Pure math major looking to go to grad school..suggestions for matches?

To preface this I will say a good chunk of my college list is currently reaches or safeties — I figured I should probably have a couple of middle-ground schools too. I posted a very similar post about half a year ago. Here’s a brief overview of my profile:

Demographics: Southeast Asian (international) female, first gen, no financial aid needed.

Academics: 1500 SAT single sitting, 3.95 UW GPA (current school doesn’t calculate but previous school did—this is a rough estimate), IB Diploma candidate doing one of the most ‘rigorous’ subject combinations with a predicted 43/45. 800 Math 2, will be taking Physics in June and expect a 750+

Extracurriculars: Most of my stuff revolve around math and design. Went to a quite selective summer program sophomore year, and will go to a <20% acceptance rate math camp junior summer. Chair of school math team & mentor freshmen who are into math. Most of my math stuff is independent learning. A bunch of national/international design-related ECs that’s a bit harder to explain.

I’m looking for match schools that are in a suburban location, great math department, an undergraduate focus, and a quirky/nerdy student body. Most of the schools I’ve looked into have been reaches or safeties so far. I also really prefer to stay in a NE flyover state. Any suggestions?

(If it helps, my favorite schools are Brown and Williams right now, and I’ll probably ED to Brown).

Another question: am I qualified for either of these schools? What are my chances for Brown/Williams ED?

Hi @VapreonKid! You are qualified for Brown and Williams, but international admissions are always difficult to predict. Not applying for financial aid will help, and being first generation is also a plus. A lot depends on the specifics of your demographic, e.g., your country, your ethnicity, your life story.

I’m hesitant to categorize schools as matches or safeties for international as it’s difficult to get reliable admissions statistics. Some LACs that are intellectually rigorous and also enroll a relatively higher percentage of internationals (over 14% of first year class) are as follows:

Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Grinnell, Macalester, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, Swarthmore, Wesleyan

Wesleyan – which has an excellent math department – is one of the few schools that posts detailed statistics on international admissions. For the class of 2022 they admitted 19% of international applications that did not apply for financial aid.

Could you elaborate on what you mean by extracurriculars involving design?

Also, I’d note that Williams is rural not suburban. Have you visited? I’m a fan of Williams (my son is an alum) but its environment is very different from Brown’s.

You have great stats that fit most top schools ranges. I would caution that you must broaden your approach to very good but not just Ivy and near ivy.

As an international student it’s a microscopic pool. And you have good ecs but no off the charts stuff like published research or international awards. But then again few do so don’t sweat it.

My d this year with slightly higher stats was shut out at brown and Harvard. We were a bit surprised but not shocked at all. Lots of ecs with leadership, varsity sports capt, ap scholar with 13 with 5s . val of her class 4.0uw and higher test scores than you posted. R at Harvard wl at brown where she went for a summer program junior year.

With your interests I would add university of Rochester. RPI umich unc ucsd William and Mary UCLA usc

And schools like these. Still elite but a bit more approachable.

@momrath I totally understand international admissions varies wildly from year to year, and a lot of it will depend on the more subjective parts of my application — I’m hoping to write decent (if not good) essays about my interests in math and design, so hopefully that can help.

Swat is actually my third choice after Brown and Williams, so that’s definitely on the list. I’ve considered Wesleyan briefly but I’m not sure how strong/big/active their math department is. I also thought Wesleyan would be more of a reach, and I didn’t want to add on more reaches to my list. I’m quite hesitant about going to a women’s college unfortunately so I think Bryn Mawr, Mt Holyoke, and Smith are out. I’ll look into the others though!

Yeah, on paper I do like Williams a lot but I have reservations about its location — I’ll be visiting over the summer though, so hopefully that will clear things up a bit.

@privatebanker Yeah, I’m definitely looking at broadening my list. I already have a few match schools (Haverford, BU, and UMass Amherst) that are on the list, as well as a couple other reaches; I’m looking for more match-type schools in the middle-ground range.

