Will a good college take me?
May 9, 2010 6:07 PM   Subscribe

I need to understand where i place among the crowd of college bound kids.

I really don't know anymore. I keep thinking back and forth about if I'm going to go anywhere good for college. Right now, i have something like a 3.3 gpa. I do take honors classes. I took 3 my freshmen year and I'm taking 2 my sophomore year. I plan to continue taking honors classes throughout high school. Even though i usually just get Bs in them. (i only go an A freshmen year in science, every other honors class was a B) I also plan to double up in math (my school runs on a block schedule) and make it all the way through calculus 2 by the time i graduate high school.

So these are things i do after school:

I took piano classes for 8 years. Then i also took composition classes for a year. I'm probably going to pick it back up later this year.

The biggest thing about me though is robotics. Since 6th grade, ive been going through the FIRST organization and all their robotics competitions. I did FLL from 6th-8th grade. I did VEX my freshmen year and sophomore year. I also was on the FRC team. I plan to do both VEX and FRC for the next two years of high school. For those that don't know what FIRST is, its a pretty well known robotics competition. Lots of colleges recognize FRC and give out scholarships for the program. I've heard from people that colleges want to see that you have a passion for what you do. I can really show that with the whole robotics program.

I also have been working at a computer store 3 days a week for about 8 months where i fix computer with various problems. I could write about that too in an application.

I've done volunteer work here and there, but its not a lot.

So that's about it. I think a lot about the whole college thing and I linger on the though that my extra curricular stuff will make up for my GPA. But then I think about how there is probably a lot of other people that do the same stuff I do but they all have 4.0s. Then I get depressed about myself. Its just an endless cycle. I'm so sick of it. Thats why I'm posting this question right now. I need to know. I'm thinking about going into engineering or business. I don't know yet. I might want to open up a computer business or stick to engineering. But am i going to have a difficult time getting into anywhere good? Or do i just need to get a really good score on my ACT? What if i get something like a 25-26 on that? See this is my problem. I just don't know anything.

So what can you recommend? Do I really need pull up my grades like its do or die? Do i have to make sure i do super good on my ACT? Can you recommend colleges i should really shoot for in engineering/buisness?

Thank you so much for reading my question. And thankyou for posting replies. Thanks :)
posted by NotSoSiniSter to Education (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh I remember those days. Being a senior in high school is really a bunch of crap; once you're a transfer, colleges don't care anymore what nonsense worthless extracurriculars you slogged through. What colleges are you looking at? That will make a big difference. And of course if you don't know exactly what you want to do, it might be best to go to a community college and save some money while figuring out what to do. Sometimes a community college will have guaranteed admissions agreement with statewide colleges (for example, I am at a community college now and all I need is a 3.6 and certain classes and William & Mary will accept me).
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 6:13 PM on May 9, 2010

How will you _pay_ for college? That's an important consideration.

Also, sometimes you just can't know things until it's time. Worrying isn't going to help (people tell me this constantly; I know it's not the most constructive thing you could hear, but I figured it's worth a shot).

Finally - pay attention to your verbal (or whatever they call it) score on the ACT too. I brought my SAT score up by around 50 points (out of 800) by just spending a couple of months reading classic novels and looking up every word I didn't know. I suspect that reading that quality writing also helped my composition style. If you've been focused on math/science/robotics much more than communication, then it might be pretty easy for you to bring up your scores on the verbal section.

AND there are practice tests out there you can take, which will both help you gauge where you are and what to work on, and also help you be less nervous when you go to take the actual tests.

Oh geez - I just realized you're a sophomore. Take the practice tests, then forget about them. Have a great time with the robotics; yes, passion counts for a lot.

Also: where are you living?
posted by amtho at 6:17 PM on May 9, 2010

Response by poster: I was thinking U of I for a while, but that school is soo big. I wouldn't really want to go there. I've heard horrible things about that place too.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 6:18 PM on May 9, 2010

Response by poster: I live in a suburb about 50 miles outside Chicago. Paying for college. :/. My parents are nice enough to pay for it. I would love to say i would pay them back down the road. But I'm not sure. If not, I would probably take out loans, after college, i would move back home and pay them off. Then move on with my life.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 6:21 PM on May 9, 2010

When I was in high school I thought that people who went to the fancy colleges ran the world and had everything their way. I went to a really fancy college. Now, at 38, I see that very successful, fulfilled, intellectually rich people come from every kind of college, not just the one I went to. Don't get me wrong, I greatly value my fancy college education. But it's not a prerequisite for your ambitions.
posted by escabeche at 6:25 PM on May 9, 2010 [7 favorites]

Carnegie Mellon in PA and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in MA both do nice things with robotics. WPI stresses real-world experience and project work; I've had both friends and excellent colleagues who are WPI grads and they are all badasses in their fields (VFX guys, roboticists, CS geeks, etc.)

