Books of fun math games

This post was in my drafts from 2013.  Amazon links are sponsored, though we don’t get a ton from them so definitely buy elsewhere if you can support a local bookstore.

In order of difficulty:

Math for Smarty Pants is a book from the 1980s that’s still in print because it’s still good.  It’s definitely for elementary school kids.

Sadly you can only get Aha! by Martin Gardner used.  It is a fun book of math puzzles for all ages, including adults.  There’s comics for kids and text for adults.

Gotcha! by Martin Gardner is even more fun because it introduces paradoxes, which are mind-blowing.

You can also hit the Car Talk archives for their weekly puzzlers.

We never really fell in love with Family Math, but some people like it a lot.

Related:  tangrams are fun geometry puzzles

Dragonbox apps for your favorite tablet device are also really great

DC2 has discovered Square One on youtube.  They don’t have every episode, but what they do have is fun.

Do you have any fun math suggestions?

Requesting 529 money for DC1’s Calc 3 class was suspiciously easy

I made DC1 dig out the receipt and send it to me, but in the end I guess I didn’t need it?

I just went to the Utah 529 site where our stuff is and they were like, how much do you want?  And then, is it for a qualified or non-qualified expense?  And then they were like, bank deposit or check?

And that was it!

In January they’ll send us a tax form, so maybe something gets done with taxes?  I printed out the tuition receipt and put it with our tax stuff just in case.

They also offer the option to pay the school tuition directly, which I guess is what we will do with DC1’s actual college.

I was expecting it to be more like the dependent daycare account, where there’s a lot more uploading and checking of receipts, but apparently they just trust you for college?  Or they want to make things easy for rich people and less so for working people :/.

Grumpeteers with more experience, am I missing something or is it really that simple?

What is DC1 doing over the summer before college?

Not violin! Zie returned it at the end of school.

Lots of piano practicing. There’s already been an increase of this the last month of school.

Music composition, including finally opening up the keyboard my sister got hir for hir birthday that attaches to hir computer and uses FL Studio.

An online AI summer camp which may be good or may be terrible, who knows.  (It was pricy but not as bad as most in person camps, under $2K.)

Camp counseling for the math camp zie has been counseling for for several years.

Finally getting hir driver’s license.  Zie was almost ready over winter break (and is legally ready– all the hours are done), but needed a little more practice parallel parking and then didn’t want to try to get the license over Spring Break.  This will be a priority.

I think we’ll be having both kids pick something to cook each week and they will cook it. Not because they need to learn (they already know) but to take some of our load off.  They also know how to do laundry.  I don’t know that there’s anything left that is vital before DC1 heads off to college.  So DC1 can mostly just do whatever zie wants.

Are you and yours doing anything interesting over the summer?

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Feelings about DC1 heading off to college

I don’t know how I will feel three months from now, but my sister’s fiancé recently asked me how I’m feeling about DC1 going off to college in September.

I said, 70% proud and excited and 30% bittersweet we’re going to miss hir. Then I thought a bit more and amended it to 65% proud and excited, 30% missing, and 5% terrified.  (In the past week, I’ve explicitly told DC1 not to hike tall mountains in Morocco, bike in a construction site at 3am, or OD on drugs — the worry percent was higher before zie picked a school with decent required dining halls and dorm-based housing, so now I’m just down to standard low probability injury and death kinds of worries, everything else will be a growth experience).

I asked DH the same question and he said that DC1 is ready, and when he thinks about kids in his home town who never left, they were in too small a pond and never got the chance to grow, so now they’re stuck unable to find jobs.  It’s time for DC1 to spread hir wings and get challenged.

It helps a lot that DH and I both left home at age 15, so 16.5 seems almost late!  And of course we still have DC2 (worries about DC2 missing DC1 are in the 30% but the delightful idea of DC1 and DC2 texting each other is in the 65%) but DC2 is hir own person, and you can’t substitute one kid for another.  That’s not how it works.

I guess I feel like in this narrative arc of DC1’s Coming of Age, this is DC1’s story and I’m just a minor character.  I’m excited about hir learning and growing and becoming even more of the independent person zie is or wants to be.  I really hope that we get to keep watching the arc (figuring out how to keep in touch and whether zie calls us or we call hir is in that 30%), but it isn’t our narrative.

