Stats & advice from a first-gen, low income, Stanford matriculate!

Hey yall! As an incoming frosh college student, I still vividly remember the days of scrolling through internet forums finding any piece of advice I could get. Now, I feel it’s my duty to pass on some of the knowledge I gained from my admissions journey. I am a committed student to the Stanford Class of 2025 and thought I’d share my results and the lessons I learned about admissions over the last few months. Stats and basic info are up top, advice is down at the botom.

Demographics

  • Gender: Cis male
  • Race/Ethnicity: Black and Hispanic (Peruvian)
  • Residence: Northern California
  • Hooks: First Gen, low income (is that a hook? idk), URM

Majors: I applied everywhere with my first choice major as chemistry, second choice major as sociology, and third choice major as ethnic studies. If colleges asked for a fourth choice (which some did) I put environmental sciences.

Academics

  • GPA/Rank (or percentile):
    • UW: 4.0
    • W: 4.44ish (there are some digits after the second decimal. Also, it’s important to note that stats are extremely relative to one’s school. At my school, with the classes, we have offered and how schedules were set up, 4.44 was the highest GPA I could possibly have)
    • Class rank: 1/200ish
  • AP Classes: I took 10 AP classes out of the 13 that were offered (some APs were dropped from the course offerings at the time I was eligible to take them)
  • Junior Year Course Load: First block - AP Calc AB, US History, Tutoring Other Students, AP Lang. Second block - AP Calc BC, AP 2-D Art, AP Environmental, Physics. (AP Calc as a junior is very accelerated path at my school, AP Art is a class almost no one takes, I took normal history because it conflicted with calc, and my school offered no AP science courses aside from environmental which was new that year)
  • Senior Year Course Load: First block - AP Psych, AP Lit, Physiology, AP World History. Second block - AP Spanish, Tutoring Other Students, Econ/Gov, AP Stats. (I was the only senior to take AP World since it was offered after my class had already fulfilled the world history requirement. Additonally, both AP Econ and AP Gov were removed from the course offerings that year hence why I took regular.)

Standardized Testing

List the highest scores earned and all scores that were reported.

  • SAT/ACT: Didn’t take them lol. I planned on taking the SAT once in April, once in August, and then Once again in November but COVID messed up my plans. My PSAT from my junior year was like 1290 with minimal studying and I feel like, with lots of studying, my SAT score could’ve been in the high 1300s - mid-1400s.

  • SAT II: N/A

  • AP/IB: Earned 5s in Lang and Art and 4s in Environmental and Calc AB. I opted to take the AB tst instead of the BC test since Calc BC at my school was really just preparation for the AB exam. I also took tests for Lit, World History, and Psych but that was after my acceptance so it doesn’t really matter. All scores were reported.

  • Other (ex. IELTS, TOEFL, etc.): N/A

Extracurriculars/Activities:

  • 3 years with SMASH Academy, a summer residential program focusing on bridign the gap between marginalized communities and STEM. I held one leadership position my second year, two leadership positions my third year, and was selected to be a part of a nationwide SMASH council.
  • 4 years as a member of SWAV, a student leadership club at my school. I served as secretary for it during my Sophomore year.
  • Family responsibilities (I won’t go in-depth but they were significant enough to list as an activity and were the reason for why I don’t have as many ECs as most other applicants)
  • I have a few more ECs but they’re significantly weaker and I was in them for far less time. These include an environemtnal club, Key Club, CSF, etc.

