Trying to find the right schools

Relatively new to the college search process and honestly our heads are spinning. We’ve been scouring the internet and numerous books in search of information and insight to help get us started in the right direction hopefully. CC has been incredibly informational and insightful, so thank you to all the amazing contributors to this forum for sharing your experiences.

Our daughter is a junior in HS and is a high achieving student. She has a 3.95 unweighted GPA and is taking all honors and AP classes. She’s active in and out of school, as she swims competitively year-round, plays softball, is on the HS Speech team, plays clarinet in multiple HS bands, volunteers as an upperclassman mentor/leader for incoming freshmen students, is a math tutor, and represented our city as a volunteer ambassador at various events for a year. So she’s a good student and is very active in school and the community.

She did well on the PSAT, scoring 1450. For our state, she’s right on the border for NM. She took her first ACT exam a few weeks back and just received her scores. She scored a 35 Composite. She’s planning to take it again at least one more time this spring in hopes of getting to a 36.

She has aspirations of going to a top-tier school, as many other kids do. We visited Stanford, UC-Berkeley and UCLA over the past year while traveling out west, and she loved them all. With the out of state tuition prices in California, the 2 state schools are out of our price range. She’s planning to apply to Stanford, but realizes it’s a reach for about anyone. We are going to visit Princeton in a few months, as she really liked what the representative had to say at a mini college fair that we attended a few months back. Again, she knows Princeton is a reach, but wants to go and see the campus and potentially apply. Her current major of interest is Engineering. In looking through dozens upon dozens of schools, we are trying to find good programs that will make her strong offers based on her grades, test scores and extra-curriculars. What we’d like to have in place when she is applying, is a list of schools that range from Reach to Strong Merit Scholarship Offers to Full Scholarship Offers. Then be able to walk through each school and determine the merits of each.

We’ve been able to gather some valuable information in some of the posts from other people’s experiences. Any insight or guidance in regard to our situation would be greatly welcomed and appreciated!

What is your budget? Have you used the net price calculator for Princeton and Stanford? Will you qualify for need based aid at these schools?

Big merit will come from less competitive schools - Alabama, Iowa State, type programs. Solid engineering programs.

Good merit from schools like RPI, Case, Pitt.

The top engineering programs like Michigan, GT, Purdue are unlikely to give merit unless you are in state.

My advice is to figure out your firm budget and then start running NPCs for the schools you are considering.

Don’t visit schools that you know will be unaffordable. Schools like Princeton don’t give merit awards. It’s strictly need based.

There is another thread on the parent forum for a high stats, engineering hopeful chasing merit. Might be worth a read:

Spend more time looking at and touring safety and match schools. The reach schools are easy for a kid to fall in love with. Unless you have an obvious state school, they are the hard ones to find.

Our ideal top end is $40,000/year including room and board. I’ve run about two dozen NPC for assorted schools. Princeton, Stanford and MIT all came in between $34k and $37k. We started with the top engineering schools, which are all obviously going to be the more difficult ones to get into and the ones that don’t offer merit for the most part.

We live in Minnesota. The U of M has a good engineering school but as of today, our daughter doesn’t want to stay in-state for college. I think she will apply there as a safety school though. Not sure what they would be able to offer for merit, I know the current list price is $30k.

What we are trying to compile are the safety and match schools. I think where we are weak in our knowledge is it’s easy to run the NPC and see what it would cost to go to a school like Alabama or Texas A&M, but we are admittedly ignorant as to who will be willing to give out what as far as big merit awards. So looking at the Out of State Tuition for a school at $30,000 doesn’t necessarily help unless we know there is a fair chance that school will pony up $20k or more in merit money. That’s what we are trying to find, those schools that will chase high level kids.

Thank you for the link to the thread for someone in a similar search, it sounds very much like where we are at.

For a tippy top student in search of potential merit it’s also worth considering applying for cohort based scholarships, which provide a lot of special opportunities. I compiled a partial list here:

These scholarships are of course always going to be a reach (how much depends on the specific school), but we’ve been very happy with how it worked out for D18.

I wouldn’t be trying to improve the ACT further. It’s great to be one and done. Focus instead on other things that will be more helpful in a holistic admission process.

There is Wisconsin tuition reciprocity, but Wisconsin engineering has more limited capacity with significant weeding by college GPA ( ). Minnesota college GPA requirements for undeclared engineering students to choose a major are less difficult (3.2 automatic for any engineering major, but most admit down to 2.0: ).

Where out of state does she want to go to?

In California, the CSUs cost less than the UCs, but most of them are mostly commuter-based universities (not the optimal social experience for a resident student from out-of-state). CPSLO is the most obvious exception.

State universities in states like Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, etc. may offer significant enough scholarships that can pull them into your price limit. Check their web sites for scholarship listings.

