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Getting in to a Top Tier College?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the secrets-of-admission dept.

Education 177

IvyLeague Engineer asks: "I'm currently a senior at a top rated public school and I look forward to majoring in Electrical Engineering. I've already been accepted into Carnegie Mellon University, so I don't need to worry about any 'safety' schools. However, I still have my sights set on getting into a school such as MIT or Cal Tech. My grades are high (95.6 on a 100 scale), I have several leadership positions in clubs, however I'm pretty sure that's not enough. What else can I do to improve my chances of being accepted there? I've already been deferred from early action at both institutions and I'm afraid it's too late to do much at this point. I'm sure there are other people like me wondering just what it takes to get admitted to a prestigious college."

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Who cares? (5, Insightful)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133250)

Life's too short to worry about getting into the "best" schools. Go somewhere you'll enjoy, socially and academically. There's incredible research being done by brilliant professors at public universities too. Do well as an undergrad, and you should have no problem getting accepted to a big name school for your master's, if you need resume candy.

Re:Who cares? (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133340)

He's right. Consider universities defensively. They are ALL involved in at least some kinds of fraud, apparently. They all take advantage of the lack of life experience of the students.

I asked a well-known consultant in Physics how he knew enough to be helping people who had been Physics researchers for years. He told me he learned more than nine-tenths of what he knew by himself, after he got a PhD.

Take care of yourself. Have a life.

Consider how much a university will be personally interested in you. That's the only way to get knowledge that isn't already in books.

--
Is U.S. government violence a good in the world, or does violence just cause more violence?

Re:Who cares? (1)

rblancarte (213492) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134736)

I agree with this. Be happy. Now granted, if a top tier college will make you happy, then go for it.

Also realize, that if you are currently a HS senior, that means you are about 2/3 done w/ classes for this year. Yea, you are very right when you say you fear it is too late, because it probably is.

I would not sweat it. CM is a quality school that will give you a good education.

RonB
Good luck with college and the remaining admissions process

Re:Who cares? (4, Insightful)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133412)

I want to second that. "Top ranked" schools are over-rated. Do an ROI analysis, and it'll become obvious. Unless they're going to make it VERY cheap for you, you may find that it's just not worth it to go to a "top tier school (as if Carnegie Mellon isn't good enough).

When considering the "R" in ROI, you have to consider all factors, including fun, personal pride, etc. Many people I have met who "had to" go to top tier schools were so insecure that they needed that school name to feel like a whole person. That's silly! Feel good about who you are; you've done quite well - you don't need some school's name to validate you! Feel good about the 95.6% that you got right, not the 4.4% FAILURE RATE that you've had.

That said, if pride is a huge factor to you, and you need the validation, and you think you'd enjoy it, and the costs are comparable, go for it. Just don't feel bad if they "reject" you. You really don't need their validation. And remember what C.S. Lewis says: "pride is the greatest sin."

Re:Who cares? (2)

Kevin Stevens (227724) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134238)

Just a few angles on the subject....

The ROI on huge schools may not be that attractive, this is true. However, keep in mind that the "name" is going to be on your resume, and perhaps your office wall, for the rest of your life. With a name like MIT on your degree, you won't ever have a problem getting your foot in the door. I wouldn't settle. You will also never find yourself in an interview room saying things like "Somewhere U?, oh that's a well regarded school in $REGION for engineering..." while the interviewer's eyes just kind of glaze over.

CMU is a great name, and for CS, definitely a "top-tier" school. I wouldn't lose a minute of sleep over getting a degree from CMU. Unless you are going into research, CMU will provide you all the opportunities you could ever want if you do well there. Even if you want to do research, CMU will not be a handicap in any way.

If you don't plan on going into research, your degree matters very little after 2-3 years out of school. At that point, your experience and accomplishments in the actual workplace matter 10x more than what you did in college. In fact, the best people I have worked with don't have a college degree at all, and every peer I can remember working with has agreed with me that what you learn in college is really insignificant compared with what you learn on the job.

Lastly, you are a senior, its february. Its WAY too late to be asking this question, unless you can start some open source project tonight that will instantly attract 100k users tomorrow. Really you should know this, and the fact that this has somehow not occurred to you is a little odd for someone that I presume is an honors student and has been thinking about college for the latter half of high school. You should have been asking this question last year, and then you would have had some control over the situation. But to try to answer your question, to get into MIT, you need to already have achieved something. Despite what is often batted around, the people who do the best in college and get the most out of it know what they want to do when going in, and use it as a launching point for their career. Those who go "to find themselves" often spend too much time looking, and come out with nothing but a degree.

My background: I was also an honors kid in high school looking at top tier schools, ended up going to a state school on a scholarship, ended up not doing so well there (I mean not poorly, but nothing exceptional), but I am currently working at a top tier investment banks working on front office trading systems.

Re:Who cares? (3, Informative)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133460)

Agreed. It's not where you study but what you do when you're there that matters.

I went to a community college, but I decided to start open source projects while I was there. As a result, I've given talks internationally, and my software is used in some pretty cool places (industry, academia, other OSS projects like Tcl, OLPC, etc). Oh and I got a decent job out of college.

If you go to school "just to get the paper" even if it's from a top name school, you have to compete with all the other students for jobs/positions in your future. You have to put an effort into developing your portfolio before you grad. Otherwise, you're just another name with a degree.

That and once you're out of school nobody really cares where you studied. When I worked at AMD they just cared that I had some post-secondary degree. Technically AMD requires a masters degree (which I don't have) to work as a software engineer. They hired me anyways based on the need mostly, but also on the fact that I had proven myself competent through my projects. I left AMD to take a lower pace job (traveling %50 of the time sucks) that pays nearly as much. They too didn't care about the lack of a masters even though all my peers have their pinky rings and a masters.

Tom

Networking and contacts and random chance (1)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133480)

Moreover, there is nothing more important when it comes to your future career opportunities than your networking abilities and ability to make friends and contacts who can help you decide where you want to take your life. Your most important contact might be someone from a nearby school who you met at a party once who has nothing to do with your major.

And there will be little nudges and profound unexpected events that affect your life in ways you could never have predicted.

It doesn't matter so much where you go, as what you do there. And even then, random chance will radically change what happens. My life and the lives of many people I've known over the past decade and a half would be both radically different and yet possibly much the same, had that one coin I flipped come up heads instead of tails, and had I gone to a different school.

Your life will incorporate a striking amount of /dev/random despite your best intentions otherwise.

Re:Networking and contacts and random chance (1)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133804)

> Your life will incorporate a striking amount of /dev/random
> despite your best intentions otherwise.

So true. As Shakespeare said, "there's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will."

Re:Networking and contacts and random chance (1)

edward2020 (985450) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134490)

Like the old saying goes, "it's not what you know, it's who you know." An unfortunate consequence of the human condition, but that's the way it is.

Re:Who cares? (3, Insightful)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133818)

This post and all of the replies to it that are above mine are spot on. Sure, it looks nice to have a great college on your CV / Resume (whatever you want to call it). But in the end, what determines whether you are going to do well at your profession is you the individual.

I had to opportunity to go to Georgia Tech but decided that I would rather stay in my home state and go to Louisiana Tech. The main reason being that ROI factor that was described by a sibling post. LaTech was free for me (full scholarship). At GaTech, I would have received about half of the out of state rate in scholarships/grants (which by the way was more than the full in state rate @ LaTech). Would I have gotten a better education at GaTech? Most likely. But, I've always been one of the top performers everywhere I've worked since (Fortune 500 companies, so it isn't like I'm comparing myself to only three people). Those top schools only get your foot in the door easier. You, the individual, keeps you with a job.

But if you really want to get into those schools, the key is finding some way to set yourself apart. You have to be unique and memorable. I tell my daughter (who is a Sophomore right now) that there will be hundreds of people with top grades and the typical extracurricular activities. If you want to get into a top school, you have to do something different and something memorable. Whether it's start a small business during a summer (especially for someone going into a business related degree), in your case, participate in a unique engineering project (for example, if your field is construction related: mech-e construction-e, whatever, then design and build a neigborhood play house that is structurally sound). These types of projects show off your interest in the subject, help out the community (always looks good on your application), and will probably be quite fun for you. When you submit it to the schools, don't just write an essay about it, turn it into a professional portfolio. Since this is "above and beyond" the normal application, it will instantly make you more memorable.

Besides, CMU is a well respected school. The difference between CMU and MIT is negligible in the grand scheme of things. If you are expecting to immediately go into an advanced degree (masters, PhD), then getting your undergrad from CMU and your post-graduate degree from MIT or CalTech is more than sufficient.

