Looking beyond the Ivy League
September 6, 2013 10:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm a relatively qualified senior beginning the college application process. I'm looking for general college application advice, but more specifically, I'm afraid the list I've been making leans too heavily on the high end of the spectrum so I would like recommendations for well-reputed but not necessarily top tier colleges and universities. Details inside.

I've visited the Ivy League colleges in the northeastern area, and I really like the geographical region as well as the feel I got from many of the colleges I visited. I enjoy having an easily accessible city. However, I'm concerned that my current college list leans heavily towards high/reach schools- I have three ivies, and MIT, Stanford and Berkeley on my list, and UT Austin, UMich and UMinnesota. (I am applying out of state to all of them).

An idea of my qualifications: Currently ranked 1st in a large public school, IB Diploma candidate, 7s on 2 SLs, 5s on all my APs, 800s on my SAT Subjects (chem, math2, physics), 35 ACT, multiple leadership roles, varsity swimmer and debater. Although I believe I am a good-on-paper candidate, I would just like to cover my bases as I understand the college application process is like throwing mud at a wall and hoping something sticks, so I would like to cover my bases.

For major, I know what I don't like to do, but not sure what I do want to do with the rest of my life. I really like the schools that do not allow you to declare a major until sophomore year because in reality, I'm pretty undecided, but when I am expected to have a response, I say business, chemistry, engineering or food science/engineering.

I do have a caveat in that my parents will not allow me to attend a liberal arts school that is not a high-level research university. So at a minimum, the college does need to be decently to well reputed. I've had difficulty finding colleges that both allow exploration and yet meet my parent's expectations.

As a result, I'm looking for well reputed, but not necessarily the top of the tier schools. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated- as well as any general advice for the application process.

posted by Just Another Entity to Education (56 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Carnegie Mellon.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:36 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check out Washington Monthly's ratings. Although their community college information is dangerously misguided, the university ratings are interesting.
posted by wintersweet at 10:39 PM on September 6, 2013

Another possibility is RPI.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:44 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

For engineering? Purdue.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:56 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

You'll get in to Michigan and Minnesota for sure. I assume UT and Cal as well (but I grew up in the Big 10 so I'm more familiar with those schools). Which Ivies did you apply to? You should think seriously about Brown since they "don't have majors" and so you'd have a built-in opportunity to explore your interests. Also apply to a couple of the Claremont schools, at least McKenna and possibly Harvey Mudd if you're genuinely interested in engineering.

Not sure what to tell you about the northeast if you've already applied to the Ivies and your parents will insist on a major research university.

Maybe also consider honors colleges at major state schools, though I would think you've got that base covered with your current application set.

Good luck.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:00 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wesleyan University doesn't fit your parents exact specifications, but it is a university and it does do research. My brother had similar stats to yours, applied to similar Ivies, and has been extremely happy there.

Other universities: (bold ones are ones I definitely think fit your specs and you should really consider)
- University of Chicago
- U Penn is an Ivy, but might not be on your list
- Emory
- Duke
- University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
- University of Washington (for engineering--though note that once you are in the school, you have to get into the program itself, which only accepts around 15% of applicants) (apply to the honors program)
- is Columbia an Ivy? I can never remember
- Northwestern
- Brandeis
- UC Davis
- UT Austin
- Brown
posted by obviousresistance at 11:01 PM on September 6, 2013

Rice University and Harvey Mudd came to my mind first. Georgia Tech might be a good fit.
posted by gatorae at 11:03 PM on September 6, 2013

Johns Hopkins.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 11:08 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You seem literate and sane based on this question, and with your profile, I don't see how you could avoid getting accepted to at least one top school if you just apply to a bunch. (When you hear about people with flawless test scores and impressive extracurriculars getting denied, it's often because they came across as somehow troubled in essays or interviews.)

Add Chicago to your list: it has the Core, which lets you delay picking a major somewhat. Likewise Columbia, if it isn't one of the Ivies you've already chosen, and Brown, which is exploratory (although if your parents won't let you go to a liberal arts school, they might hate Brown). Also, Wesleyan, which is technically a research university but generally gets grouped with LACs (NESCAC school, so grouped in with Amherst/Williams/Swarthmore et al). Rice too, maybe Wash. U in St Louis and Emory as safeties?

