School list prioritization - stem / chem / chem engineering

We are in the midst of putting together the college list. Looking for feedback.

Goal: Study stem - most likely chemistry, chem engineering or bio chem - but child is a hs senior - things could easily shift - but I expect them to stay in stem.

Reach - Princeton, Cornell, MIT, U Chicago, Tufts, Harvard

Other schools considering - Northeastern, Northwestern (haven’t seen it yet so reach, but not officially on our list yet), BU, Yale (major reach, but did not like New Haven), Swarthmore (much smaller than their goal, but supposed to be like a mini U Chicago).

How would you prioritize these schools for the intended area of study (taking into account their profile)? I know the reach schools are so competitive to get into, but they are on the reach list. I expect some are more of a reach than others - again, that fine tuning.

I feel like we are splitting hairs between the schools - they are all terrific (and hard to get into) - but if focused on Chem / Bio Chem, etc. do some bubble up a bit more? Eg:
U Chicago has ME program with chem focus - is that similar to say Cornell’s engineering? Both excellent schools, just trying to fine tune list.

We’re also still going through the size and location - child wants a university and originally said city, but did really like Cornell - so location issue is still in play (and they keep asking about Swarthmore so that is still on the list). We are focused on NE and Chicago (no where south and doubt we’ll look at CA)

Stem student - maybe chem or chem eng (TBD) - or something else but stem
770 / 760 V / M
4.2 gpa (unweighted)
APs - AB Calc 5, Bio 4 - taking AP Physics, differential equations senior year, AP gov, AP French, AP English (BC calc, chem, scores TBA)
ECs: national art award, multiple state writing, state art awards, regional board member, started school club, (2 week) summer pharma internships, national college summer stem leadership program, college book award for stem, varsity sport for 2 years, captain 1 year

For some of these schools, your son is going to need to pick a major. At Cornell, chem e is in the CoE, and bio/biochem either in CAS or CALS. Cornell admits by college. So does NU, although students can apply undecided to a few as undecided.

U Chicago doesn’t have an ABET accredited chem E program. (Many here say it doesn’t matter but my chem e student was underwhelmed and didn’t apply).

This list is super super reach heavy. What are the safeties and match schools?

These schools are also very different from each other. Size, location, vibe are very different. What is your son wanting in a school? Other than prestige, I’m not seeing a lot of commonalities.


In terms of 4.2 unweighted GPA, is this figuring a 4.0 for an A and a 4.3 or a 4.33 for an A+? Thus does the student have nearly two A+'s for every A, and nothing else?

Even if the answer is “yes”, this still does not necessarily get a student accepted to a top university in the USA. You definitely need safeties. At the level that you mentioned in the original post reaches are at least possible to identify because they are famous. Safeties are often either in-state public universities or more difficult to pick, or both.

Do you have any budget limitations? Can you afford to be full pay at any university on your list (I think that some are over $80,000 per year at this point) without taking on any debt at all?

There are a lot of universities that are very good for chemistry, or for most things STEM.

I take it from your list that cold weather is okay. With that, plus a high GPA, plus looking in the northeast, plus AP French, I wonder about McGill as a near safety. You do not need any French at all there, but it would give a student an opportunity to practice French if desired.

What is your home state? What are your current safeties?

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The big dividing line is engineering. In most cases it is a separate department, but if your student isn’t sure about engineering, then a place like Swarthmore- where engineering is a department, vs a separate school- might suit better.

Thanks so much for the replies so far.

The gpa is unweighted - so yes, if I understand your question, they get A or A+s - and took AP Chem, AP BC, AP Psych, honors French & English, & history this past year - they are 2 years ahead in math (public school curriculum).

We have no real hooks - no intel prize, no recruiting, no legacy - a strong student with some prizes/honors, but I know there are many strong students.

Yes, you all correct we are super top-heavy. I expect my child to apply to UVM as a safety. I know we need more target and safeties, but that is still a work in progress. Our school seems to have a good track record of getting kids into BU - but that is tough school to call a safety. I know we should put WPI on the list, but they have no interest in that school - way too small (great school, just not right fit). We plan on looking at Car. Mellon - our school also has a good record of having kids get in - probably more of a target vs safety.