My sister suggested road-tripping with DC1 to college instead of DH flying.  Hir company is currently very relaxed about remote work (and she no longer has an office– just a hot-deck cubicle), and she and her fiancé (who owns his own business and thus has flexibility) are into the idea of spending a few days in the twin cities after dropping DC1 off.  Pragmatically, this means that we wouldn’t have to figure out how to get DC1’s keyboard (that connects to hir computer for music composition) to school with hir.  Everything else we had a game plan for either buying or shipping.  But as sad as I was feeling about me not being able to go, DH not going either seems even worse!  Still, I know I can trust my sister to take pictures and videos.  We asked DC1 and zie seems completely on board with the idea– being able to have all hir stuff is appealing, even zie ends up doing half the driving.  We haven’t ironed things out yet, but we have told my sister that DC1 is on board so it will probably happen.

Have you had a kid head off to college or boarding school?  What are your thoughts on leaving the nest?  How did your parents react when you left?

Ask the grumpies: Advice for people applying to college 2023-2024?

CG asks:

When DC1 has completed hir college admissions journey, I’d love to read a sort of wrap-up post of your major takeaways and lessons learned from the process. DH and my knowledge of what one should do when applying to college is literally from a different century. We each applied to three or four colleges, got into some (in my case) or all (in his case), picked one, and went. I did an east coast college tour with my mom (probably fall of senior year, but I’m not sure) and got into one of the schools I visited but not the other. I did a visit to a particular department at another school in the Midwest but then applied to a different program and they told my mom later that they didn’t view my earlier visit as demonstrated interest (which I hadn’t realized). I didn’t get into that school. DH thinks he may have only done a visit to the Ivy he eventually went to after he was admitted, but can’t remember. I suspect my essays were all a painful combination of generic and earnest, but I can’t remember a thing about any of them. I don’t even remember writing them.

Anyway, we have no clue how we should be advising our oldest and all his friends are oldest kids, too, so no one knows what they’re doing. I’d also be very interested in your experience with the essay person or if you know people who have hired consultants. On one level that seems insane to me, but given our lack of knowledge (see above) maybe it would be a good idea and take some of the stress out of it.

From my understanding there’s also a big Covid blip that will hopefully have finished once DC2 is up. I think we’re in a transitional period right now both because of kids who took gap years starting college and the test-optional thing being pretty universal at this point.

Things may be completely different again in 5 years!

During the process, I was maybe regretting a bit that I didn’t ask my friend at Harvard for contact info for the consultant her kid used last year. But also that seemed anathema to my values. The outschool person literally just helped DC1 brainstorm and pointed out areas that needed work and provided info on how to improve general things like transitions and answered specific a/b questions DC1 had. It felt very ethical. DC1’s supplemental optional essays for Macalester and Carleton were written completely without a consultant (DC1 did ask whether to add filler to the Macalester supplement or if it was ok if it was shorter than the word limit, and the consultant said shorter without filler was fine for an optional essay), and DC1 got rejected or waitlisted from the places she did edit the supplements.  But I don’t think that’s her fault– DC1 just got dramatically better at writing these essays with practice and the Macalester and Carleton supplements were among the last few DC1 wrote.  I think the consultant’s main helpfulness wasn’t in each specific essay, but in the brainstorming and thinking about HOW to write a college essay.  So honestly, if you’re going to go with Outschool I’d recommend hiring her over the summer for one of her how to write an essay classes, which we didn’t do, but would have been a good idea.

Now that everything is done, it’s easy to remember that each kid only needs to get into one school they want to go to and can afford.  But it’s hard to remember that when the rejections and waitlists start piling up, especially if you’re not sure if there will be any acceptances.  Our outcome without a consultant was great, so no regrets, but if the outcome had been different we might have had regrets.  I just don’t know enough about college consultants to be able to say whether they’re worth the money or how to find one that is.

It has gotten increasingly difficult to get into elite schools.  Much more so than it was when DH and I were applying to colleges.

I talked to a kid who had gotten into Stanford from a Posh school in San Francisco.  He wanted to be an economics major, but his school-provided college counselor told him not to say that and to instead pretend he was interested in something like 16th century French (which he did have evidence of an interest in).  It worked and now he’s a sophomore economics major with a romance studies minor (details changed because I don’t remember exactly what he said, but some kind of historical humanities thing).  Here’s a related post on how to get into Stanford from the applyingtocollege reddit.