Layne

Re:Who cares? (1)

Manchot (847225) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133984)

The parent is correct about undergraduate education. Really, it doesn't matter all that much where you go, because any differences in the curriculum are purely cosmetic. * If you're serious about eventually doing research, however, getting into a "top-tier" school certainly doesn't hurt. (After all, it is no coincidence that the faculty listings at most schools are filled with Ph.D. graduates from MIT, Stanford, UIUC, UC Berkeley, and Caltech.) To do this, make sure you do the following as an undergraduate:

1. Early on, probably as a freshman, try to decide on what subdiscipline of EE that you want to focus on (e.g., control systems, electromagnetics, physical/quantum/device electronics, signal processing, circuits, etc.).
2. Also, take as many classes as you can from your designated area, and do well in them. If you plan well enough, you can be taking graduate classes as an upperclassman.
3. Find a professor that will allow you to work as a research assistant in his or her lab, probably starting as a sophomore or as a junior. Preferably, work with one of the big names at your school, since a recommendation from them will be worth a lot. This isn't as hard as it sounds: most professors are egotistic and love to hear that students are interested in what they do, and will jump at the chance to help you. One caveat: don't send out a form letter to a bunch of different professors asking to do research for them. This nullifies the ego factor, and you'll probably get no responses.
4. If you don't do so in every class, pick two classes in which you'll go to office hours, ask insightful questions, and do exceedingly well grade-wise. Most grad schools require three letters of recommendation, which means that in addition to your research advisor, you'll need two other professors to write one for you.

You see, one of the problems with undergraduate applications is that schools have no real way of knowing how you'll perform in a university environment. Furthermore, there is usually a dedicated staff who decides who's admitted, which means that professors never even see your applications. Essentially, at the top-tier schools, it's quite a crap shoot. However, for graduate application, the variables are much more well-defined: it always comes down to grades, research experience, recommendations, personal statements, and GRE scores. (Although, to be fair, GRE scores aren't worth that much in EE, and MIT doesn't even require them.) If you play your cards correctly, then you can go wherever you want for grad school.

* That's not enitrely true: you at least need to be able to go to a school that does research in EE. A small liberal arts college will probably fail you in this regard, as they simply won't have the facilities available for lab work.

Re:Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134180)

Completely agreed. I didn't get into my top school, Cornell, but I ended up at a great school none the less (tier-one) and I am incredibly happy where I am. Classes and prestige is great and all, but make sure you will enjoy school; it's your best 4 years!

Re:Who cares? (1)

insertwackynamehere (891357) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134194)

This is true. I am also a senior in High School and am done with the whole college thing. I got into NYU early decision and I'm glad. The thing is, NYU may be second-tier but I don't care. I didn't like any of the Ivy's and in fact almost had something against them BECAUSE they were Ivy. The only one I considered applying to was UPenn because it's in Philly where I live and I've grown up with it.

Now the thing is, in High School I was on the school's web team and am the Co-Editor-in-Chief this year. I spent my last summer volunteering at a computer donation place where old computers are repaired and sold at low prices or re-donated to other organizations. The summer before that I took a college course in computer programming (although a lot of the stuff we started with it turned out I knew because I'd started making web pages in 8th grade and programming in 9th and this was the summer before 11th). I've also played Saxophone since 6th grade (actually, 4th grade but I stopped for a year in 5th). I also was on sound crew in 11th and 12th grade. The thing is, I actually enjoyed doing these things. I didn't do them to pad my application.. I was glad that I could pad my application with them, but that wasn't the only reason why I did them. The only thing I really did just to do was a community service club at school which I was really only mildly interested and did because, as much as I hate buying into it, you need community service on your application these days (and I hadn't volunteered at the computer repair place yet).

My grades in high school were generally Bs and sometimes As, and in Freshmen year, I got a few non-final report Cs. However, I went to a magnet public school (considered the best one in Philadelphia or one of them) and all my regular courses are weighted 1.1 and my A.P.s are weighted 1.2. Of course, colleges usually un-weight grades and look at them in context with the school. However, I guess what I'm saying is my grades were pretty average.. I wasn't considered the smart kid like I was in middle school, and part of it was I stopped caring so much (both in a healthy way, and an unhealthy way.. on one hand I didn't stress out as much, but my general dislike of the people I was around and my disappointment at the way middle school and high school treated me made me apathetic). Oh yeah, and my SAT scores with the best combined were a 2090 and my SAT IIs included US History (610 or 630, I forget) and Math Level II (700 or 710 I forget).

Anyway, when looking for colleges I was very picky. I became very cynical in high school and every college I saw made me depressed because I saw overpaid professors talking about socialism and extreme left wing sorts of things in an effort to sound cool, while meanwhile they're accepting humongous paychecks and working for a corporation that charges tons of money (artificially) for what is a necessity these days. I also didn't like high school and felt lost and depressed about all of that. But anyway getting back to the actual topic...

I always liked New York so when I visited NYU, it was the first school I really liked, besides McGill which I ended up deciding was too far (although I really liked Montreal and the school itself). Of course, I wanted to major in computer science and NYU is a liberal arts college known for acting and writing and stuff. Plus it's in the center of Greenwich Village. But thats exactly why I liked it. As much as some hardcore engineer Slashdotters may assume I'm just a lazy person, I liked the fact that not everything was computer science. I wanted liberal arts along with computer science, not just strict engineering (of course comp sci and Computer Engineering are different, but a lot of schools put computer science in the engineering department). Even if NYU doesn't mentally connect with computer science in people's heads like other schools, it doesn't mean anything, and I'm glad I'm going there. I'm sure you all remember the Slashdot stories on the multi-touch screen that could revolutionize GUIs. If not, here's a link and guess where all the research is occurring: http://cs.nyu.edu/~jhan/ftirtouch/ [nyu.edu] .

One last thing, NYU is extremely hard to get into due to the popularity of New York and the huge amount of applicants. It may be second-tier but it is very hard to get in, and I heard rumors that some of the children of professors weren't even getting in this year. So me getting in there is no little feat for people who only have eyes for the Ivys. Especially since my grades were mediocre throughout high school. But the thing is, I did stuff I wanted to do, and enjoyed for the most part. I also did well on the standardized tests (also bullshit because I did well by getting a lot of outside tutoring help and studying which means they really aren't as standardized as the stupid CollegeBoard would love you to believe). All in all, I wouldn't worry. CM is a good school anyway and you sound like you could get into MIT or other places. I mean, I got into NYU early decision which is just a numbers thing in the end and I got into Penn State's main campus early action so I know NYU isn't the only school that would have taken me lol. Just relax, I guess. I mean at this point relax..I'm glad I didn't relax throughout high school like some people a lot of whom contribute to why I'm so excited to get the fuck out of high school and it's twisted drama.

Re:Who cares? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134406)

Hey, I went to NYU for CS ('03), and loved it. Going to a nerd school like MIT or CMU wasn't something I had any interest in. NYU is great for meeting all kinds of different people; there are very few of the typical CS nerds there. And the location cannot be beat, period.

The other thing to consider about going to NYU (or any school in NYC) is that the big tech employers are the investment banks. Granted, the work is not always glamorous, but I've yet to hear anyone complain about the pay. 2 years out of school, you can easily be making six figures, and NYU is very well known in that industry, and else where in NY, so if you plan to stick around, I wouldn't worry about name recognition.

Lastly, the name of your college is mostly useful for getting your first job; by the time you start looking for your second, people will judge you more on what you've done than where you went to school.

Anyway, enjoy NYU.

Re:Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134340)

I was gung ho during highschool about going to the University of Toronto because it is considered the best school Canada. I do however, regret not going to a school with a better social atmosphere.

Re:Who cares? (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134384)

Life's too short to worry about getting into the "best" schools. Go somewhere you'll enjoy, socially and academically. There's incredible research being done by brilliant professors at public universities too. Do well as an undergrad, and you should have no problem getting accepted to a big name school for your master's, if you need resume candy.

I totally agree. I did the "stupid" thing and transferred to a college on the other side of the country because I was chasing a girl in my sophomore year. She picked the school because she had her sights set on becoming a lawyer and I had my sights set on her, so the school wasn't anything to speak of for CompSci.

It didn't work out with the girl (big surprise!) but I was still able to get hooked up with the right kind of internship program to really learn some good skills. Sometimes it is a good thing to be a big fish in a small pond. Ten years later -- I'm a consultant selling deep technical expertise that is all based on what I learned during that internship and she's in private practice having previously worked as a deputy state AG. Turns out our hourly billing rates are less than $10 apart.

So, the moral of my story is that the quality of the university program does not matter as much as the quality of your own interest and dedication to learning as long as you are prepared to take full advantage of whatever opportunities come your way.

Worked for me (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133252)

Try becoming the king of somewhere.

