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Getting in to a Top Tier College? 177

Posted by Cliff
from the secrets-of-admission dept.
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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Getting in to a Top Tier College?

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  • Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nasarius (593729) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @07:19AM (#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.
    • 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 y
      • 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? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chapter80 (926879) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @07:57AM (#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."

      • 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 inte
        • by abradsn (542213)
          I just wanted to second some of these opinions.

          School doesn't make you successful. You do.

          I don't have a College degree in computer science and I just accepted a six figure salary for the largest Software company in the world. It's the 10 years of experience that did it. A degree would have prolonged that occurance by about 4 to 6 years. On a side note, I am proud to say that I had around 10 such offers in the same range in the last couple of weeks. (One tip: location matters... Live where the d
        • 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.

          Getting in the front door is fine if you are in your 20's. As you mentioned, past that, it doesn't really matter what school you went to. Your work experience, accomplishments, and most importantly your professional network are what gets you hired.

          My background: I was also an honors k

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hey! (33014)
        I think that seeking validation through association with a prestigious institution is a terrible idea. I think making a decision based on personal pride is a terrible idea too.

        I think you have to find the place will do the most for you.

        I suspect that if you find a school that really is a perfect match for you, chances are you will get in. The trouble is that the the converse is not true: just because you get in doesn't mean its the right place for you.

        If the prestige of an institution is playing a signif
      • I did well in high school but went to the local state university for undergrad. It is something like a 3rd tier school not even assigned a numerical rank for my field...

        The state PAID me $800/year + tuition to attend for 4 years. I had good teachers, learned a lot, and did well. After that, I was interested in grad school and was accepted in a "top 10" university with a fellowship.

        I think my experience is not all that unusual. If you are thinking you might ever get a Masters or PhD, I wouldn't spend m
    • Re:Who cares? (Score:4, Informative)

      by tomstdenis (446163) <tomstdenis@@@gmail...com> on Saturday February 24, 2007 @08:06AM (#18133460) Homepage
      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
    • 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

      • by tcopeland (32225)
        > 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:Who cares? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SQLGuru (980662) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @09:44AM (#18133818) Journal
      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
    • by Manchot (847225)
      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:
    • 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 pic
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Try becoming the king of somewhere.
  • by l33td00d42 (873726) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @07:25AM (#18133276)
    Can you become a minority in short order?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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 forw

    • It's no joke. (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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
      • 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 g
    • 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.
  • 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 righ
    • 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.

    • 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 t
      • There are plenty of students who do have perfect scores (and many of them are international)
        And they don't all get in either!
      • I've done some work as an alum-rep for the admission dept of Caltech for the last few years, and as Editor of the school newspaper we did a series on admissions I can tell you getting perfect SATs really don't do much for you over having very good SAT scores. SAT scores are such poor predictors fo student performance that other than bragging rights they don't mean much after a certain level (meaning perhaps above 1850/2400).

        More important is what classes you took (e.g., did you duck the advance calculus cl
  • Don't Worry So Much (Score:5, Informative)

    by spoonboy42 (146048) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @07:30AM (#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.
    • by darkwhite (139802)
      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 :)
    • 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.
    • by amabbi (570009)
      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

    • For what it's worth, this guy (hi Craig) is in several of my classes and is well-disliked for consistently asking off-topic questions in some kind of attempt to demonstrate how much more he ostensibly knows than the rest of us. I, for one, regret his choice to attend the University of Michigan.

      That said, I disagree about CMU being a "general" school; I have it on authority from a Carnegie-Mellon Ph. D. that the departments they are *not* known for are not very good. However, the main reason I went to Univer
      • Hi Scott. It's true that I ask a lot of questions that may be tangentially related to the topic at hand, and I do so because I'm curious and I want to know the answer. If I come across as arrogant I sincerely apologize, but I hope that despite any ill will you have for me you will take my word that I ask questions for my own intellectual edification as a student. If I thought I "knew it all" already, I wouldn't have asked (come to that, I wouldn't have gone to college in the first place). If a professor do

  • Statistically, this REALLY improves your chances.
    • 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.
      • Nobody becomes a member of Skull & Bones until they enter college. It would be kinda hard to use that to get into college.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    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, th
  • by Anonymous Coward
    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.
  • 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
  • Relax dude (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @07:54AM (#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.
    • by arcanumas (646807)

      "I work on guns.."