I have UNC-CH on the list, but am largely uninterested in the California schools (just don’t vibe with the West Coast). Rochester is a maybe, but its location isn’t ideal. RPI has a skewed m:f ratio, and I don’t really like tech schools. UMich, although a great school, would be a reach and I really don’t want to add more reaches to my existing list.

Rutgers, Maryland, Stony Brook?

If you liked Michigan, you may want to look at some other Big Ten schools like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, etc. They are not in the NE, but they have excellent math programs and are more in the match category for you.

Although “suburban” often suggests “big city, bedroom community suburban,” this article includes colleges near both big and small cities:

I would second the suggestions of Rutgers, Maryland, and Stony Brook. All 3 are highly ranked math departments. Also add NYU, if money is no object. It’s a well regarded math dept.

Undergrad focused , smaller colleges will be competitive for admission, at least the ones with decent math departments. And you’ve ruled out many match suggestions due to location or other reasons. Maybe Boston College, it’s a Jesuit school. I would also suggest Lafayette College in PA. It’s close to Philly, and may be a good match school for you.

Is ED to Brown or Williams a great strategy? Do you have any hooks that would make you compelling? College counselors in my area usually do not advise ED to a very reachy school unless you have some great hooks. Not sure if thats a general consensus, maybe others can chime in.

I would consider Barnard, it is a women’s college, but is very integrated with Columbia. If you were to do ED you would probably be a shoo-in.
Many liberal arts schools have good math department: Colgate, Middlebury.
Cornell has a great math concentration in A&S. It is very different than Brown, but with its 7 schools you could pretty much take any course you want. If you were to ED there you would have very good chance.

Haverford is not a match school with an acceptance rate of 18.7% this past spring. But you can take classes there and even major there as a Bryn Mawr student. The two schools are VERY closely intertwined. Bryn Mawr is more of a match school for you (40% acceptance rate). And they have a very strong math department.

I strongly encourage you to give the women’s colleges another look, Bryn Mawr and Barnard in particular for extreme ease in accessing a coed student body (although Smith, Wellesley, and Mount Holyoke offer this as well, albeit with a bit more effort).

Agree with @Springbird to reexamine the womens colleges. They have strong math departments and the kind of feel you are looking for.

Smith would be a match. Mt Holyoke would be a safety. But mh has an elite feel and history. If it were coed it would be at the Colby Wesleyan level.

Williams has a great math program but it is very rural. 3 hours from Boston or NYC.

Carnegie Mellon and Emory haven’t been mentioned and both have strong math programs. CMU is in the city but has a campus. Emory is in the south but has a diverse student population.

@momprof9904 I’ve looked at Stony Brook and Rutgers (actually applying to both!). As for hooks, I’m a first gen woman in STEM from a decently underrepresented country w/ no financial need…is this a hook? My school counselor claims it could be. Brown also tends to really like kids from my school (especially in ED) so he has mentioned it is a definitely plausible choice. For context, most of my peers scoring at similar levels in GPA/courseload in the past have gotten into Oxbridge, Penn, Yale, and Brown (from Class of 2018 alone). I know it’s still a high reach regardless, but I don’t think it’s incredibly out of reach.

@oldfort Cornell has been on my radar (because it accepts a lot of students from my school too) but I haven’t paid much attention to it largely because it isn’t an amazing cultural fit. Definitely prefer Brown a lot more.

I’ll be able to visit Barnard over the summer, so I’ll come back with reports on that.

@Springbird I understand it’s definitely not at a solid match level, but based on Naviance, my counselor and I have determined it’s a school that both matches my academic and nonacademic interests. Because they are need-aware for internationals, I believe my chances are slightly increased. After talking to a rep it seems like I have a decent shot at getting in, is this misguided?

@Ma2012 I’ll be visiting Williams over the summer, so if I find out I like the school more than Brown I’ll definitely ED there!


I think that @momprof9904 makes a good point that your ED card might be put to better use at a less selective school. Personally, though, I believe that ED is an emotional as well as strategic decision and wouldn’t eliminate ED at Brown or Williams if one of those does indeed turn out to be your top choice. Still, it would be a good idea to be prepared to re-calibrate if things don’t turn out, and the best way to be prepared is to visit schools that may not be your most obvious top choices.