Re:Worked for me (1)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133284)

It's a girl, you insensitive clod!

Re:Worked for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133450)

Yes, anonymous should have suggested becoming a queen somewhere since that would apply equally to both sexes yet insult only the homophobic straight males.

Re:Worked for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133820)

I'm a homophobic straight male, you insensitive clod!

Re:Worked for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133288)

Hello, King George III, Beast of Yale. [whitehouse.gov] .

Probably too late, but (4, Funny)

l33td00d42 (873726) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133276)

Can you become a minority in short order?

Re:Probably too late, but (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133304)

Can you become a minority in short order?

Actually, he can. If he writes in his admission essay about how he has been propelled to succeed by virtue of his experience as a transgendered person in an unaccepting world, he can vault to the top of the "diversity" queue. Our applicant should do some research about programs for the transgendered at the university to which he is applying; he can then write about how he is looking forward to joining the accepting community of that university, where he looks forward to thriving openly as a transgendered person.

Of course, if he's planning to apply to Bob Jones University or to Jerry Falwell's school, this strategy probably won't work. Otherwise, though, it's a winner!

It's no joke. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133392)

This is apparently especially true in Canada. I have a nephew who is from the US, but is studying science at a university in Canada. Back at Christmas we were talking about what higher education is like there. He was saying that about 75% of the students in his graduating year are made up of "visible minorities". It's absurd to call such people "minorities" when they are clearly in the majority.

Beyond that, he finds that they get preferential treatment, even over Canadians. With many of the TAs being Indian, he says that they tend to treat Indian students better. Mind you, that may be because the Indian students are the only ones who can actually understand what the Indian TAs are saying.

He was even telling me of one situation where a group of Indian students were openly "collaborating" on a test that was to be individually written, in plain sight of the Indian TA. The TA apparently knew they were cheating, but wouldn't do anything about it. It was only after several other students writing the test actually yelled at the TA to take the cheaters' tests, fail them, and then kick them out that something was done. But my nephew was saying that apparently those Indian students went to the professor, outright denied the cheating, likely made threats of filing a racism complaint to the professor's higher-ups, and were allowed to rewrite the test. Of course, in any American school those fuckers would've likely been booted from that course, at the very least.

So if you are a minority, maybe Canada is where you should go. It sounds like you'll get preferential treatment, you'll have free reign there to do what you want, and they don't have the guts to stop you.

Re:It's no joke. (1)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133620)

Whenever you go soft on certain ethnic or social groups (ie fraternities) it results in abuses. I took a Computer Networking class back in 1998 at a SUNY school, and a group of Chinese kids were talking during the midterm and passing around some big TI calculator that had a pretty big screen that had been expressly forbidden.

The professor watched this happen and did nothing. After the test, he announced that he had "heard" that cheating might have gone on, and was increasing everyone's score by one letter grade.

At the same school there was a German course taught by some fossilized tenured professor who had been there since 50's. He have the same assignments since sometime in the mid 60's, so all of the fraternity people would have a banked copy of the test and would take it for an easy A.

Re:Probably too late, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133426)

Re:Probably too late, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133498)

As an honest English white male from a large family, I heartily recommend Mod Parent Up. If I suddenly became some kind of black, jewish, disabled, single-parent then life would be a lot simpler, and that's no exaggeration.

Re:Probably too late, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133528)

Well, maybe it is an exaggeration. I have black friends, jewish friends, disabled friends, and friends who are single-parents, and life doesn't 'get a lot simpler'. But it certainly helps.

Re:Probably too late, but (1)

oyenstikker (536040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134688)

Join the NAACP. Put on your application that you are an NAACP member. Don't fill out race. They'll assume you are black, even if you aren't.

Suck cock. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133278)

Suck your way into the school that you want to attend. That's how it has always been done.

what makes you stand out? (2, Insightful)

mrokkam (783202) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133286)

From what I have heard, it is what stands out in your application that gets you into an MIT or Caltech. They get a ton of applications... but how good are you relative to the rest of the applicant pool.. and how much can You contribute to the school. You seem to have good leadeship skills... good grades... and all you need is an absolute positive attitude. The last is essential as you have to really sell yourself all the time. Really. If you want to succeed in anything.. it's all about selling yourself right. However, I also agree that an MIT or a Caltech is not necessarily the best "education". Wherever you go, just work hard and spend time to get a broad education (as in... work hard...party harder :-D). You will learn amazing things I promise.

You're assuming he wants to get into _those_ (1)

gd23ka (324741) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133438)

I don't think he was talking about getting technical training at MIT or Caltech but
an education at Harvard and Yale. What gets you into these? If anything breed.
Best if your Papa already went there.

Re:You're assuming he wants to get into _those_ (1)

master0ne (655374) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134764)

i would tell you to RTFA (if there was one) , but that would be useless as you haven't even read the summery:
I've already been accepted into Carnegie Mellon University, so I don't need to worry about any 'safety' schools. However, I still have my sights set on getting into a school such as MIT or Cal Tech.

Re:what makes you stand out? (1)

ggKimmieGal (982958) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133592)

You're also going to need perfect SAT or ACT scores. If you don't have a perfect score, well I'm afraid you might not be getting into MIT. There are plenty of students who do have perfect scores (and many of them are international). It would also be helpful if you had/have a job. Colleges look at students who worked during high school as being some what more responsible than their peers. While being a leader in a lot of clubs is great, it's quality versus quantity that counts. It's great if you were the president of 5 clubs, but if you were the president of one club that started a brand new school wide volunteer program for AIDs, well that's a lot more impressive. So if you started any projects or something along those lines, advertise that.

If you haven't done an interview with some of your dream schools, I recommend it. That puts a face with your name, and the college admissions officers tend to remember you better. However, I have to agree with most of the other people here, even though I understand exactly how you feel. If you don't get into any of the schools you really wanted to, at least Carnegie Mellon University is a nice school. That was one of the schools I was considering when I was applying for schools. Also, as someone who is a junior in college, I'm going to give you a piece of advice that no one else is going to give you. Go to the cheapest school you can unless you are truly guaranteed no debt. Now that graduation is on the horizon, paying my debts sounds terrible. Plus, my college has gone up $8,000 from what I originally was told I would have to pay. My college does not lock in tuition, and the scholarships don't increase with price raises. Ask about these things! Go to a college that locks in tuition. The thing about college is, you make your own opportunities. At smaller schools, there are less options for you, but if you're really involved in your department, you can do great things.

Re:what makes you stand out? (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133638)

There are plenty of students who do have perfect scores (and many of them are international)
And they don't all get in either!

Don't Worry So Much (4, Informative)

spoonboy42 (146048) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133294)

A few years ago, I was in a situation very similar to yours. I went to a very good public school, had excellent grades and an impressive palette of extracurriculars. I applied to the same schools that you mentioned. Ultimately, I was accepted at Carnegie Mellon and Caltech, and turned down by MIT. In the end, I chose to go to the University of Michigan, and I don't regret the choice at all.

To be quite honest, going to any high-end research university is going to provide you with great opportunities for learning and getting involved in research. Carnegie Mellon is a fantastic school, and although you might think MIT or Caltech are more "prestigious", people in the industry you're hoping to enter know that CMU has absolutely world-class programs in CS and EE. I might also add that CMU is more of a "general" school than a tech school which specializes in science and engineering. Chances are that you will have more of an opportunity to nurture your interests outside of EE by taking other classes if you choose to go to CMU.

Of course, I don't mean to slight MIT and Caltech at all. They definitely deserve their reputations, and they're two of my top choices for graduate school because of the excellent research that goes on there. While you're an undergrad, though, you'll want to be in a setting where you'll have good teaching, have an opportunity to get involved with research and major-related clubs, and hopefully have some fun. My advice to you is not to stress out about getting into MIT or Caltech, as you've already gotten in to a great place to be for undergrad (or for graduate school as well, seriously where did you get the impression that CMU is less than top tier?). If you are fortunate enough to get into either of the other schools, go on some campus tours, talk to some current students, try to meet some professors, decide whether you like Boston, Pittsburgh, or Pasadena better (all great places to live), and also think about what kind of lifestyle you want to have in college, and what you want to do outside of your major.

In any case, though, you're already into one of the best places you can be for college, so congratulate yourself and stop worrying! At this point, the main deciding factor in what you get out of your college education isn't which school you go to, but the initiative you take to take advantage of the resources available to you (in terms of faculty, ongoing research, etc.) once you get there.