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

      as opposed to working with... computers? :p
      • 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.
  • Worked for Tom Cruise.
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @08:05AM (#18133448) Homepage
    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.
    • 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...
      • 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.
      • by yams69 (986130)
        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.

    • Spend some time at MIT or CalTech and don't go there unless you actually enjoy the environment.

      Carnegie Mellon == Pittsburgh == UGH.
      MIT == Boston == YUCK.
      Caltech == Pasadena == BLECCH.

      The homeschooling movement needs to graduate to college - I think I might rather remain illiterate & innumerate than spend four years of my life in any of those hellholes.

      And don't get me started on the insanity of spending $50,000+ per annum for the thrill of being miserable.
  • by sethstorm (512897) * on Saturday February 24, 2007 @08:20AM (#18133496) Homepage
    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 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by quizteamer (758717)
    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 ho
    • 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
  • 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 p
    • WTFever. Honestly, I look at a post like that and am mildly incredulous about it.

      I didn't do so well at studying in high school. Underachiever is the best word for it, I guess, although I felt I had accomplished things by the time I graduated (including programming Mandelbrot series representations in parallel. Fun stuff, actually) and I ended up not getting into a bunch of schools I wanted to because my grades sucked but my SAT scores were >1430.

      My GRE score was a 1550 w/ perfect writing. I didn
      • by rjh (40933)
        Dude. Bother. Seriously.

        I'm in a Ph.D. program for CompSci right now, despite the fact I had a 2.5 undergraduate GPA. Great GRE scores and an excellent Real World employment history were what got me into the program.

        If you're one hundred percent committed to academic excellence in your grad career and you've got a good employment history, then go for it. People do get second chances. I should know.
        • I'm going to grad school. I just have two years of physics, calculus, engineering and chemistry left to catch up on. My GRE scores will expire by then, though. Which is too bad, but then I wouldn't expect to do any worse the second time around.
    • MIT and Stanford rejected me, and CMU waitlisted me with a 1590 (out of 1600) SAT and reasonably respectable grades (just below top 10% in my high school). My roommate was valedictorian of his high school and was also rejected by MIT. I still ended up at a highly ranked school, but not the very top. Unfortunately for us extremely good test takers, the best schools want, and can get, everything. That said, it sounds like you might have close to everything, so don't let me scare you off.
  • 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 c
  • 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
    • 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 "
  • by ameoba (173803) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @09:29AM (#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.
    • by yams69 (986130)
      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 engin
  • 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. Tha
    • by spinfire (148920)

      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 a

    • Re:Been There (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Furry Ice (136126) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @11:16AM (#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!
    • by Zackbass (457384)
      As another undergrad at MIT (Course 2, mechE) I've got to agree with pretty much everything you said. I can really only speak of the people I know but the impression I get is that not many people here put much effort into making themselves a good admissions candidate. They were all more interested in ROM hacking, playing sports, going to science competitions, making Debian packages, building cars, blowing shit up, doing research, and playing video games. High SAT scores will get you looked at. Along with 7,
  • 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
  • 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 loc
  • by torstenvl (769732) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @10:31AM (#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.

  • 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
  • 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 classe

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 s

  • by nbritton (823086)
    Carnegie Mellon is not that great a school for EE/CE. Try the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [uiuc.edu] as they consistently rank in the top 5 schools for EE/CE/CSE/CS.

