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Chance a mediocre girlypop for T20 schools! NEED HELP on ECs, LOR, and my college list!

A2Cfor2021A2Cfor2021 4 replies1 threads New Member
DEMOGRAPHICS: White, female, New England, middle class family, highly ranked competitive public school

INTENDED MAJOR(S): Computational Biology (many schools don't have this so I might end up doing a double major in Computer Science and Bioinformatics/Biomedical Engineering)

ACT/SAT/SAT II: this is a weak point for me, I haven't been able to take any tests yet due to COVID cancellations. I am expecting around 1530-1550 on the SAT and 34-35 on the ACT based on practice tests.

UW/W GPA: 5.9/6.0 GPA, I'm pretty sure this comes out to a 4.0 UW on a regular scale... my school is just weird haha

RANK: school does not rank but I will be graduating summa cum laude??

COURSEWORK: I took the most rigorous courses our school has - honors all the way!
You are only allowed to start taking a maximum of 2 AP classes junior year, which I did:
AP Computer Science A (scored a 5), AP US History (scored a 4)
I am now taking 5 AP classes as a senior:
AP Lit, AP Economics, AP Spanish, AP Physics C, AP Calc AB

EXTRACURRICULARS: ** warning- this is LONG! are these strong ECs or are they just ok-ish? which one is the most unique/interesting? GIMME FEEDBACK PLS **

Independent research - computational science
- I've self studied machine learning and done projects on the applications of AI in toxicology and dysmorphology, planning on submitting a research supplement to most schools with more detailed info!
- I've gotten some mediocre awards at the regional/state science fairs, and I know that for a research EC this isn't too impressive since I'm not an ISEF finalist or anything...
- BUT I did do this all on my own, no research mentor or anything! I will most likely get a supplemental LOR from my chem teacher who helped me with the science fair forms to back me up (more on this in the LOR section)

Founded my own hackathon, never done before at my school!!!!! it was sponsored by repl.it which is a pretty big partnership!

Intern at my school's help desk/IT department
- I do tech support & laptop repairs for students, staff
- Was a student ambassador at town-wide EdTech nights
- hosted a couple of large community outreach events with other interns (STEM talks, challenges)

Student Leader/Teacher of a Girls Who Code club for elementary schoolers

Engineering chair/Officer in the planning committee for a big regional math & science tournament

Core team competitor in Science Olympiad ~ top 10 team in state

Violin
- section leader in school's Honors Orchestra
- selected for some competitive orchestras through regional music festival competitions
- created my own string trio with my friends, we do music therapy at local nursing homes
Piano
- been playing for a long time now, but no competitions unfortunately :(
- might submit a music supplement to show my skill?

DanceSport, competed in some regional competitions with decent results but I'm definitely not an expert so this isn't a big focus on my application

Spanish Co-Chair of World Language National Honor Society

Member of Tri-M Music Honor Society and National Honor Society (most likely will not include on application)

AWARDS/HONORS/DISTINCTIONS: ** unfortunately I am lacking substantial awards but whatever it's better than nothing, right? **

Honorable Mention at Regional Science Fair (10th grade)
Third Place at Regional Science Fair (11th grade)
Honorable Mention at State Science Fair (11th grade)

...and then some violin competitions and a couple of honor societies as you can see above.

ESSAYS:

THIS IS MY TIME TO SHINE (hopefully)!! I've already started working on my essays, and I have some pretty creative ideas that show off my unique childhood/background, my geeky personality and my ~intellectual vitality~ ofc. I'm going to keep refining my drafts and pick the best one out of all my ideas!

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION: ** I am confused! Please help me narrow it down! **

Counselor rec: She basically has no idea who I am since I didn't interact much with the guidance department or talk to my counselor. I regret this, but it's too late to fix the relationship now. I sent her my resume and filled out a bunch of questionnaires that will help a little, so my rec will probably be average. Probably 6/10 or a 7/10 :(

Comp sci teacher: I've had her for 3 years, she's notoriously strict and kind of temperamental, but luckily I'm one of her favorites! Plus I'm a girl in CS which is FUN. Probably a 9/10.

English teacher: I aced this class! She loved meeeeee and she's saved a lot of my writing assignments to use as exemplary material for future classes. Also probably a 9/10.

Biology teacher: I had originally asked her for a recommendation but now I don't know if I'm going to actually need it. I'm afraid having too many recommendations will be overkill... "thicker the file, thicker the student." However, biology is a special interest of mine and a (sort of) potential major. This was my favorite class; I got really good grades and participated a lot. She also helped me study for some science olympiad events so we get along pretty well. Should I still use her letter of recommendation, or tell her now not to write one for me since she hasn't started writing them yet?