I would suggest that you visit Smith, Holyoke and/or Bryn Mawr when you’re in the neighborhood this summer. Keep them in your back pocket until you know the result of your ED application. If you like small, academically rigorous schools in the northeast, you might find you’re more willing to accept a women’s school, rather than another tradeoff.

I’m not a STEM expert, but my understanding is that Wesleyan is quite strong in math and physics. It is suburban – halfway between Boston and New York – and definitely fulfills your “quirky/nerdy student body” requirement. They are also demonstrably international friendly.

The problem with Haverford and many other LACs of similar size is that they admit so few internationals in raw numbers. This year they admitted 140. We don’t know how many internationals applied, so we can’t compare percentages, but 140 admits from the whole world of applicants makes your chances hard to categorize. Williams accepted 103 internationals out of 2102 international applicants (about 5%).

Again, I don’t think you can use US acceptance rates to determine LAC matches and safeties. Some colleges, like Wesleyan, post transparent international admissions statistics. For others you might be able to extrapolate by researching press releases. Or you can ask the college directly. It seems that international applications rose dramatically at LACs across the board this year. For example, Union College, which is not particularly well known globally, experienced a 9% increase in international applications.

For medium sized privates and large public universities, your high school’s past acceptance history is a good indicator, for LACs, maybe not.

@Vapreonkid First gen usually refers to first generation in your family to go to college. Female STEM may be hook. Your country of origin may also be a hook, especially if it’s a country that doesn’t have a decent percentage of women going to college. And of course, full pay .

It seems you have the resources at your school to get some more precise data . As @momrath has explained, the LACs may be too small to extrapolate acceptances, but may be ok for Brown, especially since they have admitted students in the past from your school ED.

Wesleyan is an unusual LAC in that it has Math courses up to and including the doctoral level, something the OP may need to consider if they wind up burning through all the department’s available offerings.

What about UCLA? I think they have a pretty good math undergrad program.

@momrath I agree re: extrapolating domestic acceptance rates to apply to my scenario here, which is why I’ve reached out for help online. Wesleyan is indeed on the list, and I’ll definitely be visiting this summer to see if I like it there. I know LACs really like to recruit at my school (IIRC, both Haverford and Wesleyan fly across the world to interview students at my school.) so I’m hoping that counts for something.

Naviance used to work really well for me but since they are discontinuing support for international schools for this fall I can’t use it + it isn’t updated for the Class of 2018. Are there any other reliable sources for similar information? I’m looking at applying to a couple of public schools too, but at my school most students tend to apply to bigger privates compared to publics, so there isn’t much insightful info on this either (think NYU, BU).

I should say that a couple of students do apply to Williams every year (think 5 to 10, which is less, but not significantly, than Brown) and we get 2-3 acceptances every year. Is this a good sign?

@momprof9904 I think I’m first gen because my parents were from rural areas and moved to a bigger city to work (instead of enrolling at a university. My family did move countries last year, though, and I’ve moved to a bigger/more prestigious school, so I don’t know if this will affect decisions in any way. My country of origin is quite underrepresented but my current country isn’t.

Brown data has been surprisingly good; the average SAT for acceptances is a 1470 and GPA is 41 (Mine is a 1500 and 43, for comparison), so I hope I am competitive enough. I understand that even with the objective stats Brown is a crapshoot for most people, but I really do hope I luck out!

@henryz UCLA math is pretty good, I heard, but I’d much rather stay in the East Coast. I also don’t really like the vibe of UCs in general, if that makes sense?

I’m also considering Cornell as a reach because it does really like my school — 5 students get in every year RD among 19-20 applicants. They have a really good math program as well, which is nice. Any thoughts?

@Vapreonkid The acceptance rate from your school for RD to elite schools is fairly high compared to the overall rate. As a full pay student, I am not sure how the first gen angle will play out for admissions. Ask your counselor.
Maybe some angle with moving countries.
Your school seems much more well positioned within the international admissions pool.