Seriously, check both places out.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:26 PM on May 9, 2010

You have good extracurriculars, but the way applications work at big schools, your GPA will keep you from even getting into the "maybe" pile. Many schools have a formula of (GPA*X+SAT) or something similar that gives your application a certain number of points, and you need to make a cut-off of points before a human looks at your personal statement and other materials.

But you have two years left. Turning that 3.3 into a 3.7 will go a long way toward getting you into the "maybe" pile, and upward trends in grades are good. Do what you can to make that happen.

Another thing that will help tremendously is applying for smaller schools where your interest in engineering will count more than your overall package. I'm thinking in particular of Harvey Mudd, which is one of the Clairemont Colleges. It's tiny (couple hundred students total) but very rigorous, and all they do is turn out scientists and engineers. It sounds like a place where you would thrive, and if you can sell them on your robotics skills, they won't care as much what your grade in Honors History was.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:27 PM on May 9, 2010

You'd be a lot better off taking out loans to pay for school then taking out loans to repay your parents after graduating.
posted by delmoi at 6:28 PM on May 9, 2010

College Confidential's discussion board is made for questions like these. Other MeFites may have more concrete answers for you here, but on the site I linked you can look around and really see what other students' transcripts and resumes are like. There's a specific page for most colleges, too.

I think you can go to a great college. You have two more years to do really well in high school. Keep doing robotics, get to know your teachers, do well on the ACT/SAT, and maybe pose these questions to your school's guidance counselor.
posted by prettaygood at 6:31 PM on May 9, 2010

As someone who sometimes uses College Confidential, I would not recommend it. There's certainly good advice to be had there, but also many, many users who value prestige above everything else and have frankly awful priorities.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:34 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to work in college admissions. I can't tell you specifically how you stack up for any particular school, and to be honest I think it's way early for you to be agonizing this much! However, here are a few things to bear in mind, based on my experience reading applications and interviewing applicants:

- One thing admissions officers pay attention to is long-term involvement in volunteering or extracurricular activities. It's very common for applicants to list a million extracurriculars that amount to only a day or two of effort. Your long-term dedication to the robotics program and to your job are nice. Can you do that with volunteering as well?

- Another good sign is that you're planning to maintain or increase your load of solid classes (honors, double math, etc.) through the remainder of your high school years. Many kids get to senior year and then just kind of take it easy; if you can improve your performance with each year of school, that's considered a good sign.

- I agree with amtho that working on your verbal scores is a good idea. Clear, error-free writing will also make a huge difference with your college application itself. You're putting a lot of energy into math and computer science type stuff, but making sure you're up to speed as a reader and writer is a great idea as well.

- Most important: you don't need to worry this much, and certainly not yet! I don't mean to be dismissive; I tend to overthink things way ahead of time myself, and I really understand how you're feeling. But I will tell you this: you've got a lot of time to bring up your grades (which don't sound terrible anyway), diversify your extracurriculars, and prepare for the SAT/ACT. You can definitely get into a good college if you keep at it for the next few years and don't burn yourself out.

Good luck!
posted by cirripede at 6:34 PM on May 9, 2010

You may find this article interesting.

Colleges like interesting people. You have good grades and a passion for robots. That seems interesting to me. So relax and don't ruin your last two years of high school stressing over which college you'll end up at. Your college education will end up being exactly what you make of it. It has very little to do with what school you are at.

Save the stress for when you are my age, and you are trying to figure out how you are going to pay for college for two kids :)
posted by COD at 6:43 PM on May 9, 2010

You're only a sophomore in high school? Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I remember thinking OMG WHAT A BIG DEAL I'm never gonna get into any college blah blah blah blah. I did a lot of things I didn't necessarily wanna do, stressed out way too much over school sometimes, and really, as a sophomore in college, it really doesn't matter.