Re:Don't Worry So Much (1)

darkwhite (139802) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133758)

Actually, as far as I can tell, CMU has a better CS program than Caltech. Their CS department is really the world leader in many areas. Pasadena is the better place to live though :)

Re:Don't Worry So Much (1)

PhoenixFire213 (839961) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134114)

I feel compelled to correct you on one point there- MIT (I can't speak to CalTech) has world-class programs in other areas outside of its "specialization" as well, such as writing, political science, and music. True enough they aren't the focus of the school and the vast majority of the students are only interested in science and engineering, but the school has plenty more to offer beyond just the technical aspects.

Re:Don't Worry So Much (1)

amabbi (570009) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134248)

I wouldn't worry so much... because there's really nothing you can do right now. Unless the timing of the admissions cycle has changed drastically in 10 years, your application has probably already been reviewed. Deadlines for regular admission are, for most of these schools, Jan 1.... and when I was applying, I heard back from some schools in early March.

That said, I applied early action to MIT, was deferred (and devastated)... and ended up getting in during the regular admissions process.. and about to celebrate 5 years of freedom this June.

So.. don't worry so much.

Re:Don't Worry So Much (1)

nitroamos (261075) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134718)

I'd recommend Caltech. It has a great sports program now that both it's basketball teams have won a game in the last decade.

Be a legacy (1)

sof_boy (35514) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133298)

Statistically, this REALLY improves your chances.

Tagged: skullandbones (2, Funny)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133576)

Works better if you combine a legacy and membership in a well-maligned fraternity. To have such going for you, having a pulse and a GED would get you in.

Avoid the nerdfactories... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133334)

Speaking out of personal experience, I attended one of the schools you mentioned for a year and then left because I couldn't stand being in a nerdfactory like that for four years of my life. I now attend the University of Washington and couldn't be happier -- the quality of the women is SO MUCH higher, the academics aren't terrible, and I'm not getting raped with student loans. If you really want to sit in your dorm for the next four years and spend your weekends drinking Mountain Dew and playing Xbox, then you'll probably fit right in at the one I mentioned (no names here), but if you want a legit, well-rounded college experience, I'd examine larger public options within your state.

Re:Avoid the nerdfactories... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133644)

I was thinking about attending MIT, but I decided not to after visiting one of the dorms where a friend lived.

We accidentally walked in on one guy masturbating. That didn't bother me; everybody whacks. What disturbed me, however, was the fact that he was doing it while playing Super Mario RPG on his SNES. At that point I realized that MIT was not for me. I didn't want to be associated with people like that.

As an Ivy student... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133342)

It's essentially not about grades -- Don't focus on grades on your application or essay. It's not even about SAT scores. They assume that everyone will have good grades and SAT scores. Focus on what makes you unique and sell sell sell yourself.

Re:As an Ivy student... (1)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133380)

Apparently you don't go to an Ivy given the opulent can get in, no matter how dumb.

Re:As an Ivy student... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133488)

Sorry, I should have clearly included that caveat. The other ways to get in are "Be a Legacy" or "Have shitloads of money." Naming a building doesn't hurt your chances. Judging by the initial poster's questions, I figured these options weren't practical. There are still slots open at ivies for those that don't buy their way in...

Hmm. (1)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133366)

It's all about what you do with your experience. You can go to less prestigious school - say a Purdue vs. a MIT. If you do realize the advantage is the size and diversity of the school. Make sure you do things that matter during your study. Participate in projects with some stature. Intern with innovative start ups. Most importantly, network with people - especially people who are going into your profession, business, finance and accounting. Network with faculty. Never waste an opportunity to tour a business or work on projects outside the school. *Have a social life.* Later on, the network of people you create will have greater value than your degree itself does anyway. And those networking skills will turn into leadership skills.

Relax dude (5, Insightful)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133406)

However, I still have my sights set on getting into a school such as MIT or Cal Tech. My grades are high (95.6 on a 100 scale), I have several leadership positions in clubs, however I'm pretty sure that's not enough.

Getting a great education and trying to be the best are noble pursuits. But if I may, I'd like to give you a perpective on another outlook on life: I too did good studies, I wasn't an impressive student as you seem to be, but I did more than okay considering I may not have you abilities. Then, fresh out of school, I became a software engineer, then I rose in the company and ended up getting a good position and a really good salary for my age.

Then at 30... realized I had a fat bank account no life at all outside work. That's when I quit my job to start "lowly" studies in the completely different field of gunsmithing. Where am I now? I work on guns, I get a low salary (at least compared to what I got before), but I have week-ends off, I don't work my butt off unless I want to, I can see my family at 5pm, and I get up everyday at the same time and eat a proper lunch and dinner with them at the same time everyday. I sleep well at night, I lowered my blood pressure and cholesterol, I have time to bike more, which made me thin out, etc etc...

So I'm not the super-hotshot I was striving to be. I'm a blue collar now, so many of my former "friends" consider I'm a failure and turned away from me, but I'm happier and I'll probably live longer as a result. Sure I'm not earning what I used to, but then I realized I don't need the latest PDA, a collector car or a big house.

My adice to you is, while you have a great career in front of you, try to remember the pursuit of happiness is more important than a good career. If I were you, I'd chill out and go to CMU, which is a great university you've already been accepted in, and I'd try to fret over more important things in life.

Re:Relax dude (1)

arcanumas (646807) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133550)

"I work on guns.."

...and I'll probably live longer as a result"

as opposed to working with... computers? :p

Re:Relax dude (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134696)

What? Are you thinking he's some gun-toting Kentuckian hills redneck who bangs his sister?

Sorry, but maintaining guns is an honorable pursuit.. And much more stress-free than software programming. Back in 04, I switched from comp-sci to chemistry. I love that program.

Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133418)

While school is usefull, actually doing what you love to do, every day!, is much more important. At least for a software engineer. In my view, the main optimization criteria should be to allow yourself the most freedom to do your own projects, so the best school is the one that takes the least ammount of your time. You should however get a diploma from a recongizable enough place.

The only reason to seek out the best possible school, is that if you don't have enough passion to work on your own stuff, continuously, for years, but you still have ambitions. In that case you'll need someone's help to whip you into shape. But that kind of mindset is somewhat alien to me, so while I can see that a person like this may need the best school in order to get the best he/she can be in a particular subject, I'm not even sure if it makes sense to strive to be the best in something you are not passionate about enough to do it on your own.

By the way, even though I went to a decent engineering school, the most usefull subjects in the log term turned out to be philosophy, and advanced philosophy.

If I were picking a school for any criteria other than being easy, I would pick the one with the good reputation in regards to non-engineering subjects.

- someone who has been happily writing code for last 20 years on an almost daily basis.

Ply the Dean with drugs and hookers (1)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133432)

Worked for Tom Cruise.

Don't worry so much about it (3, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133448)

What you do while you're in college matters more than which college you do it at. Let's say person A goes to Harvard and spends their time smoking up, drinking, and barely passing their classes, while person B goes to West Podunk State, where they graduate with high honors and had a leadership role among students. Which person would you expect to be accepted to a graduate program? Which person would you hire?

Secondly, the stats you quoted are just fine for getting into a good school. Don't listen to your parents on this one: They're view of what's average is probably developed by what they hear from their friends about their kids, which is typically exaggerated. Usually a combination of mostly A range high school grades, good SATs or ACTs, some extracurricular involvement, and a compelling essay (that shows them your personality, this is crucial) are all you really need.

Also, make sure you really like what you see about the schools in question. Spend some time at MIT or CalTech and don't go there unless you actually enjoy the environment. Yeah, it may look good on your resume, but it's probably not worth the 4 or 5 years of misery to get it.

Re:Don't worry so much about it (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133506)

Let's say person A goes to Harvard and spends their time smoking up, drinking, and barely passing their classes, while person B goes to West Podunk State, where they graduate with high honors and had a leadership role among students. Which person would you expect to be accepted to a graduate program? Which person would you hire?

Dude, you should have chosen your example better: the richest man in the world is a failed Harvard student...

Re:Don't worry so much about it (1)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133894)

Another key point in the GP's comment that bears looking at is:

The aformentioned 'failed Harvard student' really never worried much about 'being hired.' Some of the most successful people never worry about submissive stuff like that.

Re:Don't worry so much about it (1)

yams69 (986130) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133960)

Uh, Bill Gates didn't drop out of Harvard because he couldn't handle it, as you seem to imply. He just had bigger fish to fry than getting a sheepskin. You can say what you want about the guy's business practices,but he clearly made the right choice by starting Microsoft.

Re:Don't worry so much about it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133626)

I would take the one that went to Harvard. The so-called 'student leader' of the bottom of the barrel school could be a leader of nothing more than sheeple. Hell this so-called 'student leade' could be sheeple as well. The more prestigious the school, the better the education material. As a result West Podunk State honours would pail in comparison to the B or C average student from Harvard. If you can't afford the way into a school then tough shit, get a bloody loan. I would not hire you if you went to a sub-par school, excellent grades or not. I only hire from prestigous schools.