Chemistry teacher: I had him sophomore year, and even though I wasn't the best at chemistry, I was definitely one of his favorite students in class just because of my extroverted personality. I work with him after school all the time for science olympiad, which is great. He also helped me with my science fair forms and has a decent understanding of all the research I've done on my own outside of school the past couple of years, so he could write about that. He would probably give me a glowing recommendation (10/10!!!), but I also know he's not the best writer which slightly worries me. Should I still ask him for a supplemental recommendation?

COLLEGE LIST: **do you think these are accurate categories for schools based on my resume? any other schools that would be a good fit for a student like me?**

Ultra reach - Brown, Columbia, Cornell, MIT, Carnegie Mellon
Semi reach - Northeastern, Georgia Tech, Case Western Reserve, Brandeis, Boston University
Match - University of Toronto, University of Washington, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Worchester Polytechnic Institute
Safety - UMass Amherst, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology

CLOSING NOTES:
If you read through this whole thing, YOU ARE A SAINT. THANK YOU. I would really appreciate any kind of feedback. I'm kind of clueless tbh, and I need all the help I can get. Be brutally honest please!
THANKS AGAIN FOLKS!!!!
19 replies
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Replies to: Chance a mediocre girlypop for T20 schools! NEED HELP on ECs, LOR, and my college list!

  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 11016 replies137 threads Senior Member
    I think Case is a match.
    U of Washington and GT, for your intended major, from OOS, are reaches.
    IMO you have too many schools on your list, especially reaches.

    Counselor recommendations are typically required and are more about course rigor and where you stand in your class.

    Look at the schools on your list and see what they require for teacher LORs. Some want core subjects only, some want one STEM and one non stem. From what you’ve written, I’d ask chem and English.

    Definitely do not put extra stuff in your application that isn’t requested. You are correct that thicker is not better.
    · Reply · Share
  • Mwfan1921Mwfan1921 6061 replies97 threads Senior Member
    edited September 7
    Congratulations on your achievements.

    We need some more information...What is your state of residence? What can/will your family pay for college?

    CWRU and Brandeis are probably matches.

    U Washington for CS is a reach.

    UMass Amherst for CS is not a safety, but match or reach may depend on whether you live in MA.

    Even if your school has Naviance or Scoir, it's difficult to categorize schools for CS because that major is often more competitive than the school's overall admission rate.

    Other schools to possibly add: U Rochester, your state flagship, Clark, Marist.

    If all female schools are of interest, take a look at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, and Bryn Mawr.

    Why is Brown on your list? It doesn't seem to fit.

    Regarding LoRs, don't ask the chem teacher for one. Most schools will require the GC letter, and one or two more. Some schools may take additional LoRs beyond the one or two, so only send extra to the schools that specifically say that is ok.

    It's up to you to choose which LoRs go where, generally for schools that take two, you should send one humanities and one STEM, so English plus CS or Bio, not CS and Bio.




    edited September 7
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6903 replies2 threads Senior Member
    edited September 7
    If you are from Massachusetts, that would make U.Mass Amherst a safety that is affordable and that is also a very good university. It is very strong for computer science and for premed, which makes me think that it would be a good fit. Having a solid safety makes the entire process much, much better IMHO. After this your list is quite long.

    If you are intending to go on for a master's or MD, then make sure that you have budgeted for 5 or 6 or 8 years of university.

    You have a long list. I would be inclined to find out what your budget is (for the full 5 or 6 or 8 years, if applicable) and run the NPCs on the various schools on your list. This might allow you to trim the list somewhat.

    Be aware that if you get into MIT, the day that you arrive on campus you will go from being very close to the strongest student in your high school, to suddenly being an average student at a very demanding university. The same is probably true of your other ultra reaches.

    Otherwise to me it looks like you are doing very well.
    edited September 7
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  • Mwfan1921Mwfan1921 6061 replies97 threads Senior Member
    edited September 7
    If you are from Massachusetts, that would make U.Mass Amherst a safety that is affordable and that is also a very good university. It is very strong for computer science and for premed, which makes me think that it would be a good fit.

    UMass Amherst is not a safety for CS (not sure about computational bio) for any student, MA resident or not. We also don't know OP's financial situation so we have no idea if it would be affordable or not.
    edited September 7
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  • merc81merc81 12142 replies206 threads Senior Member
    edited September 7
    Mwfan1921 wrote:
    Why is Brown on your list? It doesn't seem to fit.
    Brown would make a superb choice for any field related to applied mathematics though.