I would say my child is definitely interested in stem - the part that is not set (given they haven’t even entered senior year) is which area. I could see them going chem e, bio chem, chemistry, bio eng. or something TBD rel. to chem. I don’t see them switching to say English or humanities as a major (I was one so no disrespect to humanities, just don’t see my kid going that direction).

We haven’t looked at McGill. Child is fine with cold weather - actually hot weather is more of an issue - hence no southern schools, buy boy Montreal is brutal in winter - we’ve been there (thank goodness for tunnels). But McGill could be on the list.

I wouldn’t add another reach, but if you are looking at Pitsburgh, look at U. of Pittsburgh instead of CMU.


You really can’t have a discussion about UChicago without the Core. I would use the student’s view of the Core to keep/remove UChicago. The Chem is going to be great at all the schools.

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Who are they?

Also, what do you mean by “prioritization”? To choose which school(s) to apply early?

I’m guessing they is either the OP’s child’s pronoun or simply a gender neutral pronoun.


Going back to her original question- how would someone who has knowledge of these reaches rank these schools for Chem E? I have the same question. My son also wants to do ChemE and would like to have a few reaches but deciding which would be best.

Maybe the OP is just trying to eventually trim that list?


Yes I am going with a gender neutral pronoun.

And yes, you are correct I’m trying to help my child trim the list down and figure out a priority - apply ea or ed… where?

We have to find more target and safety schools. But to start focusing the list, to us, a consideration is figuring out which schools are the right fit for the intended major … as well as balancing the location, size, feel and fit if school. I’m just more focused on the major aspect - chem. / chem e.

So we are trying to figure out which schools to target for nov.

Thank you.

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Wisconsin would be a good safety/match. It’s outstanding in all of your prospective majors.

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Is the student aware that chemical engineering tends to have better job and career prospects than chemistry or biochemistry?

If the student is otherwise undecided between them, it would not be unreasonable to choose based on that.

But note that for some schools, one has to apply to the engineering division or the specific major for chemical engineering.

Also, budget?

But be careful of the weed out GPA requirements to stay in engineering majors at Wisconsin.


Based solely on your opening post, EA to MIT isn’t going to help your child’s chances, even though MIT may be the best school on your list and/or even if it’s your child’s favorite. Once your child has a safety or two nailed down, s/he can obviously reach, but s/he also needs to be realistic. Frankly, I wouldn’t consider many of the schools on your reach list to be good “fit” for your child.

Not a lot of leadership except sport captain which is listed last. Maybe tough with such academic excellence.

Open to suggestions for target schools.

Also balancing my child being a bit picky (is this part of the process? My first time doing college apps w/a child). UW is excellent - been there for work - gorgeous innovation center, but child thinks it’s too big and why go to dif state school. I don’t expect much aid, so alt state school is ok to me.

They want to aim for reaches but as noted - are their reach schools unrealistic? We do have a connection to mit but they proudly don’t look at legacy and with no amc or aime or Olympiad awards I don’t think the connection is meaningful (thus why I say we’re unhooked).

RPI, Case, Lehigh type schools would be worth exploring as Targets.

The reality is that the competition to the top schools is fierce and there is no guarantee that your student will be admitted. Every applicant, no matter how qualified, needs targets and safeties.


Just a couple thoughts regarding ChemE vs chemistry. ChemE is not as close to chemistry as the name seems to imply, they are totally different paths. Just something to think about when deciding on a major. Also with regards to potential employment, in general, a BS in ChemE will open up higher paying jobs than a BS in chemistry. This of course isn’t an absolute but the trend is there. Also potential salary should not be the overall deciding factor but it should he considered. Advanced degrees will of course open up more opportunities and higher salaries.


This. The first, biggest and hardest call is engineering or not? There aren’t a lot of schools like Swat that let you decide after you start.