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College applications- Caltech, MIT?

rocketparrotlet

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I would to get into the best science schools in the nation, those being mainly Caltech and MIT. This is because I have a driving passion for science (chemistry especially) and I want to be active in the research field to improve the world and science overall. I have a 3.94 cumulative GPA, 2160 SATs (gotta bring my math up), and 33 ACTs. So I'm all right on test scores and grades...but I need to know. What else do I need to do?

These colleges are so vague. I've heard "We don't judge you based on your numbers alone, we look at the whole application holistically" 6.02 x 10^23 times, and I am getting sick of it. I'm going for my Eagle Scout project and I've done a lot of community service, but I don't know how to record it and send it in. It's mostly a bunch of little projects. I'm not in any clubs at school because I am in crosscountry, which takes up every day but only for a third of the school year. I'm in Honors Society, but I don't do anything in there. I climb outside of school...does that do anything?

I don't have any outside research or special "summer college courses". I do some chemistry outside of school sometimes, but I haven't contributed anything to research. What do I need to do to get into these universities? I'm stressing out.

-Mark
 



pullbangdead

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First, don't stress. There's ZERO point in stressing out about anything. You'll make it into schools (even if they're not the best ones ever), you'll get a great education (it's more what you make of it than what they give you, no matter where you go), you'll make great friends no matter where you go, and you should enjoy your last year in high school, you'll never get another one.

If you want to go into research, then you're likely looking at grad school too, amirite?

If so, and you're dead set on going to grad school, then worry a bit less about undergrad location. If that's the case, undergrad is really just a primer to get you ready to get into the right grad school, and many undergrad institutions can get you into the grad school you really want. If you're dead set on grad school, then going to the best in-state school is often a great route to go.

As far as getting into undergrad, they say "we look at EVERYTHING" to sound good. When it comes down to it, if they have 10,000 applications, how carefully do you really think they read them? You do need things that are going to stand out, because they do read everything, but not that carefully in my experience. If your measurables are good (I came through after they added 800pts of writing to the SAT, what's your reading/verbal SAT without the writing out of 1600?) and you have things like Eagle Scout, extra curriculars, etc, then honestly you're in about as good a shape as you can be. Concentrate on your essays and making yourself stand out in those. Get people to read them for you, work on them over and over. Don't put essays off to the last minute, they need work and revisions and re-writing. It sounds like you still have time to put together some experiences for those, you're applying next year, right? There is info all over the web about good application essays and what is good for them. In a lot of ways, it's still a crap shoot though.

--------------------------

On a more personal level, have you visited either of these places? Make sure you do, and make sure that they're really what you want. I visited both over the course of applying for undergrad and grad school, and I realized that I couldn't live in either place. Both great schools, and I know multiple people who have attended or are attending both (especially MIT, I have multiple of each of high school classmates, undergrad classmates, and grad school classmates that did undergrad, grad, or both degrees there), but they're not for everybody no matter how good they are. I also have graduate classes now where I'm orders of magnitude more prepared than my classmates who did their undergrad at MIT, and I went to a public school for undergrad.

The biggest thing is to visit them. They both have totally different feels about them, and neither feels like any other school in the country.

Remember CalTech is a TINY school, even when class is in session it feels like an empty campus, and really does feel how they describe, like a research institution with a tiny university tacked onto it. Pasadena is interesting, but is in the LA metro area, and I found on multiple visits there (and I live a couple hours away from there now) that I didn't want to be so interstate dependent, and you kindof have to be in LA, because it would be tough to get anywhere outside of Pasadena without depending on interstate driving in your car. I believe you can totally do MIT without your own car, but I couldn't imagine doing so at CalTech, although I'm certain there are many people who go there without cars. I found that Pasadena, on the whole, was ok for me, but it wasn't quite enough, and I didn't like a lot of the rest of LA.

MIT is in the great metropolis of Boston, an awesome city by all accounts, but I personally couldn't do it. The vibe of the school is totally right for me for the most part, the geekiest place out there, but I couldn't do the city and the weather, and I found that I wanted to have more fun while in school. My classmates now in grad school with undergrad degrees from MIT tell me that they hate it while they'e doing it, but love it when they're done. I didn't want that, I wanted some fun while in school, so it wasn't the place for me. No doubt, the place is hardcore, and may be right for you, but make sure it is right for you before you commit to it.

Like I said, I decided to go to a public school in-state for undergrad, knowing that I was 90% certain going to grad school anyway. This school was a top-25 level school for the degree I wanted (whereas MIT and CalTech are both top 5). But with a top 25 undergrad degree, I didn't find it difficult at all to get into a top 5 grad school, the exact grad school I wanted to go to (and ranked better than CalTech and MIT both for the field I'm in). Oh, and I graduated from undergrad with a wealth of fun experiences and zero debt thanks to cheap public school.

Any other questions? Did I help any at all?
 
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SupermanFTM

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First, don't stress. There's ZERO point in stressing out about anything. You'll make it into schools (even if they're not the best ones ever), you'll get a great education (it's more what you make of it than what they give you, no matter where you go), you'll make great friends no matter where you go, and you should enjoy your last year in high school, you'll never get another one.

If you want to go into research, then you're likely looking at grad school too, amirite?

If so, and you're dead set on going to grad school, then worry a bit less about undergrad location. If that's the case, undergrad is really just a primer to get you ready to get into the right grad school, and many undergrad institutions can get you into the grad school you really want. If you're dead set on grad school, then going to the best in-state school is often a great route to go.