    @A2Cfor2021: In order to not counterproductively limit your options, you should at least read about bioinformatics programs that have been integrated into the broader science curriculum, such as in the example below:

    https://academics.hamilton.edu/biology/home/bioinformatics.html

    https://www.hamilton.edu/news/story/comp-sci-department-hosts-college-computing-conference
    edited September 7
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  • merc81merc81 12142 replies206 threads Senior Member
    Btw, no Rice? It certainly would fit your current mix.
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  • A2Cfor2021A2Cfor2021 4 replies1 threads New Member
    Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for your responses!! I really appreciate all the feedback - this is so helpful! I'm new to CC so forgive me if my formatting is off. I also want to apologize in advance for my stupid questions; like I mentioned in my original post, I am a bit clueless about the whole college process and definitely have a LOT of learning left to do about how things work.

    @momofsenior1
    Ah, I know I have a ton of reaches... my list was a lot longer and I'm still in the process of trying to cut it down.

    In regards to extra material, should I not submit a research supplement? I'm really proud of my research, and I thought a supplement would be the best way to show what I've done. I know there's an opportunity to elaborate in the additional information space, but I was planning on using that to explain my family life since I'm a caretaker for my grandparents with debilitating health conditions (cancer, severe memory loss, mental issues). Should I ask one of my teachers to mention my family life in their LOR, and use the info space to talk about my research instead?

    @Mwfan1921 + @DadTwoGirls

    You guys figured it out, I'm from MA. I'm hoping I didn't just doxx myself with my overly detailed post lol. I'm confused on whether UMass Amherst is a safety or a match. I assumed it was a safety since my school sends tons of students to UMass Amherst every year and my SAT should be above the 75th percentile. I'm kind of worried now since I didn't realize it was so competitive for CS.

    About my financial situation, my family is definitely going to help me pay for college, but I'm still probably going to need some financial aid and/or some loans. I'm also applying to merit scholarships. We are still figuring out the long term budget. I know my list right now is full of some super expensive schools, but I also know I'm not going to get into most of them since they're so elite.

    @merc81

    Thanks for the info! You bring up a good point. I'm going to check those programs out.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 11016 replies137 threads Senior Member
    I think sending your research supplement to schools that accept supplements is a good plan. Where you don't want to send extra is LORs. Definitely have your GC or a teacher talk about your family situation but it's OK for you to mention that too since it obviously didn't impact your grades.

    CS is the hot major right now so for schools that admit to the program, acceptance rates can be much lower than that of the school overall. You may need a different UMass campus as your true safety.
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  • A2Cfor2021A2Cfor2021 4 replies1 threads New Member
    @momofsenior1

    Thanks for the clarification! That makes sense. I will tell my counselor to talk about my family in her LOR, which would (hopefully) show my personal strength since I managed to do well despite being spread thin at home.

    Yeah, wow. CS is such a competitive field. I will take that into consideration as I continue to evaluate my college list.
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  • Mwfan1921Mwfan1921 6061 replies97 threads Senior Member
    You may find some helpful information in this thread, and perhaps see some patterns of stats for UMass Amherst and CS in-state acceptances (19/20 class): https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/university-massachusetts-amherst/2171654-umass-amherst-2024-ea-high-stats-and-in-state-and-denied-waitlisted-p1.html
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6903 replies2 threads Senior Member
    "I'm confused on whether UMass Amherst is a safety or a match."

    I am a bit confused too.

    Your guidance counselor at your high school should have a good sense.

    If you want to be a bit extra careful, you could send in an application to U.Mass Lowell as well. However given that you are in-state with excellent stats, I would think that your chances for U.Mass Amherst are at least very good.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30771 replies59 threads Senior Member
    For those schools where CS is an impacted major where accept stats are way out of line (far lower) than for admissions overall, your chances will be lower. CMU is an example of this. Very high reach. Without SAT/ACT scores , SAT2 Math scores, AP Calc scores, it’s hard to assess where you are on this spectrum. Are you National Merit Semfinalist material? What were your PSAT scores? You say you are in a highly competitive highschool. Do they offer Calc BC and how many kids take that? What does your school profile show for Calc AB results? What is your approximate class rank?

    That you are female helps for CS, a bit. Have you looked at Navience data for your highschool and the colleges in your list?