Sounds like a great applicant. Nice to have Minnesota as a safety. If she’d stay in the Midwest you might check out schools like Purdue and Iowa state, which do have merit but are close to your price without it. Utah is also close to your range. I don’t know how outside the box she wants to go but Montana State can be fairly cheap with merit. They have an online calculator you can use. Arizona State seems generous with merit if she’s fine with the heat.

Utah don’t have a table of merit though you can see some indication of their merit offers in the NPC and in recent years they have offered a full 4 year OOS tuition scholarship (you just pay fees) for 35 ACT/4.0UW (so cost is $15-20K pa). They also have 30 competitive full ride Eccles scholarships per year.

If she likes the idea of a California school with engineering, consider Harvey Mudd in Claremont. While it’s a STEM specialty school, it also values the liberals arts, and students cross-register freely at all of the Claremont Consortium schools (Pomona, Pitzer, Claremont McKenna, and Scripps). Mudd meets full need, so run the NPC.

(Also in the greater LA area, consider Caltech if you think it might be a fit.)

Rice is also very much worth looking at; the financial aid is likely to be generous. The acceptance rate has dropped like a rock in the past few years, though, since the enhanced financial aid initiative was announced.

URochester and CWRU are particularly good for musician engineers. Also Vanderbilt, JHU, Northwestern, and USC. All full-need-met schools some have merit as well, but that probably won’t change your bottom line unless she lands a full-tuition offer (which does exist at Vandy, and at USC for some National Merit applicants).

If a general engineering program at a top LAC would interest her, consider Smith and Swarthmore. Both meet full need.

UMinn is definitely a great safety, as well as the other generous-merit flagships that have been mentioned.

Reaches such as Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt etc are easy to find and fall in love with. I will list a few schools where an acceptance is more likely (note: ED to Vandy or Duke will increase acceptance odds…but make sure they fall within budget if she goes this route).

  • Arizona
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa State
  • Alabama
  • Purdue
  • Lehigh- make sure to show interest even if you can’t visit. Lehigh meets need and they are looking for geographic diversity.
  • Lafayette
  • NC State
  • U of South Carolina
  • University of Rochester (run the NPC)

For a top private engineering school with merit scholarship , Rice is your best bet.

Rice is a top engineering school with merit scholarships and their cost is lower than most as Texas is more affordable and opportunities to find internships and jobs are amazingly easy due to Texas’s strong economy. If you qualify for aid, it’s one of the most generous schools.

Is she good enough at one of her sports to be recruited and play at the college level? That would move her into a very high acceptance pool. Other than that, she will be in a 5% RD pool for schools at the very top like princeton. Which does not mean that you should throw your hands up on those schools - bear down on those apps with a focus on marketing her in the most effective way. If you have a good guidance counselor who will spend lots of time with her, take full advantage. If not, you may want to hire a professional.

The good news is that many colleges will be delighted to have your daughter. There are many fine engineering schools, and many of them are looking for qualified female candidates. Make sure she is happy with the school’s location and campus culture etc - happiness is rarely spoken of in these posts but of the utmost importance. There are many schools where she will get a great engineering education, but probably a lot fewer where she will be truly happy for four years. Best of luck,

Many great comments and suggestions above. Be open to a variety of schools - some private may be less expensive than public.

Our daughter had similar stats and ended up at Rice studying engineering - she is a freshman there and loves it. (Full disclosure - budget/aid was not a consideration.) She did EA to Wisconsin, Univ of Illinois and Northeastern and ED to Rice. Wash U and Northwestern were the next up on her list. (Illinois resident.)

No need to take the ACT again unless there is a specific merit award she is looking at - maybe for Alabama?

While she may say she’s interested in engineering, your daughter’s ECs don’t demonstrate that so for the more competitive (ie holistic reviews) schools this may be a challenge for her. A college counselor once told us about a mock review she did for an applicant interested in a competitive journalism program who was very competitive academically but had no journalism or writing ECs to speak of and in this mock review was not accepted into the program. As an example, my DD had many engineering related activities in HS - robotics, STEM clubs / tutoring, summer jobs in the STEM field, etc.

Good luck - this forum has lots of great information - and keep asking questions!

Have you considered Cal Poly SLO? It’s in California and is very competitive, ranking quite close to top UC schools. OOS tuition is CONSIDERABLY lower than UC schools, too. Great location, great academics.

Thank you to everyone for all the great insight and suggestions! It has truly helped kick start our search and given us new places to look.

I wanted to update those that helped in our search. Obviously things have gone a bit sideways since January when I last posted, but we have a firm plan in place at this point after some college visits and lots of research.

