Sandy L. asks
If a kid has his heart set on a college, what things could help them get in besides academics. For example, MIT has these science camps for kids that are expensive but could they also help with admissions later on?
We truly don’t know. Take everything we say with a HUGE grain of salt. I mean, we know people who got into Stanford but not Harvard and vice versa. It really seems to be a crapshoot at a certain level, even if you’re your state’s math champion and have straight As, etc. I don’t actually think it’s that hard to get into MIT if your grades and testscores are good and you have a true love of math and science compared to getting into Harvard (at least, I know a lot of people who got into MIT as undergrads who didn’t get into any ivies to which they applied). It’s more difficult than getting into your state’s flagship, but there’s a lot less competition for those slots. So I wouldn’t think that the science camps would be necessary. Whether or not they help, I don’t know.
Back when it was called the Westinghouse science award, it helped to have won the Regeneron Science Talent Search.
It helps to have top scores and grades at a known-name school and to have come from nothing. If you’re first gen, low income, and have fought your way to the top, that makes it easier for colleges to decide. Particularly if you’re a scholarship kid at Eaton or at one of the state public boarding schools for GT kids.
One of my colleagues’ kids got in to our (state flagship) school (for engineering/CS) late admissions despite being low on grades and testscores because he did an after school club with a professor in the computer science department and did a very good job at said club, and the professor was able to pull strings. I don’t know how universal that is– certainly I have never had any contact with undergraduate admissions– but some professors at some schools might have some pull.
If Caltech has the same application it had 15 years ago, you’re more likely to get in if you take it seriously. Fill out that page that says, “put something interesting here” with something interesting! I filled the entire thing in very tiny writing with math jokes. My ex-boyfriend drew a comic showing the path of his life complete with adorable stick figures interacting with the line representing the timeline of his life. I forget what my sister put in there but I’m sure it was interesting and entertaining. We all got in.
On the application, if there’s a place for it, have an interesting story to tell that illustrates your interests and your academic path. One of my college ex-boyfriends got in everywhere (he picked our SLAC over Stanford) partly because his admissions essay was a delightful story about how he built a trebuchet. My sister got in everywhere she applied (including ivies) probably partly because she talked about how physics informed her dancing. It probably also helps to be focused and to pretend you know what you’re going to do with your life and why and you have a path mapped out to get there. Extra points if you are unusual– a young woman in an award winning Poms squad and an all-girls math team who has taken as much math and hard science as she can who really wants to design more energy efficient engines. (Again, that was my sister.)
Many schools will make their final waitlist/admit decisions for people on that margin based on who has visited the campus/had an alumni interview. I think this is unfair to low income kids who CAN’T just hop on a plane or spend two weeks in the summer driving up and down the East Coast from the Midwest, but it’s policy at many schools.
Applying early action, particularly the kind where you swear to go if you get in helps, though it decreases your financial aid offer many places.
Playing (and being really good at) the right instrument/sport can help. But it is hard to predict what the school of your choice will need the year you’re applying. (And this probably doesn’t matter at MIT, but I don’t actually know.)
Not needing financial aid can help at some schools. I don’t know if MIT is one of them, but MIT is notoriously stingy when it comes to financial aid. (Harvard is exceedingly generous!)
Being a member of an Olympic team or the child of a celebrity or owning your own profitable business or app or nonprofit that you started as a teen can make you more attractive. So can having published a scholarly paper in an academic journal. Or having a patent. Or a parent who gives a multi-million dollar donation.
Passing the AMC 10 or 12 and doing well on the AIME can help. Taking college classes and doing well in them doesn’t hurt (though as this becomes more common, it may no longer be as strong a signal as it once was).
We’re told that leadership experience, state and national awards, and volunteering can help, but I’m skeptical. I don’t know if these are necessary, but they’re definitely not sufficient. There’s just too many people each year who have these things.
Some people swear by college coaches. I don’t know how to find a good one or what kind of value they add to someone who is already doing well.
I don’t know what we’re going to encourage our kids to do. This is more timely for DC1 who starts high school in a year and a half. Zie is really into math, but not competitions. Zie like robotics, but not competitions. Zie loves computers and games and likes programming but needs more formal training in programming. Zie loves music but although better than I was at that age, is not at competition level either in piano or violin (the piano teacher is pretty lax and zie just started violin a year ago), and again, is not crazy about competition. We might be able to get hir an unpaid summer internship with a professor at my school, or zie can do more work for me, possibly even something publishable. Zie could take summer classes at the community college or the university (I still haven’t figured out how to do summer student-at-large classes, though it’s pretty easy for high school students to take college classes during the school year). It is hard to say what’s best. Most likely we’ll just let hir interests guide hir and focus on learning rather than on getting into a specific school. Because for high income kids of educated parents, the specific school isn’t that important for earnings.
Anybody know more about what undergraduate admissions offices are looking for?