The worst schools are the so-called 'Community Colleges' or as I call 'Communist Colleges'. They are funded by tax payers. They are for dropouts or average students.

Re:Don't worry so much about it (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133744)

I would take the one that went to Harvard. The so-called 'student leader' of the bottom of the barrel school could be a leader of nothing more than sheeple. Hell this so-called 'student leade' could be sheeple as well. The more prestigious the school, the better the education material. As a result West Podunk State honours would pail in comparison to the B or C average student from Harvard.

To an extant Harvard provides a signal - it selects only top applicants so you know they were achievers; however:

1) If they barely made any effort (which I view as anything less than a B+ average given grade inflation)they may just do the same in the work force - they have shown they have potential but lack ambition

If you can't afford the way into a school then tough shit, get a bloody loan. I would not hire you if you went to a sub-par school, excellent grades or not. I only hire from prestigious schools.

Conversely, not everyone good enough to do well at a top school gets in, as a result a lot of fine schools have outstanding students who are every bit as good those at prestigious schools; in fact the top 10$ at such schools are probably every bit as good as the top 10% at your prestige schools. Some very prestigious companies have already caught on to this and realized not only can they get good employees but they don't have to pay as much for them.

The worst schools are the so-called 'Community Colleges' or as I call 'Communist Colleges'. They are funded by tax payers. They are for dropouts or average students.

Having attended one I agree - many students there simply couldn't cut it at a better school - but many were there because they couldn't afford 4 years of debt or needed to improve their study skills before they could succeed and used it as a stepping stone towards a degree at a better school. If I see that on a resume I view it as a plus - here's someone who understands how to extract value out of a system.

In the end, my key test for hiring is - "Would I want to sit next to this person for 10 hours on a plane ride?" If they can't pass that, their Harvard degree and $5 will only get them a coffee at Starbucks.

When I was interviewing I avoided companies who made a big deal out of their exclusive hiring policies; mainly because I have a low tolerance for schmucks whose preoccupation with where they went to school compensates for a lack of talent elsewhere.

Re:Don't worry so much about it (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133886)

This seems to be the rationale of the elite grad. schools. Maybe they have a point, since those from other elite schools have shown that they can survive that sort of culture, though I believe that they rob themselves of much opportunity by giving graduates of other elites preference.

In industry, however, this is ludicrous. You are wrongly assuming that students in less prestigious schools are inherently less capable, motivated, and/or intelligent than those in the elite universities, when even the elites themselves acknowledge that many of the students they do not accept would likely be capable of performing well. Not only are you severely limiting your talent pool by doing this, but you are also ensuring that the students you do hire will cost you more.

And what about achievements that aren't restricted to a single university? Your argument falls apart when you consider more widespread accomplishments, such as publication of research or victories in professional competitions.

Maybe Jante Law needs to apply here... (3, Interesting)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133496)

Link [wikipedia.org] . While it'd be the last thing to use, it becomes useful to apply when selectivity interferes with admission to the point even state universities join in.

If it really didn't matter if you went to a selectivist run college or not, there would be no problem of the name, selectivity, and the prestige being removed. That means the education itself matters, nothing else.

Maybe it's time to consider selectivity a liability and not an asset in education - not the other way around.

It is too late (2, Interesting)

quizteamer (758717) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133500)

Your right that it is too late for you to start beefing up your activities. Most schools require that you say how long you've been doing any activities and how many hours per week you do them. So if an admissions officer sees that within the last month you've started ten new activities/sports/jobs/whatever, they will realize that your scrambling to add to your application. If you do anything, make sure you have an awesome essay and make sure that your references are people who know you well and will say how great you are. When my best friend was applying to schools, he had a reference that was bad mouthing him.

Re:It is too late (1)

stevesliva (648202) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134610)

I agree. Too late. Admissions folks at the top colleges either attach a lot of weight to the GPA your school assigns (well-regard public, or private), or they nearly disregard it if you attend a public school with a huge number of peers in that 95-100 range. What you need to do to convince them that your true knowledge reflects your GPA and not the laxness of your school's curve is take subject-specific standardized tests. As many as possible. Based on comparable students in my class and in others it wasn't my grades or extracurriculars that gave me the extra advantage, it was taking as crapload of APs and SAT2s. My large public high school give anyone who barely tries a 96. I don't think enough students at similar schools realize that the subject test are an extremely useful benchmark to turn the 97 that you and all of your friends have into something meaningful in a national pool of applicants. But it's too late for this year.

Have a very high SAT score (1)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133504)

75 percent of MIT students have at least a combined math/verbal SAT score of 1430. If you don't have that, chances are poor that you will get in unless you are "more equal than others", i.e. you are anything other than a White male.

Here's a homework assignment for you:

SAT score is a good enough proxy for IQ that most high IQ societies will accept it in lieu of an official IQ test. You can find out the mapping between SAT (and other tests) here:
http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/GREIQ.aspx [iqcomparisonsite.com]

1. Find out the 25th percentile SAT score of the top 5-10 schools. (They are very similar.)
2. Find out the freshman population of all these schools in total, times that by .75 to get the number above the 25th percentile. (You might want to subtract international students, or just estimate.)
3. Using US population pyramids and the IQ distribution (bell shaped curve), estimate the total number of US students who these schools can actually draw from to get such a student population.
4. From there, estimate the probability that they will accept you based on SAT score alone.

(Hint, it's pretty damn high).

As to your case, colleges stay pretty constant in their 25th or 75th SAT percentiles. I think the SAT may have been renormed recently, but it was still the same test around the early 2000 era.
http://www-tech.mit.edu/V122/N40/40usnews.40n.html [mit.edu]
http://www.cmu.edu/ira/CDS/c_9900.html [cmu.edu]

MIT was 1410 versus 1270 for CMU (25th percentile). That means if you take a random sample of the population who would just make it into the 25th percentile of CMU, there would only be 1/6 of them who would just make it into the 25th percentile of MIT.

Committee members are human beings (1)

sevenfactorial (996184) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133582)

If you were applying to grad school instead of college, I would highly recommend "crashing" a conference in the subject that interests you. This recently worked at my own university for someone who otherwise might not have been a very attractive applicant. This same person also pulled weight with a connection he had to a post-doc already in the department. I suppose there are undergraduate analogues for this approach. If you don't have a personal connection, there's not much you can do. However, you can still crash a conference, colloquium, seminar, and meet the acceptance committee without too obviously being a schmoose. The people who select candidates are human beings, and if they find you attractive as a person, they'll find you more attractive as a potential student.

Big fish (1)

theEteam (1064762) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133648)

Consider also the opportunities that come from being the biggest fish in the water, so to speak. If you go to MIT/Caltech you will be surrounded by extremely smart people. There are a lot of benefits to that. You will learn a lot from them. Consider also going to a second/third tier school. Assuming that you are MIT/Caltech material, you will be at the top of the class in these schools. You will get more attention from the professors in these schools. They will let you in on their pet projects. You will spent less time on schoolwork and more time to pursue your own projects. You will learn a lot doing this.

Suppose it all depends on your temperment.

Re:Big fish (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133730)

While I understand that most people work on prof's pet projects for their masters, I say that's a fairly lame way to go. If you're a smart fellow you should be able to find problems in your respective field that you want to solve.

If you're of college age and you need someone else to tell you what to work on ... chances are you're not ready to go out in the "real world" just yet.

Part of the college experience is becoming an adult, self reliant, and all that jazz. Unfortunately, all too often they confuse "adult" with "able to drink and have unsafe sex with multiple partners per week."

bah...

Tom

if you're asking now (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133688)

u ain't ivy

Re:if you're asking now (1)

zwad (937823) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133970)

correct, none of the schools he mentioned where in the IVY league. anyhow the IVY league is just a bunch of uptight snobs anyhow.

It's not what you know ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18133734)

Your chances of everything are greatly enhanced if you know the right people. Getting into the right school enhances your chances of making the right friendships. (It's a form of positive feedback ... the rich get richer, etc.)

Given that you have your current situation, you may or may not get into the school of your choice. Don't worry too much. You don't have to stop after one degree. The undergrads don't get to do the interesting stuff anyway. Your best strategy now is to start working on where you will do your master's. If you get to know faculty at the schools you want to go to, you will be able to find someone to take you on for your next degree.

BTW. Don't limit yourself to American schools. You can save a pile of bucks by going to school in Canada. There was recently a list of the best schools in the world. Most of them were American but several were in Canada. Tuition is a lot less up there and their dollar is worth less, so you get more for your money. Do that and you may be able to afford to do your post grad degrees at MIT or CalTech.