Things I knew already:

  1. Having proof that you’ve done extra-curriculars (ECs) is important.  Competitions, views, etc. etc. etc.  These really do matter to demonstrate your “spike.”  Does DC1 regret not doing these?  Well, the outcome was good, so maybe no regrets?  Maybe Harvey Mudd or Pomona would have happened with more or better ECs, but maybe not.
  2. It’s important for your rec letter writers to think you’re great.  DC1’s science writer barely knew hir and after eliminating the fascist English teachers and racist History teacher and crazy Spanish teachers and the amazing US History teacher who passed away during Covid and the pretty cool freshman Spanish teacher that left the district, all that was left for humanities was the psychology teacher who didn’t answer DC1’s emails and didn’t seem that thrilled to be writing.  (Personally I would have gone with one of the crazy Spanish teachers because the most recent wanted DC1 to take Spanish V but it wouldn’t fit into hir schedule.)  The Chemistry letter is fine, but who knows what is in the Psychology letter.  Update:  Can’t have been terrible, because the outcome was fine!
  3. There are a lot of kids with great testscores and GPAs who don’t get in lots of places that should be targets based on those scores alone.
  4. Qualifying for the AIME (via a high score on the AMC 10/12) is important if you want to get into a tech major.
  5. A lot of the top schools really are doing full holistic reviews, with SATs being optional and the SAT subject exams no longer existing, and it’s harder for them to use numerical scores to make comparisons.

Things I’ve learned:

  1.  Getting into computer science is (give or take) about 2x as hard to get into compared to almost any other major.
  2. Early Admissions and Early Decision have become increasingly important.  Some schools that really care about their US News rankings will put together most of their class from early decision.  If you’re in love with a specific school, you probably want to consider ED1.  Definitely do not ED1 a school that isn’t your top choice though.
  3.  DC1 learned a lot over the course of doing applications.  So the ED1 application just wasn’t as good as several of the RD applications.  Also there was zero benefit to applying EA to the state school (RD came out the same day as EA this year), and, in fact, it may have hurt DC1’s chances to do so since zie didn’t have rec letters yet.
  4.  Even if you are guaranteed admission to a state school, you are not necessarily guaranteed admission to a specific major.  Give yourself the best shot and think about the essays and turn in anything that’s optional even if it’s optional.
  5. The optional essays really aren’t optional.  The optional videos and interviews seem to actually be optional.  That is, people on reddit only rarely get into schools without having done the optional essays, but plenty seem to have gotten in without doing the optional videos and interviews.
  6. More elite schools say they no longer track demonstrated interest than when I went to college, which is great because a lot of people cannot afford to visit schools all over the country.  However, some aspirant schools are *really* interested in demonstrated interest (Case Western is particularly egregious with this), and based on reddit reading, the ones that do really do seem to care.  But demonstrated interest is no longer visiting in person– it’s going to webinars and clicking on links in emails and making sure you write all the optional essays and do some school-specific research for those essays.
  7. According to a lot of these webinars the schools put on, admissions counselors really do prefer the short-story style college essay over the kinds straight-forward essays DC1 prefers to write.  I don’t know how true this is for engineering schools.
  8. DC1’s school gives A-s (93 or below) a lower numerical value than As.  (I’m used to a 4.0 scale for high school where all As are treated equally.)  This matters for class rank.  (DC1 should also have put off taking required PE until senior year as that dropped hir class rank as well.)  It may not matter for how colleges calculate GPA.
  9. The elites have discovered the Claremont Colleges and all but Scripps seem to be more difficult to get into than most of the east coast SLACs that outrank them on USNews.  Even Pitzer!
  10. The applyingtocollege (A2C) reddit and collegeresults reddit are extremely helpful, even though they provide a pretty selected view of elite admissions for the most part.
  11. There are lots of other websites that provide candid views of each colleges from current or recent students.  Niche, unigo, and college confidential among others.  As with all review sites, you have to take some comments with a grain of salt, and it’s also important to check the dates of comments because things change over time, particularly when there’s been a scandal.  But there’s still a lot of really interesting helpful information out there for someone who knows how to google.
  12. Safeties aren’t as safe as they used to be (yield protection, where they don’t accept you if they don’t think you’ll come, is real), so you may want to have more than one.
  13. Reaches are still random, but targets are more random than they used to be.  With everyone else applying to more schools, unless you have an early action school that you would be happy attending or you’re guaranteed your major at your state school, then you may have to apply to a lot more schools too.  (A2C calls this “shotgunning.”)
  14. More kids are taking college classes, getting associates degrees in high school, doing undergraduate research (and publishing!) in high school, starting non-profits (this one doesn’t actually seem to help a lot of places), doing summer internships at tech companies, starting businesses, competing and doing well in tests like the AIME, and so on.  Things that used to make students REALLY stand out back in our day are only making them sort of stand out.  Nothing is a guarantee anymore, if anything ever was.