Awards/Honors:

  • Placed second at a SMASH virtual pitch competition (we spent the summer developing VR prototypes and pitched them to our whole site (through zoom, of course))
  • AP Scholar with Honor
  • College Board National Recognition awards (African American and Hispanic)

Essays/LORs/Interviews:

  • Dartmouth, taken in January: My very first interview. It was fine, I truly don;t remember it that much but I talked about my passion for academia and my high school.
  • Princeton, taken in January: Second interview and the only one done by phone call instead of zoom. It was also fine and once again I don’t remember much of it.
  • Columbia, taken in January: Third interview and it was amazing! I talked lot about my passion for chemistry and how I view chemistry as the bridge between science and humanities. I could feel my interviewer enjoying the conversation and we were both smiling the whole time.
  • Harvard Alumni Interview was done in January: It was fine. I talked a lot about resilience, SMASH, and the home life things that have made me who I am. My interviewer was really stoic and hard to read but I later found out that he really did enjoy talking to me.
  • Stanford, taken in February: Oh gosh, this one was rough. So I had to reschedule this interview not once, but twice. During the interview, it felt kinda awkward and I really just didn’t feel a strong connection with my interviewer. I talked a lot about SMASH though.
  • Harvard AO interview done in February: About a month after my alumni interview, my Harvard Admissions officer personally emailed me saying she would like to talk to me. This interview went great and she was super awesome and we shared lots of laughs. I even left a zoom class early to go do this. We talked about a lot of basic things since she already knew a lot about me but the one thing that stuck out to me was when she asked why I wanted to go to Harvard. I was very upfront with her and said “Honestly I don’t know. I applied out of opportunity; I get application fee waivers and this year everything is test-optional, so I figured it would be a great disservice to myself if I didn’t throw my hat in the ring.”
  • Yale done in March I think?: This was my final interview after a gauntlet of long conversations. This was amazing as well, and honestly better than Columbia. We talked about my AP Art portfolio (since it was visible in my background), things that inspire me, and my home life. During the interview, my interviewer kept saying how mature she found me and I could tell we both had a very enjoyable time.

**Decisions

  • Acceptances: (list here):
    • Sacramento State (with honors college invitation)
    • CSU San Diego (with honors college invitation)
    • CSU Long Beach
    • Cal Poly SLO (with merit scholarship)
    • UC Irvine (early acceptance, honors college invitation, regents scholarship)
    • UC Davis (merit scholarship)
    • UCLA
    • UC Berkeley (during the application process, Berk invited me to submit letters of rec)
    • University of the Pacific (honors college invitation and merit scholarship)
    • University of Southern California (honors collegeish invitation)
    • Stanford (likely letter/early acceptance)
    • Columbia (likely letter and named kluge scholar)
    • Cornell (early notice of admission. also for Cornell I got like a semi interview? It was called an alumni connection and was a zoom call that allowed me to just learn about Cornell but I wasn’t really asked anything.)
    • Brown (did not submit the video portfolio thing)
    • UPenn (got selected for the presidential scholars program or something similar to that)
    • Yale
    • Harvard
  • Waitlists: (list here)
    • Dartmouth
  • Rejections: (list here)
    • Princeton

Additional Information:

  • Talked about home life stuff and my school’s wack master schedule

MY ADVICE:
You guys have surely heard the endless sentiments of “be yourself!” but I’m really gonna focus on more uncommon advice since quiet frankly, the things everyone else says are probably true (at least they were true for me)

BE READY FOR FINANCIAL AID DEADLINES: If you’re applying to ivies and other private schools and you’re requesting financial aid, there’s SO much more that you have to do in addition to your FAFSA. CSS Profile, IDOC, school-specific financial aid applications, etc and god forbid your FAFSA gets selected for verification. Just know, application season doesn’t truly end until you commit.

WRITE YOUR ESSAYS ON PAPER FIRST: This is honestly just a personal preference but I feel like it helps a ton! When we type in a document, I feel like there’s way more pressure to make your first draft absolutely perfect but if you write it on paper, there’s no autocorrect there to intimidate you, there are fewer distractions readily available, and when transferring the words to a document you’ll already be doing a small revision.

WRITE YOUR SAFETY/TARGET SCHOOL ESSAYS AS IF THEY’RE FOR YOUR DREAM SCHOOL: This has two benefits. Firstly, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to reuse some of them for your dream school so you’ll already have a much stronger base to work with. Secondly, by writing this way, you’ll have a better chance at securing a spot at these safety/target schools. It would suck to not try super hard on the essays because they’re your safeties, and then you get rejected from your dreams targets and ideal safeties. Everything matters!

UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE: These admissions officers are often pretty young and chill people (I had a convo with a Harvard admissions officer and she was delightful) so don’t feel the need to write as if you’re talking to Bill Gates or some other scary white billionaire. But that being said, also understand that the admissions officers at a UC (research institutions) are looking for a different kind of vibe than an admissions officer at Wellesley. Think of this process like you’re an entrepreneur and these admissions officers are the Shark Tank people! Barbara doesn’t like the same things Mr. Wonderful does, so understand who you’re writing for. Also, don’t be crass. Bathroom humor is cringy.

DONT CHANGE YOUR ESSAYS UNLESS YOU WANT TO: Essays are inherently subjective, so you’ll probably find yourself disagreeing with some of the suggestions being made. If you disagree, don’t feel pressured to change it. This is your essay, not the essay of your teacher/parent/guardian/mentor/friend/etc. It will feel so much better if you get rejected knowing you stand by your work than getting rejected after having someone leaver their own mark on it, and at the same time getting accepted for being 10000% feels way more validating than being accepted for an essay that was basically written by someone else. Also, if you find yourself disagreeing with pretty much every suggestion everyone gives your essay then you’re probably finished. There comes a point when an essay is as good as it’s gonna get (for now) and any further edits will take away the impact.

UNDERSTAND YOUR ESSAY EDITORS: Some people simply don’t have the same “vision” you have when it comes to essays and that’s fine! That being said, have different people edit different things. People who don’t know you well or aren’t strong writers could be there to just call out grammar mistakes. People who know you super well might be good people to give you reality checks and say “this sucks” or “you need to dig deeper.” Different people can and probably should do more than one thing. Not everyone who works at McDonald’s is a chef :slight_smile:

TRY NOT TO MAKE PEOPLE CRITIQUE YOUR FIRST DRAFTS: If you KNOW your first draft needs working on, try not to waste someone’s time having them suggest edits on it. Having them read it is one thing, but asking them to revise it is pointless since you know what already needs to be done. The best times to hand it off to someone are when you can’t find any more things to fix.

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I’ve not read this in detail, but from my brief review thus far, you seem like a GREAT catch for Stanford! You are very kind to put all this detail out there for students/applicants, and I’m sure they and the CC community will be grateful.

The Cardinal is lucky to get someone like you! Well done in every respect.

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Thank you so much!

Thank you for sharing your college application journey!

How did you decide on Stanford?

Good question! So to preface, in a perfect world I think I would’ve picked Yale tbh. I liked the residential college system and the overall feel of the school a bit more. Also after all my decisions came out, the only places I was considering (from a financial aid standpoint) were stanny, the ivies, uc davis, and sac state.

But anyways, I chose Stanford because of logistics. It’s much closer to me (2 hours away instead of across the country) and while proximity in terms of homesickness wasn’t an issue, I did have to factor in that with COVID still being around, it’s quite possible that I may need to go home at any point and going home from Stanford is a lot easier. With that also comes price; both schools gave me equal aid buttttt since I wouldn’t have to pay for flights or anything like that, Stanford reigns supreme. Also Stanford’s financial aid is a bit more generous than some of the other schools in that while my aid was the same for Yale and others, my aid from Stanford is far less likely to change in years to come when compared to some of those other places. Lastly, I’ve visited the campus before and already know that I love it whereas all the east coast schools are completely unknown to me. The prospect of just going into a completely new environment was really appealing tbh, but while I’m ready for change I know deep down that what I need is stability and Stanford provides that over the ivies.

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Your academics and ECs are very impressive. You may have some “hooks,” but that alone could get you into the schools you were accepted into.

Should that be “couldn’t”?

I meant that his academics and ECs alone could get him in. This is a superstar’s resume. Sorry for the confusion.

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Bertnhernia - Can you tell us if you applied early to any college and if so which one?

I did not apply anywhere early! All RD for me!