, and both HMC and MIT emphasized in their info sessions that humanities courses were required of all students, which my daughter loved (those are crazy reaches for her so probably not an issue anyway).

Also, sorry I wasn’t clear, our budget is an ideal/goal, but we’re prepared to pay full cost at a private if she can convince us it’s the clearly better fit for her. I don’t think she has out of state public schools on the list?

We’re trying to visit schools but it’s so hard to travel. Over the summer we did our own walking tours of some of the UC’s and SLO but it was on our own and hardly anyone on campus. She also got to visit the Boston area but couldn’t get a tour so she and my husband only got to walk around on their own. We had real tours at Pomona and Harvey Mudd, which were great, but again no one was on campus so it was really hard to gauge what it’s really like.

Thanks for your time and all your suggestions!

Haha, that sounds like something my daughter might do too but, more likely, she’d add another school because of the pretty buildings, smh.

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What makes her think that Southern schools aren’t LGBTQ friendly or progressive? Most campuses are today. Atlanta is very diverse.

Georgia Tech is very LGBTQ friendly.

Emory or Rice might’ve been a fit.

BTW CMU also has a great business school and world class FA options. Their grads read as a who’s who in Arts and Entertainment.


I agree. I was going to suggest Agnes Scott until I got to the line about not wanting a women’s school. It regularly shows up on the lists of most LGBTQ friendly and most diverse. BUT I totally get eliminating the Southern schools if she doesn’t like it hot-n-humid 'cause that it is and that it will be, although we do usually have plenty of Air Conditioning (good to check on the dorms, though, in case they’re older and it hasn’t been added).

It sounds like she has good stats and a pretty good list. I’d see if you can get her to put in the apps to her safeties and targets first so she doesn’t get burned out and then let her go to town on the reaches until she decides it’s too much.


You might want to check out Northwestern, they operate on quarters instead of semesters allowing students to take more classes before graduation and explore areas outside of their major.


If engineering and/or CS are serious interests, pay attention to how difficult it is to change into those majors at each school.

For some schools, it may be necessary to enter as such a major, because switching in is much more difficult than switching out. But then initial admission is more difficult.

The other majors listed are less likely to be enrollment limited, although that sometimes happens for economics or art majors.

Check each school specifically on this subject.

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Some schools may be, but state governments may not be, particularly with respect to the T in LGBTQ. Other state laws and policies may also be quality of life issues for some people (as opposed to political issues that one is not personally affected by). Attitudes in local communities near campus can also matter.

Not saying to rule out automatically, but that needs to be considered.


If she has any interest in engineering, she should start there, at a school with engineering and switch out if she doesn’t like it, rather than ever considering switching in.

As for the arts, history and social sciences, all ABET accredited programs do. At Cal Poly (my son’s alma mater for full disclosure), 40 hours in the Mechanical Engineering curriculum are devoted to general education beyond math, physics and technical core/support courses.

The biggest impact of this decision will be the elimination of most small LACs like Williams, Amherst, etc.

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Note that UCs other than Berkeley and Merced are on the quarter system. So is CPSLO. So is Chicago.


Worth looking at Pitt and Rice if she’s excited by Case… Pitt in the safety category, Rice in the “reach but a realistic one” IMHO…


Hard to predict admission at top schools like MIT or Stanford as test optional. In the past, a SAT score in the 1460-1520 range would have been problematic for such schools.

Other private schools are going to run twice your target price. Is it really worth it?

The Honors Village at University of Arizona seems to check all the boxes, including budget after factoring merit, and imho would be the perfect out-of-state safety.

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So her list is way over-reachy - not to say she doesn’t have a shot at the reaches - but if you only apply to reaches you can get shut out.

I use the story of my daughter’s valedictorian - 4.0 with 4.6 or something weighted (.5 Honors, 1 AP). 36 ACT - perfect. Applied to 16 of the top 20 - 0 for 16. In at NYU full pay and attends U of TN Knoxville.

Not taking the test will hurt I believe because this year some schools will be of the mindset that while they are TO, there was access to the test whereas last year there wasn’t. So that should be noted in your comments on Common App, etc. that you couldn’t take. For UC, etc. of course it won’t matter.

So you do have some on your list that she’ll get into - but they’re not in the excited part of your application.

CWRU is the likely into in your enthusiastic - I’d say a match.

The very enthusiastic - well likely Santa Cruz - but other UC experts can help.

Somewhat - Oxy for sure - but much smaller than the rest. And you list large CSUs and she says she wants 5-15K. If you’re going large, you should consider U of AZ because she’ll get dirt cheap tuition ($30K off) with her GPA - and it’s got an Honors College. ASU is bigger, has multiple campuses, and not as good merit. You may also check Utah - I know little about it other than people on here rave about it and it’s strong in game design that you have mentioned. Also great aid.

So you may also look at - for STEM - Colorado School of Mines, WPI, RPI, U of Miami, Pitt, Miami Ohio (maybe not engineering), U of Pacific (Stockton, CA), Rochester and more - these would all be likely/safety.

Love the list but it’s too long - and yes, some underneath need to be added.

Given her stats - and if CSU size are ok, she should definitely check out U of AZ.

Good luck.

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MIT, CMU, Stanford, and HMC will be $77K, $77K, $79K and $82K respectively. Since your budget is $40K (and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s still a lot of money), I would immediately cut any school with a COA significantly above that number. It makes no sense to go into deep financial stress for ANY school, based on return, including those listed here.


University of Rochester ticks a lot of boxes.


Wow, thank you everyone for all your suggestions! I’m frantically trying to read through all the posts!

Yes, definitely agree, we will not allow any financial stress for any school, so we would’ve eliminated anything that we couldn’t comfortably afford full pay. But whether we want to shell out so much depends on whether we think the school is worth it for her – if it really is the best fit for her. Sorry if my $40k number is misleading – it’s our comparison point of UC versus any private. So maybe it’s more like a floor, in that we’re already expecting to start at that cost. A CSU would be a windfall of savings for us; a private would be money we’d rather not spend but can comfortably afford and willing to spend, but only if we are convinced she couldn’t get a comparable experience at a UC or CSU.