And again, remember, you only need one college that is a fit for the kid and a rejection does not mean there’s anything wrong with said child.  It could be that one of the admissions officers had a headache when they looked at the file, or that they had their quota of that exact demographic when they got to the file (and for another school your kid might get that slot).  One has to reach a certain level of excellence for each competitive school but once one gets there it really is pretty random whether they accept a person or not.

Parents who have been on this journey recently, what advice do you have?  Parents who are about to embark, what specific questions do you have (I will answer as best I can in the comments).  I’m not directly linking to the outschool lady, but you can email us at if you want to use her.  (Or you can look through outschool and see if there’s anyone who you think is a better fit!)

And the decision is Carleton!


The main reason is that Carleton has a Discord (this is like an invite-only forum that you can’t access without an invitation, so it can’t be seen unless you’re logged in and invited) for newly admitted students and DC1 is really vibing (my term, not hirs) with the other admitted students.  They all like board games, even the mainstream Taylor Swift fans.  They’re all serious about academics.  They’re mostly introverted and nerdy.  DC1 has never been around so many people who share so many of hir interests before.  (Zie has friends at school, but they’re really into CS or games but not school, or they’re into school but not CS or games.  And friends online are into games or music but not CS or school.  Etc.)

From the materials that the other three schools have been sending, Macalester students are somewhat of a fit but still more external-looking than at those at Carleton for the most part. Oberlin just doesn’t seem like a personal fit, and Union is not a fit at all.  Re: Oberlin, it’s not that DC1 doesn’t care about social justice, zie does deeply and has very mature views that astonish me whenever zie shares them, but zie isn’t going to organize a protest.  Re: Union, DC1 isn’t an east coast jock.  (We recently learned that there are only ~50 students in the Union Scholar program each year, so a pretty big deal for them, but DC1 would be part of an elite minority.)

The second main reason for Carleton over Macalester is that people at Macalester have more free time and do stuff outside of school and DC1, I am not making this up, said zie doesn’t actually want a whole ton of free time outside of schoolwork.  I mean I get that, but at that age I would have phrased it more positively, like having a thirst for learning and wanting to make the most of guidance from experts while I could.

The other reasons are that Carleton has pretty much always been on the top 10 or thereabouts of SLACs.  Currently it’s at #6.  Macalester is on the rise, but it’s still a tier lower.  Oberlin has been dropping. Carleton is also ranked #1 for undergraduate teaching on various lists and is on top 10 SLAC lists for computer science.  Carleton and Oberlin are both really nationally/internationally known schools for those who know elite schools, whereas Macalester (though becoming more well known) is still somewhat regional and Union is very regional.  Carleton and Macalester both have great food (a hilarious moment on one of the Macalester virtual student panels was when someone asked them about the worst cafeteria food experience and one of the women was like… sometimes the chicken breasts are a little dry), Oberlin and Union’s dining hall services are more mediocre.   Oberlin does have the great music scene, but Carleton is across from St. Olaf so DC1 can go to concerts etc. there.  Plus Carleton has a flexible music minor.

Macalester really did do a great job of recruiting, and if DC1 hadn’t fallen in love with Carleton (or if we valued that 120k cost difference more), zie would be very happily going there.  I expect that Macalester will continue to rise up in the rankings over the years.  It is truly a great school and boy does their marketing team know what they’re doing.  They had interesting virtual sessions (unlike Oberlin’s, which was dull and uninformative).  DC1 LOVES the socks and the bagpipe confetti.  The sticker sheet was also great (to be fair, so was Oberlin’s).  They’ve sent fantastic infographics about job outcomes (though Carleton’s Sankey diagram about where their majors end up is also really impressive) and local amenities.  They’ve got great day in the life videos online.  DC1 spent a few hours pouring over the link to the school newspaper archives they sent.  I strongly recommend Macalester to any kids interested in the SLAC experience.  It seems like a really great school.  (Also, as with Carleton, Oberlin, and Union, anyone we mention it to who knows someone who went is like, my friend/family member went and LOVED it there.)  More people outside the Midwest should know and consider it.