Re:It's not what you know ... (1)

zwad (937823) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134022)

Do not set your heights so low..don't aim for a Masters, aim for a Ph.D.

It's probably for the best. (2, Interesting)

ameoba (173803) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133754)

Have you ever thought that there's a reason these places are selective and have their admissions standards set how they are for a reason? If, by the midpoint of your senior year of HS, the admissions board doesn't think you're cut out for them, maybe there's a chance they're right? 4 months away from graduation is a little too late to change your academic course significantly. The very fact that you've put this off as long as you have long might, in itself, be an argument for why you might not be cut out for a top-tier school.

Re:It's probably for the best. (1)

yams69 (986130) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134128)

Whoa! Who the frig thinks that CMU isn't a good EE school for an undergrad?! Dude (i.e., original poster), you're already way ahead of a lot of folks in your position if you've been accepted to CMU. Be happy with what you have so far. I used to be hung up on school names like you seem to be, but then I met a lot of folks at grad school who went to small schools I'd never heard of and yet who kicked my prestigious-school ass. In the real world, long term, it all comes down to what you can do as an engineer, not a line on your resume.

Trust me: If you stop your education at the undergraduate level, you are much more likely to meet people from Big State U who won't care that you went to CMU (they may not even perceive the difference between your education and theirs). And if you go on to grad school, where you go for that is 10x more important in terms of educating you for your profession. And even then it can be a crapshoot on how much it accomplishes for you. I know that, as a high school senior, every decision about your education seems like a choice between guaranteed success and absolute failure -- I was there once too and I remember it well -- but twenty years later, you'll look back on this time in your life and realize that your school choice wasn't nearly as important as you thought it was.

If you're really good, you'll do well wherever you go. If you expect to be ashamed that you went to CMU instead of Caltech or MIT for undergrad, well, best of luck to you. Plan to have a miserable life.

Re:It's probably for the best. (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134464)

The very fact that you've put this off as long as you have long might, in itself, be an argument for why you might not be cut out for a top-tier school.

Yeah, if you haven't mapped out your entire life by junior year in high school then you are just another member of hoi polloi.

You sound like this guy I went to high school with who went to stanford for his engineering degree. 10 years later, he doesn't even have an engineering job -- all he has to show for it is his stanfordlalumni.org email address, which he plasters all over the place. Whoops!! So much for his plans at 17.

Been There (1)

Jazzer_Techie (800432) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133900)

I'm an undergrad at MIT (8 & 18 if you were wondering*), so I feel like I can answer your question pretty well.

First of all, don't worry about being deferred from early action. The people who get on early action are VERY good. Being deferred doesn't lessen your chances of getting overall. At this point, I think you just really need to play the waiting game. Don't pester admissions. They have enough people who think getting in here is a matter of life and death that they don't want to be bothered. That's not to say that you should contact them with questions or important information, but don't call them and ask them how to make sure you get in, or send them a package every week with your most recent high school chemistry test grade. I think you see what I'm saying.

As far as advice on how to get into college, I think the best counsel I can give is "don't do stuff specifically in order to get into college." Life is too short to screw around with trying to make yourself appear like a "perfect candidate" (whatever the hell that means). People, both students and parents, take college admissions much too seriously. During high school, I just had fun. Now I'm enough of a nerd that I thought some of the things like math competitions were fun, but the point is I didn't ever do anything grudgingly just to try to get into a school. Find something you enjoy and that you're passionate about and then just do that. You're much better spending your time on a project or activity you find interesting than specifically trying to get into school X. And what if you don't get in? Well, if you were doing something interesting, you probably had fun and learned stuff along the way. If you were trying to be Joe Perfect Candidate, you've got squat to show for your time.

For you the more relevant question advice I can give is probably how to choose between schools after you've gotten in. Don't be afraid to take the financial aspect into consideration. A degree from a slightly less prestigious school is probably worth 30k less in debt. I had the chance to choose between MIT, Caltech, and Harvard on essentially equal financial footing. Visiting Harvard made it pretty clear that it wasn't the place for me. Sometimes you'll just get those vibes. MIT vs Caltech is a pretty tough choice, and it's something you just have to make based on personal feelings. I think I could have been happy at either place, but I just felt a bit more at home at MIT, right from the start. Meet some students and profs, talk with them; just get a general idea of what's going on. Deep down, you have to like the place you're going to school, because you're going to spend about a 100 hours a week hating it**.

If you have any specific questions, you can reply to this and I'll give a shot at answering them.

* that's physics and mathematics, to the uninitiated
**a deep hatred of the Institvte is a longstanding tradition

Re:Been There (1)

spinfire (148920) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134242)

Don't be afraid to take the financial aspect into consideration. A degree from a slightly less prestigious school is probably worth 30k less in debt.

This is VERY TRUE. I know someone who borrowed a lot of money to go to a higher end private University and now he has over 80k in student loans to pay off, with no end in sight. Fortunately, my parents have contributed towards my tuition at a state school. I could easily have gotten in somewhere more prestigious, but this is "Good enough" for me and I am extremely happy to not be in debt. So, in your case, carefully consider the cost, minus any grants or scholarships you receive. Graduating with huge amounts of student debt is extremely discouraging and depressing, it will delay your ability to buy a house, get your life together, etc. Think about what expected salaries are and compare that to any loans and expected living expenses. Of course, if somebody is paying for you to go there, then this point is moot.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can always go to CMU for undergrad, then MIT for grad school. Sometimes I think this is better since by the time you get to grad school you have already verified you like the career path you chose, you have more background knowledge to appreciate a good school, and depending on the field, they're often paying *you*. Plus, many universities are so researched focused that more energy is placed on the graduate program.

Re:Been There (3, Insightful)

Furry Ice (136126) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134320)

I don't know if there's a deeper meaning to hating the Institvte than I realize, but I can speak to hating Caltech being a common phenomenon. I left at the beginning of my junior year because I really, really hated it. I was doing well academically, but I really should have paid more attention to happiness than prestige. I'll admit now that I largely went there to validate my own intelligence, and also in the hopes that I would never have to prove myself again: I could just drop the name of the college I went to and no further discussion would be necessary, right?! The trouble is, you'd be amazed at how many people have never even heard of Caltech. These aren't the kind of people who would employ you, but it's irritating nonetheless to put in such a tremendous amount of effort (towards an admittedly silly goal) only to find that it didn't even yield a fraction of the expected reward.

I don't want to trash the school entirely. Caltech was a good fit for many of my friends. I do have to qualify that, however. Many of them admitted to me that they were unhappy, but they felt they wouldn't be happier anywhere else. I believe they were telling the truth, and it makes me sad.

Anyway, after a couple of years at a startup, I finished my undergrad at CU Boulder, and I really wish I'd started there as a freshman. It was still fun, but it's kind of cliquey, and many students made their friends freshman year in the dorms and didn't seem to feel a need to expand their circle after that. However, I probably would have had an easier time if I'd scaled back my pride. It's hard to make friends when you're convinced you're superior to everyone else! That can be a downside to the big-fish-in-small-pond supposed advantage of less highly ranked schools. Of course, the problem really has nothing to do with the school...

To the original poster: go where you really want to go. Try your hardest to separate your pride and insecurity from your honest desires. Don't make a decision this big to please or impress anyone else, or just to prove something to yourself. Don't let my experience be a discouragement, either. If you really think you can be happy at MIT or Caltech, go for it! I learned a lot there, perhaps things I wouldn't have learned at a less stressful school. Most importantly, I learned how to learn quickly: how to skim unfamiliar technical content in search of something that will help me solve an actual problem. I learned that I can't possibly know or remember everything (in high school I actually believed I could) so I learned how to find what I need to solve a problem. I stopped memorizing what I learned and started remembering where to find it. But the most important thing I learned is that I like many things besides work and academics, and if I don't have enough time to do them, I get very unhappy. Unfortunately, I had to learn that lesson more than once!

Top Tier School (1)

G1975a (913602) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133924)

You mean like DeVry? I went there :).

The biggest key to getting into a Top Tier School is to have your rich daddy make an extremely large donation, that'll get you in for sure. "Sleeping your way in" might also help.

------

Seriously speaking, if they don't accept you, they don't deserve you! Go to the best school you get accepted to and work hard. Do the same as you are doing in high school: work hard, volunteer/lead some clubs and organizations, and most of all have some fun. Life is too short to worry about things like this.

It's not necessarily where you go for college, it's what you do there and afterwards. Some employers might even shy away from Top Tier school grads as they might be perceived as overpriced. Don't get me wrong, a reputable institution is a must but there are many good community colleges/universities that are well respected, too.

Good luck in your pursuits.