As far as getting into undergrad, they say "we look at EVERYTHING" to sound good. When it comes down to it, if they have 10,000 applications, how carefully do you really think they read them? You do need things that are going to stand out, because they do read everything, but not that carefully in my experience. If your measurables are good (I came through after they added 800pts of writing to the SAT, what's your reading/verbal SAT without the writing out of 1600?) and you have things like Eagle Scout, extra curriculars, etc, then honestly you're in about as good a shape as you can be. Concentrate on your essays and making yourself stand out in those. Get people to read them for you, work on them over and over. Don't put essays off to the last minute, they need work and revisions and re-writing. It sounds like you still have time to put together some experiences for those, you're applying next year, right? There is info all over the web about good application essays and what is good for them. In a lot of ways, it's still a crap shoot though.

--------------------------

On a more personal level, have you visited either of these places? Make sure you do, and make sure that they're really what you want. I visited both over the course of applying for undergrad and grad school, and I realized that I couldn't live in either place. Both great schools, and I know multiple people who have attended or are attending both (especially MIT, I have multiple of each of high school classmates, undergrad classmates, and grad school classmates that did undergrad, grad, or both degrees there), but they're not for everybody no matter how good they are. I also have graduate classes now where I'm orders of magnitude more prepared than my classmates who did their undergrad at MIT, and I went to a public school for undergrad.

The biggest thing is to visit them. They both have totally different feels about them, and neither feels like any other school in the country.

Remember CalTech is a TINY school, even when class is in session it feels like an empty campus, and really does feel how they describe, like a research institution with a tiny university tacked onto it. Pasadena is interesting, but is in the LA metro area, and I found on multiple visits there (and I live a couple hours away from there now) that I didn't want to be so interstate dependent, and you kindof have to be in LA, because it would be tough to get anywhere outside of Pasadena without depending on interstate driving in your car. I believe you can totally do MIT without your own car, but I couldn't imagine doing so at CalTech, although I'm certain there are many people who go there without cars. I found that Pasadena, on the whole, was ok for me, but it wasn't quite enough, and I didn't like a lot of the rest of LA.

MIT is in the great metropolis of Boston, an awesome city by all accounts, but I personally couldn't do it. The vibe of the school is totally right for me for the most part, the geekiest place out there, but I couldn't do the city and the weather, and I found that I wanted to have more fun while in school. My classmates now in grad school with undergrad degrees from MIT tell me that they hate it while they'e doing it, but love it when they're done. I didn't want that, I wanted some fun while in school, so it wasn't the place for me. No doubt, the place is hardcore, and may be right for you, but make sure it is right for you before you commit to it.

Like I said, I decided to go to a public school in-state for undergrad, knowing that I was 90% certain going to grad school anyway. This school was a top-25 level school for the degree I wanted (whereas MIT and CalTech are both top 5). But with a top 25 undergrad degree, I didn't find it difficult at all to get into a top 5 grad school, the exact grad school I wanted to go to (and ranked better than CalTech and MIT both for the field I'm in). Oh, and I graduated from undergrad with a wealth of fun experiences and zero debt thanks to cheap public school.

Any other questions? Did I help any at all?

On this note, MIT doesn't even have the greatest undergrad program. Really, they're known for their grad program and research, which you can potentially get into after you finish undergrad somewhere else.

Unless you have a good deal of money, ivy league schools will put you back a lot. You have pretty good test scores and all, but so will everyone else. I think you still have a good change getting into either of the places you listed, but you may not receive as hefty a scholarship which means a lot is coming out of pocket. It's something to think about, at least.

I've always liked MIT more than Caltech, personally xD I'm attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute myself, which is in New York, and it has a pretty nice undergrad program, but it's a smaller school and it's private. Oh, and tuition is pretty high, but I think somewhere around 92% of the students here have scholarships. That's how I'm here, after all.

At any rate, make sure you'll be happy where you're going. That's first and foremost. You can learn anywhere. Especially when it comes to undergrad school, the classes for the first two years are pretty generic at every college and after that you can transfer easily enough. Well, not into MIT since they don't accept transfer IIRC, but still! There are tons of options and certainly you shouldn't stress out over it.

Interestingly enough, I read an article not too long ago that stated that where you get your degree from plays only a minuscule role in determining salary. Sometimes it won't matter at all to an employer. Of course, this is a moot point if you're going into research. Degrees matter in academia.
 

daguin

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Great advice PBD. I would add two concepts.

First, I almost always recommend that a student plan on attending a DIFFERENT institution for undergrad and grad work. There is a significant shift in "role" from undergrad to grad student. As an undergrad, you are a "student" only. As a grad student, you shift into the role of "colleague." You are NOT a "peer", but you are closer to working with rather than working for the professors.

For both students and professors, that shift can be a difficult one. It is often easier to just arrive as the colleague rather than have to "rise" to being a colleague.

Second, concern yourself more with who the professors are and what they are researching at an institution rather than on the institution itself. Are the professors and research groups at the institution researching something you want to learn about?

Using my field as an example, if I was interested in studying performance art, but attended a school where the professors were focused on inter-cultural communication, my graduate experience would have been less than stellar. Not only would I have been basically studying alone, I would have had to design and justify my entire grad program to the committee.

Peace,
dave
 




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