Last week when DC1 said it was most likely going to be Carleton, I looked at the 529 plans, and saw that DC1’s is … about 120K short, give or take.  (It has exactly enough for any of the other three choices, which was not really planned but is where the stock market landed.)  We had some extra money from a big tax refund, so I put another 10K into DC2’s 529.  My current plan is to exhaust DC1’s 529 and then I’m not sure whether we will dip into DC2’s or pay cash.  On the one hand, dipping into DC2’s would allow us to use up the 529s if DC2 ends up going to a less expensive school than did DC1.  On the other hand, paying cash would allow DC2’s account to accumulate more tax free, AND there are a more ways to use up a 529 than there used to be (including the IRA!).  If our kids have kids it’s a really nice way to pass on generational wealth.  But our kids might not have kids!  Still, DC1 has a lot of relatives that will be having kids, so we’ll be able to pass on excess money to someone.  (I keep in mind that our end goal is not necessarily to make/save as much money as possible– if the government is good, they use our taxes for things like feeding people.)  Probably what I end up doing will depend on how the stock market is doing– it will be easier to justify taking out of DC2’s still mostly stock-based 529 if stocks are high than if stocks are low.

DC2 is currently talking about going to MIT/Vanderbilt/Northwestern for economics (they’re doing a finance unit in math and zie is loving learning about bonds), so zie has different but equally expensive preferences compared to DC1.   DC2 would also be a great mechanical engineer or designer more broadly– zie has designed several cat toys and cat habitats that are universally loved by immediate and extended family felines.  Zie has a wonderful amount of creativity and ability, so might follow in my sister’s footsteps instead of mine.  Fortunately we have another 5+ years before zie actually has to decide on schools.

So I guess next year when I’m back up at full salary, I’ll be putting money into DC2’s 529.  I will have to think about if I want to do 1K/month or just put all our excess money in there until we’ve reached some threshold.  And of course we’ll have to figure out how to actually pay DC1’s tuition– does the 529 do it directly or do I have to have cash on hand and then request reimbursement?  $83K/year is a LOT.  I wonder how often payment happens.  I wonder how much tuition will go up each year.  (Macalester has a nice page that shows theirs goes up 2K/year, so maybe Carleton will be similar?)

I do think (and hope) that DC1 will be happy at Carleton.  Everyone who has been seems to love it and it really does seem like a great match for hir on every front except the weather and lack of poke places in walking distance.  Everyone here is happily optimistic about DC1’s next four years, including DC1.  My sister says she will send DC1 a SAD lamp for Christmas if necessary and my MIL has plans for more warm winter clothing.

So I think we’re done with this process!  Friday is the requested Ask the Grumpies on what we’ve learned and advice for parents about to embark on this journey.  Then maybe back to business as usual finishing up and posting blog drafts from 2012?

Side Note:  Apparently Carleton would have given DC1 stickers had DC1 gone to their admitted students weekend.  So maybe that’s a reason to do a college visit…  They also said they give more swag at orientation week.

College educated readers and parents with kids who have gone through this process– how did you and yours make a final college decision? Any recommendations for kids the summer before starting freshman year?

Ask the grumpies: how do you want your kids to remember you?

CG asks:

How do you want your kids to remember you?

I don’t actually know.  Fondly?  Like we tried our best and provided a stable supportive home life?  Hopefully we will be friends as adults for many years to come before we pass.

Really I just want them to be good people and to be happy.  Whether or not thoughts of me are part of that, I’m not sure how much I care.  Like, I want their realities to be good whether or not they attribute that goodness to anything we’ve done.  I’m fine with them taking us for granted once they’re on their own, and if we’re dead I’m not sure I care if they blame us for things?

#2:  No kids!

Grumpy Nation parents, how do you want your kids to remember you?

Things I want to say to kids on reddit a2c

But don’t because I don’t need to be on a forum.