    Going to UIUC is around $22,144 per year ($598 ~ $681 per credit hour) so expect to pay...
    at least $81,920 for a BSEE.
    at least $86,400 for a MSEE.
    at least $120,960 for a DEE.

    If I were you... I'd go to my local community college for an AS in physics then transfer to UIUC. Doing this substantially reduces the costs...
    $42,000 for a BS
    • Just as an addendum... One of the best high schools (if not the best) is the Bronx High School of Science:

      "Almost 100% of Bronx Science graduates go on to four-year colleges; many attend Ivy League and other highly selective schools. Bronx Science counts 125 finalists in the prestigious Intel (formerly Westinghouse) Science Talent Search, the largest number of any high school. Seven Nobel Prize-winning scientists, also highest among all secondary education institutions, and five Pulitzer Prize-winning autho
  • Here's some advice: pursue your dreams. Give them as much energy and dedication as you can. Just make sure they're what you really want.

    I graduated from Caltech in 1998. Since them I have founded an internet start-up, closed it down, worked for myself, worked for others, done low-level coding and high-level meetings, found myself and lost myself again. Right now I'm about three months from graduating law school and heading off to a high-paying job in Boston, but I'm miserably single and praying there'

  • by artifex2004 (766107) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @01:20PM (#18135172) Journal
    If I ran an engineering program, It wouldn't be a matter of selecting the people with the best grades, or even the best test scores. Plenty of people will work hard or have raw intelligence, and if I have a good program, they will queue for it. I'd focus on what people can show me they can do already, with what they have. I'd want to see applicants building their own robots, remote controlled craft of all sorts, a solar greenhouse, a water filtration system perhaps, because these indicate to me an active mind interested in creative problem solving, and the initiative to get things done.

    Remember, engineering used to be a term synonymous with "professional genius." Have you done much on your own initiative? And if not, why not? Do you not have questions you want answered? Engineering may be something you get bored with, if you don't have that drive, and that drive should be obvious by now. I'll take a grimy Edison or a von Braun over a valedictorian with a complete modern science and math education, but no fire.

    An Edison can learn the prerequisites on demand. A feckless valedictorian can't learn to be an Edison. Which are you? That's how you get in. And if you somehow slip through anyway, you'll shine at whatever school you go to, and you won't care, as long as you have toys to play with, problems to solve.
  • I'm a thirtysomething Ph.D. candidate in computer science. I travel a lot for conferences and meet a lot of undergraduates, both from top-tier schools and from small places nobody's ever heard of. I have yet to see any substantial difference in the undergraduate programs.

    Let me repeat that: I have yet to see any substantial difference. On the other hand, I've seen tons of difference in undergraduates themselves.

    When I was a high school senior I wanted to get into MIT. When I didn't get into MIT, I was c
  • ...and if so, are you willing to change that?
  • The top schools have the resources to feed the of the ultra-motivated, but if you're just getting around to thinking about it now, odds are you're not one of those people. Grades and clubs are not by themselves enough to get you admitted into one of the most prestigious schools, but what they will get you are scholarships and grants.

    My suggestion to you would be to find a school, even a public university, with an emphasis on undergrad research and enough of a pocketbook to offer you a significant chunk of

  • I was a postdoc at MIT. Compared to other schools, they did not appear to value undergraduate education. They are THE research university, not THE engineering educator. I had friends that went to MIT for undergrad, you meet the best and brightest and people that will be running things down the line, but you probably could get a similar or better education at a large research active state school. MIT does not need great / dedicated instructors, since the undergrads will do great things no matter what.

    For
  • (1) CMU is an excellent school, and Pittsburgh is a cool place (or so I've heard), so you need not worry.

    (2) I was deferred by MIT on early action, but they accepted me anyway, so I wouldn't fret too much yet.

    (3) It's too late to do anything that might affect your admission chances, short of winning a Nobel Prize or curing cancer, or the like.