Don't give up hope yet! (1)

oldwindways (934421) | more than 7 years ago | (#18133932)

I just wanted to point out that while you may be limited in what you can do to improve your chances at this point, don't abandon all hope. I was deferred when I applied to MIT and Harvard for early admission to the class of 2006. While I didn't get admitted to Harvard, I did get into MIT, and in retrospect that was the best thing that could have happened to me (what was I thinking when I applied to Harvard to study engineering).

As a side note, one of my best friends from high school, considered the local math genius, did not get into MIT that year. Its generally accepted that College admissions is a form of black magic, and even those directly involved in the process seem unable to shed much light on its inner workings. Oh, and in case you were worried, he ended up going to Yale, so no harm done.

I know nothing about Cal Tech (2)

torstenvl (769732) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134036)

I'm currently a senior at a top rated public school...

Unless you mean Stuyvesant, this doesn't matter. It's actually better to go to a lower-ranked public high school than to many higher-ranked schools, public or private. The marginal bump you get for going to a "good" high school doesn't mean much to admissions officials, because grading standards are arbitrary and, frankly, because high school is such a poor indicator of future success (the only exceptions to these are at the extraordinary high end -- Stuy, Andover, Exeter, Bronx Bcience -- or where an admissions official knows the school's tough on grading so your 3.9 or whatever it works out to be looks a lot better). On the other hand, you can get geographic and socioeconomic status diversity points if you raised hogs in North Dakota and educational diversity points if that meant going to the same eight-person one-room schoolhouse for K-12.

I look forward to majoring in Electrical Engineering. I've already been accepted into Carnegie Mellon University, so I don't need to worry about any 'safety' schools. However, I still have my sights set on getting into a school such as MIT or Cal Tech.

Well, IvyLeage Engineer, you know that none of these schools are in fact in the Ivy League? That's not to say that they're not prestigious, and certainly not to say that they're not good schools. Honestly, though, I'm surprised you didn't apply to Princeton [princeton.edu] .

My grades are high (95.6 on a 100 scale), I have several leadership positions in clubs, however I'm pretty sure that's not enough. What else can I do to improve my chances of being accepted there? I've already been deferred from early action at both institutions and I'm afraid it's too late to do much at this point. I'm sure there are other people like me wondering just what it takes to get admitted to a prestigious college.

Congrats on the GPA. I'm almost certain that it won't mean much. The fact that it's on a 100 scale in high school is part of my point -- scales and policies are nowhere near uniform across high schools (they aren't in college, either, but they're closer). The leadership positions in clubs can be meaningless, but they can be great, too. It kind of depends on what you get out of it, and how well you communicate that to the admissions office. I'll assume that you had to submit a personal statement or something. If so, and you feel you did a good job conveying the meaningful life lessons you learned (it doesn't matter if you actually did or not, especially at these schools), then you should be golden. Honestly, though, as I hinted at earlier, your personal life is sometimes more important. The real world is something we all have in common, it's the best objective measure of the challenges you've faced, and it's more likely to resonate with real people (admissions officers are people too). I'd say the only things more valuable on an application are meaningful major academic achievements, standardized test scores, and maybe a really stellar recommendation letter by a faculty member who both knows you well personally and has worked with you extensively.

Unfortunately, I think you were right in that there's not a lot you can do now. If you submitted the applications before you got last semester's grades, you could send them an update. But random extra statements or recommendations at this point just look overly anxious, unless the school has an explicit invitation in its application instructions.

That said, chill out. CMU is a great school. There are people who would, literally, kill to get in there. And if you do get accepted to MIT or CalTech, you might be able to finagle more financial aid out of them by asking them to match what CMU offered. A tactful "Well, I really do love your school. It's just that financing school is important to me, and Carnegie Mellon offered me $10,000 more in grant money per year, so it's a tough choice..." usually does the trick.

Good luck.

Not another one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134042)

I'm currently a senior at a top rated public school and I look forward to majoring in Electrical Engineering.

Good.

I've already been accepted into Carnegie Mellon University, so I don't need to worry about any 'safety' schools.

How can you be accepted into CMU already but still be considering other schools? Did they send your decision early, or did you do Early Decision?

However, I still have my sights set on getting into a school such as MIT or Cal Tech.

What's wrong with CMU? I'm going there. (Well, that's reason enough not to go for many people.) Seriously, how much better is the EE at MIT or Caltech than at CMU?

My grades are high (95.6 on a 100 scale),

Good.

I have several leadership positions in clubs,

Don't get me started on this. Did you have any free time to just participate in things and have fun?

however I'm pretty sure that's not enough.

No, because MIT rejects 9 out of 10 of their *fully qualified* candidates, after rejecting the students whose credentials weren't good enough. It's part luck, and part showing that you're not "all about academics". (MIT has an essay on this on the application, probably because they've had a lot of mental health problems when students push themselves too hard.)

What else can I do to improve my chances of being accepted there? I've already been deferred from early action at both institutions and I'm afraid it's too late to do much at this point. I'm sure there are other people like me wondering just what it takes to get admitted to a prestigious college."

/me loses all hope for humanity...

Stop obsessing over this. Go to the best college that accepts you, learn a lot, and go from there.

Caltech is NOT an engineering school (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134044)

Carnegie Mellon and MIT both have great engineering schools. Caltech does not. It is probably the best school in the country for science, but it is terrible for engineering. For example, every undergraduate is required to learn special relativity and quantum mechanics, but there wasn't even a computer science major until 2 or 3 years ago.

Does it really matter? (1)

bigtangringo (800328) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134046)

I can speak only from the IT industry, but from what I've seen experience is vastly more important than education. Why are you going to college? Is it to learn and do interesting things there? If it's mostly for the resume candy then personally, I wouldn't bother.

I only went to a tech school and ended up with an Associate degree. While I did learn useful things there, I probably could've jumped right into the industry instead. Don't go to college just because it's the "next" thing you're suppose to do. I'm fairly positive that I taught myself vastly more than I ever learned in school.

I'm a software engineer who's well on his way to the top tiers of the IT pay scale. I honestly believe my education has relatively little to do with that. Either way, good luck to you.

A perfect score on the ACT or SATshould get you in (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134086)

Actually I was accepted w/ a 35 ACT and was eligible for a full scholarship at Case Western. Didn't do it though -- that place is way too close to the ghetto for my tastes.

A bit late, what is an Ivy, and why do you care? (1)

trainsnpep (608418) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134254)

First off, isn't this a bit late? Most undergrad applications are due by Jan 1st, a rare few by Feb 1st. For this part of the year you should be smooth sailing -- most high school teachers will cut you more slack than any other student, so rest a bit. But, DO NOT take this to mean do no work. This means take a day or two off and go do something you like, if you can. If not, see if you can get involved in a senior project. At my "top rated public high school," seniors who had a majority of AP/IB classes could focus the last two months of their senior year (essentially after APs, IBs, etc) on any project that interested them. You wanna go for an EE? Do you have an interest in art? Try a mural somewhere at you school. If you've any experience in photography, see if you can do a portfolio on the last stretch -- senior year. A student typically had an advisor/sponsor on the project. That's something that can add to your resume for college: "Currently planning a project at my high school to blah blah blah."

What is an Ivy? From Wikipedia: "The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprising eight private institutions of higher education located in the Northeastern United States." Yes, an athletic conference. So, MIT, CMU, and CalTech are not Ivys. So, if you're looking for an Ivy League school, how much research have you really done? Have you contacted professors at any of these schools. I know where I'm studying for my BSCS right now, email is the most common form of communication: you usually get a response within 6 hours. So, email some professors in the EE depts at the schools. Tell them you applied, say you'd like to ask them a few questions, and pick their brains.

Here's a hint: most "Ivys" have great graduate programs and average undergraduate programs. Find one that emphasizes its undergrad program. It's also not necessarily too late to go scramble to find a school (which may be the point of this thread)...Or study abroad for a year and apply next year. But in any case, pick something that has a good undergraduate program.

Oh, and one last thing: before you accept, visit every campus possible. Get a job now, and work your ass off to buy plane tickets if you have to. I wasn't even considering my current school until my mom convinced me to visit. It became my top choice, I applied, and two years later I can't stand the thought being anywhere else. Make sure there's a social life. You don't want to be stuck in your dorm or a study lounge on the 19th floor because not only do you not have time to do anything, but neither do your friends.