If you want you can relax a bit, but not too much, and go to a community college out of high school. It's cheaper for one. I dunno how academically challenging your high school is, but if it isn't very challenging community college would be a good foray into college-level work. If you go to a very academically challenging high school then community college will probably be extremely easy and you can get a 4.0 or around there and go wherever you want for the rest of college. I personally didn't do this but maybe I should have. It would have been much easier though and I would honestly recommend it to just about everyone. There is a stigma but really the stigma is dumb. This is a good choice.

Really it depends on what school you want to go to. Nothing is impossible for you at this point and it won't really be out of the realm of easy to achieve until you're at the point I am, a sophomore in college.

FWIW, I had a 3.6 in high school, a pretty darn high ACT score, and almost no extracurriculars. I got into Lewis and Clark College, which is a little liberal arts school in Portland but I guess they are very selective, Michigan State (moderately selective), and U of Vermont but I dunno how prestigious that is. I was only rejected from one place (Skidmore in New York) but I applied pretty late and you really needed a 4.0 there.

And also FWIW I ended up going to none of the places I originally applied and got accepted to.

So my suggestion is not to stress out about it too much. I stressed out about it a lot and it was unnecessary. If you don't get into the school you really want to go to, you can probably easily transfer later on. The world will go on no matter what happens for the rest of your high school career and beyond and everything will be okay. Everyone at my high school at least acted like this was the biggest and most important thing we would ever do, unreversable, blah. Going to college is important but all the stress they created was completely unnecessary. No matter what you will be okay and you might even see one day that all the stress you experienced in high school because of college was unnecessary.

Also FWIW I am going to a very good school, transferring there soon in fact.

I know I repeated myself a lot about the stress being unnecessary but that's because it is all really really unnecessary. You should be concerned about getting into college but don't freak out about it. You shouldn't spend much time worrying about it. You will be fine, you sound quite intelligent and involved and schools like that.
posted by tweedle at 6:44 PM on May 9, 2010

Yes. Getting into the better schools makes it a little easier to succeed, but it's not the only way - people do well from all walks of life, from all sorts of colleges, jobs, etc... Don't obsess about it too much. Study well for the SAT/ACT, but don't drive yourself crazy - scores and grades are only a piece of the picture. If you enjoy the extracurriculars, keep at it. Definitely don't sacrifice your interests (or interestingness) so that you can claim one more point on your GPA, or because they're not necessary to get into community college.

You may be interested in my alma mater - Clarkson University. They do a lot with FIRST robotics, and they focus a lot in engineering and business, but I don't know how well known/prestigious it is outside Northern New York or if that's a priority for you. (send me a message if you want to talk about it more) You're still two years away from going, though - I know people start looking at schools earlier and earlier, but you have time. Don't focus on inflating your stats; do what you like and find a place that's a good fit for you.
posted by ADoubtfulTrout at 6:50 PM on May 9, 2010

Another thing to add is that Junior year is usually considered the most important year academically from what I remember. So just work on improving your grades. If you are already doing your absolute best, fine, keep it how it is. But if you can somehow improve them that would be great. If you don't get into a big giant prestigious school, so what? The admissions people want people who they know will do well. Would you rather struggle and be stressed out all the time at a really prestigious school or would you rather be at a less prestigious school where you are more capable of doing excellent work? It's not a negative to get rejected from a school, that just means you probably wouldn't have done well there anyway and you saved the stress and effort of trying to succeed where it is more difficult for you.

Don't be so down on yourself either. You aren't those other kids, don't compare yourself to them. You don't know if they work super hard, never having any fun or what they do. I know at my school we had a lot of cheaters up at the top of the class. I would work on your self-esteem, you sound like you might be a bit depressed and anxious (maybe)? If you could somehow work on those problems your academic performance would probably go up and you wouldn't worry so much about this, and those two are independent of each other.

A cool thing I'm using now to increase my vocabulary, which would surely help on the ACT or SAT, is that I get the word of the day sent to my phone from dictionary.com and some other website. If you google it you can probably find it. And I made Merriam-Webster's word of the day my homepage so every time I use the internet I see it.
posted by tweedle at 7:00 PM on May 9, 2010

Relax. There are plenty of great tech schools that'll be happy to have you, especially if you work on your grades over the next two years. The difference between a 4.0 and a 3.5 or a 3.7 really only matters where there's cuttthroat competition... and frankly, that's not most tech schools. If you're willing to look outside MIT/Caltech/Stanford/Berkeley, you'll have no trouble getting admitted.