    I would pare down that list and focus on your most liked schools and your safeties , get them out and the see how you can do with what’s left on your list so that you can craft your essays and short answers to each college A shot gun approach can really show and impair chances for highly selective schools. My kids often changed essays and even recommenders depending upon the schools for those schools and scholarships where it’s important to address the applications personally. Also, lock in those safeties. Once you’ve addressed the apps as best possible —a time consuming job, on the essential core of your list of schools, work on the other schools
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  • A2Cfor2021A2Cfor2021 4 replies1 threads New Member
    @Mwfan1921
    Wow, that was a really informative thread! I had no idea this was such a big issue among MA parents/students.

    @DadTwoGirls
    I'm definitely going to reach out to her. Besides UMass Lowell which you mentioned, would McGill work as a potential safety?
    · Reply · Share
  • A2Cfor2021A2Cfor2021 4 replies1 threads New Member
    @cptofthehouse
    I'm signed up for the September and October SAT, so hopefully I will have an SAT score soon! I should get around a 1530-1550. I know that isn't extraordinary or anything, but it puts me past the "benchmark" from what I understand. SAT subject tests aren't required anymore so I decided not to take them. I believe I got a 1490 on the PSAT. My school offers Calc BC, but I chose to take the easier route with AB so I would be just a little less stressed out senior year. There's one BC class and one AB class, and each class has around 20 students. There's a 95% pass rate for the AB exam. If I had to guess my class rank, I'd say probably in the top 10%?? But I'm not sure. I hope that info helps.

    I did check out the Naviance Scattergrams, which is what helped me make my rough categories. Obviously, that's not always the most accurate metric since it's harder for CS, but compared to other students at my school, it seems like I'm generally a strong applicant.

    My common app essay is almost done. I have one solid draft, and then two other "riskier" essays that I'm still putting the finishing touches on. I started on the supplemental essays for the handful of schools I'm totally certain of. Unfortunately, I haven't exactly nailed down my entire core list, but I'm going to try my best to address each important application with a lot of personal attention like you advised. I'm very grateful for your insight! Thank you!
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  • inthegardeninthegarden 1909 replies32 threads Senior Member
    @A2Cfor2021, your guidance counselor should be able to tell you if you are In the top 5%, 10%, 25%, etc. Good luck!
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  • boudersbouders 2792 replies195 threads Senior Member
    University of Toronto and University of Washington are reaches for CS. They get thousands of CS applications.

    University of Toronto also has a bioinformatics and computational biology program though, which is separate from CS. For U of T, you can only apply to CS OR the bioinformatics and computational biology program. CS is a reach. For bioinformatics and computational biology, admission to the science program would be a safety, but then you would have to apply for the major at the end of your first year. Admission into the major wouldn't be a safety. However, someone capable of getting a 35 on the ACT should be able to get high enough grades to get in.

    If you are interested in Canadian universities, you should check out the University of Waterloo. CS is very competitive though. They don't have bioinformatics. They do have biomedical engineering which is also very competitive.
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  • flamingogirlflamingogirl 69 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Certain teachers may surprise you when it comes to recommendations if your chemistry teacher likes you as much as you think he will in put the extra effort. Sounds like your biology teacher though wouldn't say much different I don't think you need her lor.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35852 replies404 threads Senior Member
    "...explain my family life since I'm a caretaker for my grandparents with debilitating health conditions (cancer, severe memory loss, mental issues)."

    Just a word of warning. How do you think adcoms react to learning a kid is so needed at home? Whether it's a sick relative, sibling needs, or something else, they can wonder if you can leave for college. Try to strike the right note.
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  • chmcnmchmcnm 920 replies9 threads Member
    edited September 15
    A2Cfor2021 wrote: »
    About my financial situation, my family is definitely going to help me pay for college, but I'm still probably going to need some financial aid and/or some loans. I'm also applying to merit scholarships. We are still figuring out the long term budget. I know my list right now is full of some super expensive schools, but I also know I'm not going to get into most of them since they're so elite.

    You're limited on loans unless your parents will co-sign. If you need a merit scholarship to attend the school it's probably a reach unless it's specifically stated on their website or NPC. Are you a potential NMSF? That could open up your options.

    You should sit down with your parents and run the NPC for all your schools and see what's affordable and then create your list. It's a waste of time and effort to apply and then determine you can't afford to attend.

    It's easy to come-up with a list of reaches. Much more difficult to make a list of safeties. I liked McGill on you list. Love Montreal.

    Good luck.
    edited September 15
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