And now for some qualification: So, how did I learn this? I'm a 2nd year CS major at Rice University. I applied to Rice, CMU, Columbia, Brown, and American (in preferential order). I got into all but Columbia and Brown. I did a senior project, I even studied abroad last semester too and met a lot of people who were putting their first year of college off. I declined CMU because I felt that it was too restrictive (i.e. you can't move freely from one college to another), they were in some financial straits (but I'm not sure if they still are) compared to Rice, and in my opinion had a greater focus on grads instead of undergrads in CS. This may have all changed in the past two years, so make sure you check it all out again. I wasn't considering Rice until my mom (who never shut up about Texas schools) persuaded me to visit the Rice campus. I absolutely loved it. I met with a CS prof and spoke to him for half an hour or so. I met a dean of another department. Any questions? Just drop me an email.

Re:A bit late, what is an Ivy, and why do you care (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134650)

I like the subliminal messaging ;-)

Internships programs (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134256)

Go find one and get into it. Preferably at a big firm or a small one with a big reputation, but anything will help. This shows huge initiative and you'll get some valuable experience in the work environment that other students won't have.

Just do it. (1)

ral8158 (947954) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134268)

Apply! Most people don't even try applying to top schools because they immediately assume they'll get shot down. You have a better chance of getting in than you think you do.

Ah, college admissions. (1)

Nimrodel (637279) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134302)

I'm a EECS sophomore at MIT. The impression I've gotten from the admissions office is that grades, leadership positions and all that are pretty much there to weed out the people who couldn't handle the school, and what's really important is the personality they glean from your application and whether they feel like you're a 'good fit' for the school. This is actually quite important, at least at MIT. A common saying around here is "Getting and education from MIT is like taking a drink from a firehose." If this isn't the place for you, if you don't absolutely love it here, you're going to end up bitter and hating it. I'm heard people joke more than once about how the "M" in MIT stands for "Masochist". At the same time, if this is the place for you, it doesn't matter how huge your workload is...you'll still be happy. Don't worry about trying to do extra things at this point to get you into college; grades and extracurriculars and SATs only get you so far. Concentrate on finding the place that you think you'll be happiest at...even if that's not a top-tier school. That's what really matters.

Don't worry (1)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134312)

Go to CMU. If you don't love it, then try to transfer to MIT or another school you like the name of better. For some schools it's easier to transfer in. Besides, you'll have recommendations form professors with recognized names at the University level, since they'll be CMU faculty.

Those recommendations and projects you work on at CMU will get you in many doors.

Then you'll have CMU AND another top-tier University on your resume.

No one cares where you got your Bachelors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134374)

Really, it makes very little difference. So just to go where you can get in and afford, work hard and then go to a top university for grad school. People care where you got your Masters not where you got your Bachelors.

Do something that makes you stand out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134392)

MIT rejects a whole bunch of prospective students who have perfect SAT's, because that is all they do. They look for something unique about you. I'm sure I got in because I started my own programming business and sold my services to professors at NYU (near where I lived)...this was almost 30 years ago, so that was quite novel at the time. They've also been emphasizing sports lately (especially unconventional sports). I believe they recently admitted the female junior rodeo champion from one of the western states. They have a strong gymnastics team, etc....

Why? (1)

baomike (143457) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134422)

Are you following your dream or one that has been suggested/pushed.
What is important to you? Lots of money , to what end?
Do you want to be able to walk to work?
how about the beach? mountains?
Want to live in a house or apartment, small town or large.
Where you would rather live Madison WI or Plano Tx?

Go to CMU (1)

twrayinma (32969) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134432)

It's a great school, with incredible opportunities and a good support system, I loved it there.

Besides, in the long run it doesn't matter... once I got my first job, not a single person (other than CMU grads) has cared that I'm an alum. Some of my smartest colleagues have degrees from 'lesser' institutions, and some of the dumbest people I've ever met have degrees from 'better' institutions. It's just a name on a piece of paper once you're gone.

College is what you make of it. You can go to the best school in the country and get nothing out of it if you put nothing into it. Likewise, you can go to anywhere on earth and get a great education if you're willing to work for it.

who cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134598)

you're going to die anyways, unless you plan to become a cyborg in the near future

I went to Caltech and it sucked. (1)

everything_X3N (1068036) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134680)

I was accepted early action at Caltech, and since it was my first choice that's where I ended up going. After one term at Tech, I realized that it wasn't for me, so I transferred to my state university. At least three of my friends there also transferred after the first or second year. I think it's difficult to imagine how stressful and insane a place like Caltech is until you're actually there. It's small, about the size of my high school (~900 undergrads), and everyone there is brilliant. People there say they aren't competitive, but that's a lie. It's just that they aren't cutthroat like they apparently are at MIT. Students at Tech basically waste four years solving unreasonably difficult problem sets until 4:00 AM every night and getting mostly crap GPA's since there is way less grade inflation than at other schools (Ivy's). A lot of the prof's don't seem to give a damn about the undergrads and don't know how to teach. A few of them are alright, though. Another thing that bothered me was being around nerds 24/7-- it seems cool at first, but I got tired of it quickly. Oh yeah, and if you want to start a relationship in college? Forget about it at Caltech. There's not enough time, and even if there was, I didn't find any of the girls interesting. If you're a girl, well-- let me just tell you a saying the girls at Tech have-- "The odds are good, but the goods are odd." Another thing-- Caltech is in a great town, and the weather is nice and everything, but you'll hardly ever have time to see it. Most students seem to never leave campus because they are always so busy with work. When I was in high school, I thought college was all about academics and learning shit. After a few years in college, though, I realize that it's more about becoming a person who is well-adjusted and prepared to get along in the world. If you go to Caltech, I can almost guarantee that you will be the opposite of well-adjusted (unless you transfer :P So yeah, I would say give CMU a fair chance. I have a couple of friends who are very happy there, and it seems like an awesome school.

not always your high school. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18134730)

Well I thought about MIT for a while when I was a senior, however the process early or late is very difficult. Top rated high schools do not matter so much as your individual scores in test like SAT, SAT2, and ACT. Have you taken all of those? I'm not sure about the late process but i know for the early, there was also interviews that had to be setup. If you have not done the SAT or SAT2 (in my state we only are only required to take the ACT) then it might be too late. However like others have said, even though MIT is "the Best," the amount of research being done there is not greater then at other institutions. You do not go to college just to get your degree in EE, you go there to do research because not only will that open your job choice but it will also be great qualification for your masters. If you ever watch the discovery channel or science channel when they have specials on engineering (shows like 2057) MIT sometimes is not even mentioned.

Pick what's best for you (1)

Afty (182462) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134740)

As someone who went to one of these "prestigious universities," my advice would be to pick a university that is a good fit for you, not what U.S. News and World Report rates as the "top college" or what people think is the most prestigious. I went to Harvard for my undergrad, and I did not do well there. None of the faculty or my advisors took an interest in me, and, despite what you hear, the classes (at least the ones I took) are very hard and the students are incredibly smart. It led to me essentially giving up by my junior year and trying to coast through. And this wasn't an uncommon experience among my circle of friends. My roommate nearly failed his senior year, and another two of my friends had to take time off because of their poor grades.

I will say that I went back to Harvard for my master's, and as a graduate program I enjoyed it much more. You have closer interaction with the professors in your field, and the classes are appropriately challenging for a graduate student. I was much happier as a grad student there.

Going to a top tier school for undergrad is not that important. Go somewhere where you will be happy, and focus on getting into a good grad school.

Re:Pick what's best for you (1)

Afty (182462) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134796)

I should temper this by saying that some of my friends loved Harvard and thought it was the perfect place for them. My wife, for example, thinks going there was one of the best decisions she ever made. A good friend who is now a software engineer also loved it. Just be aware that you need to pick what's best for you, not what some ranking system rates as the "best program."

choice of major + choice of school (1)

pikine (771084) | more than 7 years ago | (#18134788)

I have a few things to say, both about your choice of major and choice of school.

Choice of major Electrical Engineering is a practical field of study, so it trains you to become a tinkerer, as opposed to theory majors like Math, Physics and Computer Science that train you to become a thinker. If you've always been a tinkerer, you should consider being trained as a thinker, so go for a theoretical science major.

Choice of school You should decide your school by merit, not by reputation. CMU is a great school for Computer Science. For example, Chronicle's Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index 2005 [chronicle.com] is a helpful guide (the link shows ranking for Computer Science, but you can find ranking for other disciplines). As faculties are productive with the help of their graduate students, that means you get better education from both professors and teaching assistants (who are typically graduate students).

What you may have considered as "safety" school might, ironically, rank higher in that index. Remember that any ranking (especially well-known ones) will be subject to political maneuvering, so you should not take these seriously. When you turn on the radio, do you think their "weekly top 100 chart" reflects listener interest, or record labels PR interest?

A better way to rank the school is by visiting the school, attending a few classes if you have the time. This way, its environment and facilities make it a more personal appeal to you, and you are more likely going to be a happier college student that way. As always, you should only consider a school an option if you're accepted.

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