Is MIT Out of My League?

Is MIT Out of My League?

By Tasha

What should you do when everyone tells you you're aiming too high? A Sparkler asks...

I am a high school junior trying to end up somehow in the best college/university possible that I can get admitted to. However, I have no idea what I should place as my ‘aims’ (ivy league or state?) , ‘reaches’ and ‘safeties’ are. Is it possible that you could point me in the right direction?

I am Asian (Indian female-born in India currently a resident of the US (not citizen)). In terms of academics - I have taken every honors course over regular at my school, plus 1 AP last year, 5 this year, and aiming for 7 APs next year. All my grades have been As- my weighted GPA is a 4. 2/3/4/5 something. In terms of class rank, I am within the top ten out of five hundred at a pretty good high school. My ACT score is currently a 30 but I am trying to raise it two, even one point.

In terms of extracurriculars, I played tennis for the school freshman year, am in Intergenerational book club (Junior and most likely Senior year), French tutored, participated in French club (freshman/ softmore year), am secretary of the French club (junior year- next year maybe president/vice president), participated in ETC (engineering tomorrow camp) and am hoping to be in National Honor Society later this year. I have not had any work experience or volunteer experience (except for at the library for 10 hours).  I played piano for years and won numerous state/district awards but I don’t think I can put them on an application (can I?) as nothing was during high school (but I still play). I was going to aid in maintaining a non-profit organization’s website, but that might fall through.

Is work experience or volunteer work really going to make a difference? Because I could get a job or volunteer somewhere during the summer.

So overall, do you know where I can or should look at colleges? I’ve looked at statistics and everything but I still have no idea. I was thinking (in order of reaches, aims, and 1 safety) {MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign,  University of Michigan Ann-Arbor, and Madison} but everyone has told me that except for Madison, everything else is out of my league.

So what do you think? Is what they’re saying true, or should I just not pay attention? Also, is there anything I can do to get where I want to be, or is it a lost cause? Thanks, from Hopelessly Lost and iN Need of Saving


Thanks for your question.

What people are telling you is wrong: you should apply to the schools you name. Your grades, classes, rank, and extracurriculars make you a strong candidate for top schools. You sound like a great student and a high-achiever, which are two qualities admissions committees love. I also like the variety of schools you are thinking of applying to. It sounds like you're interested in math and sciences, and the schools on your list are sure to offer you plenty of opportunities to explore the fields you are interested in. One note of caution: applying to seven schools will be logistically challenging, so make sure you stay organized and figure out early who will write those letters of recommendation.

If you are geographically close to any of the elite schools, you might consider contacting the admissions office to schedule an interview. Top schools are bombarded with applications each year, and interviewing is a way to make yourself stand out in the crowd. It’s important to let the committee know why you want to go to the school and what makes you such a strong candidate.

You wonder whether or not you should be doing more volunteer work. Frankly, with your course load, I don’t know how you could fit more on your plate—especially if you intend on taking 7 APs next year! Be very careful that you don’t overextend yourself and hurt your GPA by getting too involved.

You are right, though, that a little volunteer work would be looked upon very favorably. If I were in your shoes, I would see if it's possible to maintain the website for that nonprofit. You mention that this might fall through, but it sounds like a good opportunity, particularly if you are interested in the math and sciences. Volunteering your time would not only give you some real-world experience, it would relate to what you hope to study and make you a competitive applicant at the Ivies.

Remember: Your classes come first. Only volunteer if you are confident that you will still have as much time as you need to study for exams and do homework. Volunteering is a great thing to do, and it would look very good on that Ivy League application, but don’t take on more than you can handle.

I applaud your decision to take the ACT just one more time.  A point or two could make the difference between a full ride and a partial-ride scholarship—especially at places like the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan. That’s a lot of money these days—a full-ride scholarship could easily be over $100,000. So I think you're absolutely right to take that test once more. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain here!

Best wishes,


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Topics: college applications

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