    (4) To get into a school like MIT you need practically straight A's, graduating in the top 1% of your class, lots of honors classes, evidence that you may someday be a
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday February 24, 2007 @04:40PM (#18136596) Journal
    Coincidentally, I did my undergrad at Carnegie Mellon, where I studied computer science and cognitive science. I'm now pursuing my PhD at Caltech doing computational-neuro-stuff.

    IMHO, Carnegie Mellon, Caltech, and MIT are all fine schools. If I were to choose all over again though, I probably still would've wanted to go to Carnegie Mellon for my undergrad, as it's a more well-rounded school. I'm not too familiar with MIT, but Caltech is very much focused on science and technology. This is great for grad school, but I think you should have a more well-rounded education as an undergrad, with exposure to many different fields. Not just exposure to different fields, but people in those fields. Some of my best memories from college were late-night discussions about life, the universe, and everything with art and philosophy majors. Plus, Carnegie Mellon has women. It sounds like a flippant remark, but consider that -many- people meet their future spouse in college.

    Also, if you're interested in CS or electrical engineering, Carnegie Mellon is on the same level as MIT/Caltech, and better in some specific areas. If you want to do robotics, the power of Christ compels you to go to Carnegie Mellon.

    That said though, Caltech's undergrad populace also has this unique "frenzied" quality to it which I only found in a small sub-population at Carnegie Mellon. I like the frenzy, but some people don't. If you get a chance to visit Caltech, I definitely recommend interacting as much as possible with the undergrads to see if you jive well with them.

    On a random note though, I don't know if you're into this, but Caltech and MIT both have active ballroom dance teams, which are pretty much non-existent at Carnegie Mellon. Of course, I didn't do dancing at all while I was an undergrad, but it's something I'm pretty into now.
  • ObDisclaimer: I work for San Jose State University and never got around to finishing my Bachelor's (though I'm working on that, and am currently a SJSU President's Scholar). I do have 10 or so years experience as both software developer and sysadmin. The opinions to follow are mine and not my employer's/school's, yada yada.

    Despite years of attempts to quantify "education" in terms of standardized tests, class sizes, and other metrics, the one thing I've learned over the years is that learning defies qu

  • It's probably too late to be worrying about it now, but do some research on the people already working/studying there and see if you can get yourself involved or make yourself useful to them somehow. Get a foot in the door.
    The axiom, "it's not what you know but who you know" is often used negatively but there's no reason you can't turn it to your own ends.
  • by Weasel Boy (13855)
    I've met probably 5 graduates of the University of Michigan for every MIT or CalTech grad in Silicon Valley. They must be on to something, or maybe the have a secret cabal. If I had gone to UM, I'd probably be in on it.
  • If you're not smart enough to ask someone besides /. for advice, there's no hope for you :-)
  • Top-ranked colleges are only worth their high price tag if you choose to do something with the degree. Otherwise, you wind up graduating with $80000+ in debt and, essentially, the same BS you could get at a public institution.

    Now, if you want to pursue a career that requires a top-tier degree, that's different. For example:
    • Top law and medical schools are biased towards high-end undergrad degree holders.
    • Investment banking--Most banks only hire from the Ivy League. Other schools need only apply if they have
  • You can always transfer.

    I was a weak student in high school; I was waitlisted at then rejected from Harvey Mudd [wikipedia.org] so I attended Rensselaer [wikipedia.org] for a year. During that year I stayed in touch with the Mudd admissions department; I took classes to make transferring work smoothly, made sure I did very well in all my classes, and even did a bit of research. When I reapplied to Mudd the following year, I was accepted. I attended and got the exceptional undergraduate education and eccentric hard-working brilliant commun
  • 'Cause someone (you?) asked the exact, word-for-word question on yahoo answers about two months ago.
  • 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?

    The answer is simple: You need to learn that life is not objective. There is no magic formula for you to follow so that you will get ahead and have a comfortable lifestyle.

    Instead, realize this: Youth is irreplacable.

    When I was in high school, I was told that good grades and extra-curriculars were required f

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