Can you recommend colleges i should really shoot for in engineering/buisness?

I'm a New Mexico Tech alumna, and I'd recommend it for engineering -- it's a small, very affordable school with reasonable entrance requirements and intimate class sizes, and the education you'll get is solid. They have a summer science program for high-school juniors which might interest you next year... completing it would look good on your applications for other schools, too, even if you decide NMT's not for you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the school.

Look here for more ideas -- schools below the top three should be attainable for you.

By the way, here's one big secret about college: once you land your first job, nobody cares about your GPA and/or which school you went to. You'll be judged by your performance at work, not school. That means it is much more important to be good at what you do than to have a fancy name on your diploma; keep that in mind when you're selecting a school. You may be better off choosing a good-but-affordable school over a more prestigious one, especially if you intend to take out student loans and/or pay your parents back.
posted by vorfeed at 7:01 PM on May 9, 2010

You'd be a lot better off taking out loans to pay for school then taking out loans to repay your parents after graduating.

Don't feel pressured to pay your parents back if they aren't asking you to. If they offer to pay for college, accept their kindness. They want the best for you, and they want you to get solidly on your feet in the world without having to worry about debt. If you want to do your best by them, follow your dreams. Your passion for robotics and your dedication at work both sound very promising, so just keep chasing those. Look beyond the top schools and find a place that's a good fit for you. You're going to do great.
posted by a sourceless light at 7:06 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is that GPA weighted or unweighted?
posted by kylej at 7:10 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't get into the school of your choice (which, again, is waaaay down the road), don't stress! Just go to a school that will prepare you in one way or another, and consider transferring. You'll probably save some money and agony taking care of your prereqs in a smaller school, or one closer to home, and it's usually way easier (and less stressful) to transfer than to get in as a freshman. And hey! Maybe in that time you'll realize that you love your "starter" school more than you thought you would, or that your interest in robotics has given way to prototype design.

Do what you're passionate about.
posted by Madamina at 7:20 PM on May 9, 2010

I did my Undergrad at U of I and loved, loved, loved it. If you reconsider applying to U of I (and I honestly think you should apply, especially if you want to work in engineering) please feel free to MeMail me with any questions.
posted by mmmbacon at 7:25 PM on May 9, 2010

I go to to WPI which was previously mentioned here. Our Robotics department is fairly new (~3 years), but they're doing well and just introduced a PhD program. From your description it sounds like you'll have no problems getting into WPI. They're really into people who do FIRST, and other Robotics stuff in high school (I was just at the FIRST Battlecry tournament on Saturday - it's a big deal for this school).

I would recommend applying to WPI, I'm definitely enjoying myself and learning a lot - and I've been able to find internships which is not that easy in this economy. Feel free to send me a message if you want more information, I've got a ton of friends who are RBE majors, and I'm in the ECE department myself and we share our buildings (as well as many classes and Professors) with the RBE people.

ALSO: you don't have to do the SAT or ACT to apply to WPI, they have an alternative way to apply. They introduced this after I had already gotten into the school, but you can learn more about that here (look at the "flex path" option).
posted by carmel at 8:44 PM on May 9, 2010

I'm not an admissions officer, but if I could give you one piece of advice, it would be that if you really love robotics, forget trying to diversify your extracurrics any more vs. going deep into your main interest and boosting your GPA. Tons of kids out there rack up non-significant resume bullet points - the volunteer work and the piano/composition are ok, but won't really count for that much. Even if you don't end up sticking with robotics, focusing on that will still help your application (and probably be less stressful and more fun than juggling half a dozen different things). I regret every hour I spent in high school doing National Honor Society, class council, and all the time I spent trying to make an application-worthy portfolio out of four years of high school art. Being focused is a GOOD thing. In fact, I'd bet it's more likely to get you a scholarship than anything else you're doing right now.