  • You only have to get into one school that you like and can afford.  If you already know where you’re going, everything else is just vanity.
  • That “safety” you’re complaining about is someone else’s “dream school.”
  • If you and your significant other are going to completely different schools you should allow each other to date other people.  Trying to do an exclusive long-distance relationship is too stressful.  That’s not to say you should stop keeping in touch.  As they say, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  But you don’t need that extra stress when you’re both in brand new environments.  That said, YMMV.  Everyone is different.
  • You need more than one safety in case you’re “yield protected” or misjudge or they accepted too many people last year and have to accept fewer this year etc.
  • There is SO much randomness to this system.
  • As parents, one way we’ve supported rejections has been to let DC1 pick someplace to eat out as consolation.  If zie gets in, then DC1 gets to pick someplace to eat out as a celebration.  The same outcome for rejections and waitlists and acceptances seems to help.
  • Rejections and waitlists are not about YOU.  Sometimes it’s if the AO read your application fresh or at the end of a full day.  Sometimes there’s someone else just like you in the pool and you get picked or they get picked but you don’t both get picked.  Sometimes they need an oboeist or women’s basketball center or volleyball player because the person they recruited is going elsewhere.  Sometimes they don’t.
  • It’s not your sister’s fault that your parents won’t let you live in a dorm at school.  It’s your parents’ fault.
  • Your parents really suck.  They should be proud of you and you should be very proud of yourself.  They’re the crazy ones, not you.  Go off to the college of your choice, even though it’s not Harvard/Stanford/Princeton/Yale and enjoy your life.
  • No, they’re not going to rescind your acceptance for a B.
  • It was Groucho Marx, not Woody Allen (FFS) who said he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member.

College posts should be winding down soon.

College Results: Reddit Style


  • Gender:  [not listing here]

  • Race/Ethnicity:  White

  • Residence: [not listing here]

  • Income Bracket:  No financial aid

  • Type of School:  large public high school

  • Hooks (Recruited Athlete, URM, First-Gen, Geographic, Legacy, etc.): Legacy Vanderbilt

Intended Major(s): CS, BME (Vanderbilt only)


  • GPA (UW/W):  3.9, 4.42  (the 3.9 is if you treat A- as A which many admissions officers do, but A-s are why the weighted is lowish despite most classes being 5.0)

  • Rank (or percentile): Top 6%

  • # of Honors/AP/IB/Dual Enrollment/etc.:  All classes honors or AP except 2 years orchestra (honors don’t start until junior year), one semester PE (required), and 2nd semester Calc 3 is dual enrollment (that didn’t get reported to all schools because of the admissions timing).  In retrospect, DC1 should have done PE senior year (so the 4.0 class wouldn’t be in the weighted GPA/rank).

  • Senior Year Course Load:  Varsity Honors Orchestra, AP Stats, AP Physics C (Mechanics and E&M), AP Chemistry, AP Govt/AP Econ, AP English Literature, Calc III (second semester only)  [Could not get Spanish V to fit in hir schedule, plus zie didn’t like being the only upper-classman in Spanish IV– the rest of the students were Dual Language Freshman, which is what DC2 will be if we stay here.]

Standardized Testing

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

  • SAT I: 1580 (780RW, 800M)

  • ACT: N/A

  • SAT II: these aren’t offered any more

  • AP/IB: lots of APs, not going to bother counting — did not take tests for all of them though

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


List all extracurricular involvements, including leadership roles, time commitments, major achievements, etc.

This is the weakest section.  Zie actively resisted ECs freshman year.  Then Covid hit and zie stayed home.  Zie dislikes competition so just doesn’t do it.  Zie deleted hir youtube channel (magic tricks).  I’m pretty sure zie listed a few more, but they were all small.

In no particular order and without time commitments (my commentary did not show up on the applications!):

  1. Volunteering for Math Camp/Math Days at the university/ etc. as a junior counselor/instructor all four years (including virtual Covid)

  2. Going to region for solo violin a couple times (would have been more except covid), junior varsity concert master (now there’s a national-level underclassman as varsity concert master, though when like the first 4 chairs don’t make it to a concert, DC1 is the next choice), top marks at all the regional qualifiers, though generally in the back of first violins or the front of second violins for region and did not make it to state. 

  3. Junior year of random whatever that club is where you go to competitions and take tests.  Zie did do really well in physics (the only kid who knew any electronics, since it isn’t taught, but DH used to teach it), but DC1 kind of lost interest when they attributed hir top physics score to the salutatorian instead of to hir in the announcements. Zie really didn’t like it to begin with and only did it for college and didn’t have time senior year and couldn’t be convinced to do it freshman year.