My daughter starts her senior year in a few weeks. She did decide to not take the ACT a second time to try and improve her score, so her 35 composite will be her score. She is taking the Math 2 and Chemistry SAT Subject tests in the near future, so hopefully she does well on those also. She is in place as the president of her school’s Women in STEM Club, and is working on expanding on what the club has done in the past. She has a really strong relationship with her GT teacher from middle school, and is going to reach out to him to try and incorporate middle school girls interested in STEM fields to attend the meetings and speaker presentations as well. She’s taking a fairly rigorous class schedule with 4 AP courses and a CIS Spanish course as well. So upon graduation, she will have had 8 APs and 2 CIS courses (Spanish and Multi-Variable Calculus). She’s done her due diligence as far as taking a rigorous course schedule and doing well, and between her unweighted GPA (3.8) and her ACT score, she qualifies for some nice automatic scholarships. We are waiting to hear if she made the cut for National Merit Semis, she’s right on the expected cut, so we will see where it falls.

She has narrowed down her potential majors to Chemical or Bio-Medical Engineering. So our focus has been primarily on Engineering schools. We researched many of the schools that people on CC have mentioned that are good with merit, and she’s applying to a few of them.

Her list right now of schools she’s applying to are:

Safety Schools

University of Minnesota
University of Utah
University of Arizona
Colorado School of Mines (she qualified for Gold Status and free application)

Match Schools

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo



She really liked Lehigh and it’s a good match for her, but she would need at least a 1/4 scholarship to even consider going there, and ideally more like 1/2. The other schools we priced out on their NPCs and Purdue was the most expensive for out of state students. From what I’ve read, out of state engineering students are not very likely to get merit, but we shall see if she gets in and what they’d give her if anything.

Once all the acceptance/rejections are in, we will have to sit down and figure out what the best path is for her. My wife and I have tried to explain the merits of the 4+1 programs a number of the schools offer. Those schools would also give her credit for most if not all her AP courses, so she’s potentially be in and out in 4 years with a masters. Based on what are willing to pay, she could go to a school like Utah or Arizona and leave with no debt and a masters degree. Pretty alluring to me, but I also understand the draw if she were to get into one of her reach schools. Hopefully we have many options to choose from when the time comes.

Thank you again for all your help. Feel free to comment with any insight you may have after seeing our info.

Sorry about the kind of bad formatting in advance. :smile:

@Matt34 If your daughter becomes a National Merit Semi-Finalist, any state school in Florida (highly recommend the University of Florida as it is #34 ranked and has a strong Honors program) will offer a full ride/cost of attendance scholarship under the Benacquisto Scholarship program.

Note that the scholarship is based on the Florida legislature continuing to fund the scholarship, and you would be advised to do some research in the NM thread on CC to find out more info. I believe the University of Central Florida and Florida State University will guarantee the full ride merit scholarship even if the state’s funding is lost, but check with the school after admission, as I’ve heard that UF has said that they will not honor the scholarship if funding is lost. I would still recommend you apply to UF and check with the school & assess the situation later after being admitted b/c UF’s application is due November 1st and the Honors program had a 13% acceptance rate this year, so it’s far from being a guaranteed admission.

For a National Merit full-ride school that offers guaranteed admission in Florida, the University of Central Florida will waive your application fee as a NMSF, but you do have to pay for official SAT/ACT and AP test score sends (check the admission website.)

Texas A & M’s engineering/cs is good and offers a full tuition scholarship for OOS students who are National Merit, and a competitive full-ride scholarship for engineering students. They have an earlier deadline in December? so check the admissions website.

The University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering is extremely strong and offers all national merit students an automatic half-tuition presidential merit scholarship. Still apply by the early scholarship deadline of December 1st? if interested, as there is the possibility of being interviewed for full-tuition.

As other posters state in this thread, Rice is a fantastic school, however, do not expect one of its highly competitive merit scholarship (~20% of admitted students according to the admissions website,) to be anything but a pleasant surprise. Rice has an extremely generous financial aid program through the Rice Investment for low and middle-income families.

Vanderbilt has a very strong financial aid program as well through Opportunity Vanderbilt and they offer ~15% of their students a full-tuition merit scholarship, so it’s worth applying to. National Merit students automatically receive 5K inclusive of any other NM scholarship. It is 2K inclusive if Vanderbilt offers you one of their own full-tuition/partial-tuition scholarships (not NM.)

I’m biased b/c I go to Brown, but if your daughter has interests other than engineering that she would like to explore in college, the Open Curriculum makes it extremely easy to do so b/c of virtually no requirements (but 2 writing designated courses offered in multiple fields like bio,) and you can S/NC (Pass/Fail) any course, allowing students to sample electives w/o the fear of a bad grade holding you back. Brown, like the other Ivies, meets students’ full demonstrated need, and the Brown Promise does this w/o loans.

Duke and JHU both have extremely strong BME programs and highly competitive merit scholarships. However, they also have an extremely strong financial aid program, on-par w/the Ivies. Penn, Cornell, and Columbia have extremely strong engineering programs, and meet full need (w/ loans in Cornell’s case.)

For Columbia in particular, the Engineering school offers a selective program called the Columbia Engineering Experience (held virtually this year,) that lets students learn more about Engineering at Columbia and offers a Columbia application fee waiver I think if admitted to the program. The deadline is August 31st. Apply here: .

Hope this helps! Good luck with admissions!