So if you really do enjoy the robotics, stick with it. Go deep, not broad. Build a good relationship with your science and math teachers at school, and consider asking them a similar question to what you've asked here - but get their perspective on what other students with similar backgrounds gone on to do). Also, I recommend applying to a summer program after your junior year where you can go stay on a college campus and possibly even get paid a stipend for doing it. It's a great way to get more of a feel for the college experience, and it would give you a specific project to write about in your admission essay. Most of these have deadlines in December/January, like the JPL SpaceSHIP program.

Finally, if you live near a university or college, go to a nearby school's website, take a look at the faculty pages, and see if there's anyone whose research seems related to what you're interested in. Something sound cool? Write them an email and see if they'd take you as a research assistant for the summer! Some of these schools may also have summer programs specifically for high school students technology or engineering - ask! The professor you contact may not know, but should be able to point you in the right direction.

One of my coolest professors forced us, as brand new college freshmen, to read a research article written by anyone across the country, and then email them to ask a question. We were dubious, but every single person in our class got a nice email back from someone who was completely thrilled that some young, interested in science-loving kid had read their article and wanted to know more. This is a great way to build a mentor relationship, get advice about what else you could be doing during the summer, or just find out more about schools in your area.

College faculty are extraordinarily accessible and receptive to young people who have a genuine interest in what they're working on. Take advantage of this - your peers probably won't.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:22 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm also at U of I, in a computer-related field. (I'm here, now!) I can give you specific advice about this school if there are big reservations you have about it. I didn't think I'd like it here, but it actually turned out pretty awesome (or is currently turning out awesome, whatever). There's a huge ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) student chapter here (the biggest one in the country) which is basically a computer-related club, and it has lots of smaller groups, including one specifically about robotics. I think you would have fun with that... anyway, if you have questions, let me know.

As to your other worries: chill out. You'll be fine, you'll get into good colleges, and your extracurrics are very strong so far. Take some practice tests and decide what to do about standardized testing. I did a bit better on the ACT than the SAT the first time or two I took it, so I made sure to always include that. You have a while, so don't worry!
posted by mokudekiru at 10:23 PM on May 9, 2010

Don't browse College Confidential if you value your sanity in any way. It will quickly turn you into a shallow, stressed, and emotional wreck. Don't get hung up on the prestige thing -- it's an easy trap to fall into.

Based upon your qualifications, I think you'd have a good shot at most good public universities. If you can bump your GPA up a few tenths, your application will definitely catch the reviewer's eye. I'm assuming your GPA is unweighted, which sucks (so was mine), although the honors courses should definitely count in your favor. They'll also like to see that your academic record improved over the course of HS.

I'd go easy on the Math, unless you're consistently acing the classes. Few colleges expect incoming students to have anything more advanced than what's covered on the AP Calculus exam.

Definitely mention extracurriculars and work experience on your application, especially because they are relevant to what you want to study. A few schools have combined engineering/business programs (and these programs are becoming more popular), and a few others specialize in MBAs for people with an Engineering background. It's perfectly OK to mention that you're interested in both.

If you do music or sports on the side, mention that too. It shows dedication.
posted by schmod at 7:35 AM on May 10, 2010

There are a bajillion good colleges in the US and someone will take you. It isn't hard to get into college. In fact, even if you spent 2 years at a community college, you could still go to an awesome college and you would have spent less money.
posted by anniecat at 2:38 PM on May 10, 2010

You seem like a perfect candidate to read and this piece by Cal Newport: How to Get Into Stanford with B’s on Your Transcript: Failed Simulations & the Surprising Psychology of Impressiveness
posted by dyslexictraveler at 5:26 PM on May 10, 2010

Many schools have a formula of (GPA*X+SAT) or something similar that gives your application a certain number of points, and you need to make a cut-off of points before a human looks at your personal statement and other materials.

Yes, some schools do that, but a lot of schools have their own systems. My school takes your unweighted GPA and weights it by their own standards, then looks at your weighted GPA to consider you for admission. It's all dependant on that weight. I was in all honors/AP classes my freshman and sophomore year and IB for my junior/senior years. My unweighted GPA was a 3.29. My weighted GPA was a 4.21, which was good enough to get me an academic merit scholarship and into honors at my present school.
posted by kro at 8:18 PM on May 10, 2010

deluding myself: why are robots better than playing a musical instrument? (on college applications, I mean)
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:29 PM on September 2, 2010

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