  4. Music composition (evidenced by soundcloud, also uploaded music resume and composition clips to places that allowed them)

  5. Piano playing (but no competitions)

  6. Summer internship doing NLP for a BME company. (Basically translating doctors’ notes into a useful dataset.)
  7. Summer mentorship program (virtual) on genetics at another university.

  8. Co-founder, Outreach coordinator, Secretary, AI Club Senior year.


List all awards and honors submitted on your application.

  1. National Merit

  2. AP Scholar with Distinction

  3. The awards mentioned above.

Letters of Recommendation

These were rough because Harvey Mudd (ED1) only wanted Junior or Senior year recommenders and even without that restriction it was really hard to figure out a Humanities person.  The CS teacher that loved DC1 retired two years ago.  The US History teacher that thought DC1 was great and wrote amazing rec letters died.  The World History teacher is a racist who writes really bad rec letters (she thinks they’re brilliant letters).  The math teacher that had DC1 as a freshman and junior would have been a possibility, except she did send us an email last year about DC1 leaning hir chair back in BC Calc after she had specifically told the class to stop doing that.  The Freshman English teacher was not very bright, the Sophomore year English teacher was Fascist, Junior year was 100% books about privileged white dudes who die young and DC1 barely held onto an A- in that class.  Spanish might have been a possibility, but DC1 struggled to maintain an A- freshman and sophomore year (and the freshman year teacher left) and DC1 thought the junior year teacher was … unpredictable.  And the senior year English teacher was really surprised when DH told him that DC1 liked the class at parent orientation, plus DC1 was struggling to stay in A- territory during letter writing time.

DC1 asked the junior year AP psychology teacher, which took about a month of trying to get in touch with hir (we have no idea what was in the letter), and a senior year science teacher who barely knew hir (this was a fine letter, but no walking on water).  The counselor really likes DC1 and says zie is a shooting star, but I don’t know how that translated into a letter.


Only interviewed for Harvey Mudd.  That was with a current undergrad.


IMO these were fine, but the main common app essay wasn’t stellar.  The supplemental essays got better the later the college deadline.  Who knows how AO think?

Decisions (indicate ED/EA/REA/SCEA/RD)


  • [State flagship] – Economics major (EA) (DC1 does not want to do economics)
  • Union College (RD) – 30k/year scholarship, honors program

  • Macalester (RD) – 23k/year scholarship

  • Carleton (RD) -2k/year scholarship (not a typo)

  • Oberlin (RD) – 33k/year scholarship


  • Grinnell (RD)

  • Bowdoin (RD)

  • Haverford (RD) <- this one hurt because DC1 was so charmed by it
  • Case Western Reserve (RD) <- I take the blame for this one– they were sending me daily promotional emails and I could not figure out how to unsubscribe me without also unsubscribing DC1.  (They care a LOT about demonstrated interest.)  (Also they said a 35k/year scholarship if they take DC1 off the waitlist.)

  • Wesleyan (RD)
  • Vanderbilt (RD)


  • [State flagship] – Computer Science major (EA)
  • Harvey Mudd (ED1)

  • Pomona College (ED2)

  • Williams (RD)

  • Swarthmore (RD)

Additional Information:

Will be starting college at 16 years old, which the internet suggests SLACs do not like, and a former AO from a top SLAC (and not Carleton) told me it is definitely a liability where she used to work (they have accepted 16 year olds, but being under 17 is a mark against).

Ask the grumpies: If not money, how to get your kids to care about college?

First Gen American asks:

Is there another way for college kids to have some skin in the game without going into loads of debt?

I mean, college is about their lives and their choices and their opportunities and outcomes.  It is 100% their skin in the game.  Even if you’re paying for it monetarily.

What they learn and the skills they receive are going to shape their lives and make them better able to have whatever future they envision for themselves.  The future is rapidly changing and not cutting off too many avenues (ex. being able to write, being able to understand our multi-cultured society, etc.) will help them adapt to or even shape the future world they will be living in.

Maybe encourage them to go on the applying to colleges subreddit?  It’s full of kids who care a lot about academics who are saying a lot of the same things that we told DC1 (you need extra curriculars!), which has given us a bit of a “you were right all along” glow.

[Editor’s note:  Wow!  This week really has been all about colleges!]