More general advice: once you decide where you're going, spend the summer planning seriously on your courses for freshman year in order to keep your options open going forward: ideally you want to figure out what you want while simultaneously taking a broad mix of prereqs that also won't turn out to be a waste of time. Also, I'm sure everyone is starting to seriously freak out, but don't let them stress you too much: the whole process is pretty ludicrous, and to be honest it doesn't matter that much where you go to school as long as it's at a good level for you academically and you work hard and can make friends.
posted by vogon_poet at 11:14 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The University of Rochester. Research university with emphasis on research experience for any undergraduate who is interested, nice size, and design-your-own curriculum (only one required course). Chemistry and the engineering departments are strengths, and it's a "name school" in some of the hard science/engineering fields.

Good luck in your search! I know that right now, it seems like your college choice is going to determine the Rest of Your Life, but I promise that you will be able to be happy, fulfilled, and successful regardless of which university you attend. Don't let it define you.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:21 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Check out this report on American research universities. The listings start on page 11. It's a smidge out of date and I wouldn't pay too much attention to the rankings, but it will present some options you may not have considered.

A potential concern is that "lesser" colleges may summarily reject you on the assumption that they are safeties and you'd be very unlikely to attend, thus driving down their yield and bumping up their acceptance rate-- both very important indicators for overall rankings. If you decide that you really want to go to a second tier school, be sure that it's clear that you're genuinely interested. You can convey this in your essay and interview.

You might also be well served by determining a favorite and applying early decision, early action, or whatever the equivalent these days is (I imagine it's changed quite a bit in the last ten years, jeez, way to make me feel old).

If you're interested in Johns Hopkins, I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:26 PM on September 6, 2013

I did the whole apply-to-the-whole-Ivies-and-a-couple-of-state-schools-for-safeties thing, and I had good results.

The number of colleges you get accepted to, in my experience among the ridiculously elite schools, goes by a pretty logistic function. That is, plenty of people get into just Caltech, or just Brown. On the other hand, there are a group of people who literally have their pick of whatever school they want, because they won multiple international olympiads or something.

Because of this, at the highest levels, your race and the essay are obscenely important. (You should start it at an obscenely early time and make dozens of drafts.) There will be hundreds of high-schoolers who will make you look bad, even if you yourself make other people look bad. One of the most interesting 30 minutes I've ever experienced was listening to a guy who was one of those math geniuses confiding in me that he wished that he did as much in high school as another guy who wrote computer games professionally when he was 12, and then listening to that computer game guy wishing he did as much in high school as the math guy. So how will you differentiate yourself? However it is done, it seems to not be transitive or commutative.

The importance of your extracurriculars should also be thought about. Being the president of your class and being the valedictorian and being the president of the honor society is still not as valuable as, say, publishing 4 journal papers. Not rarity in actuality, see, but rarity in college applications.

I was fairly sure about doing engineering, so applied to Caltech and MIT early, but ended up going to Stanford. Stanford is a good choice to do early action for in your case, because you have no idea what you're doing and they don't suck at anything.

Lower ranked colleges don't really do the safety rejection thing, unless you literally tell them they're your safety or something ridiculous like that.
posted by curuinor at 11:44 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, the last couple years UMich has been doing the old Tufts/Wash U thing of rejecting "overqualified" applicants. (I work in this field.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:05 AM on September 7, 2013

Pomona. Harvey Mudd. Really, any of the Five Cs in Claremont, but those two are the stellar ones.
posted by kdar at 12:20 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

My votes are for Brown, Brandeis, Harvey Mudd, and Duke, in that order.
posted by trip and a half at 12:28 AM on September 7, 2013

I have a couple of random thoughts here. First, if you decide to go to a public school and rely on the honors college system to give you access to like-minded students and profs who actually pay attention, make sure you understand the exact nature of the program, because they vary greatly. Every school has one, but not all of them take them seriously (this coming from experience).

Second, think about what kind of experience you want to have at college. Of course it will change entirely, but are you somebody who is more social, and so will want a stimulating group of peers, or are you more likely to hole up in a lab and figure things out on your own? Again, it's mostly imagination, but I'd recommend literally plotting your ideal college experience and then use that to evaluate your choices. You're clearly smart. Remember that each school has a different "culture," and those cultures are very, very real, and, I would argue, will dictate your experience even more than the classes themselves.

Third, be willing to pay a little bit more to have the experience you want to have. I'm 33, and the number one criteria among people I know with regard to whether they feel good about their college experience is whether they felt stimulated and surrounded by people who challenged their perspectives and interests. If you have that, you'll grow as a thinker and as a person, which will serve you professionally and economically for the rest of your life -- not to mention making you a better husband, friend, parent, fill in the blank.

Besides that, you're making all the right moves, so be secure in your choice, and remember to do what makes you feel good, not just what you think is practical.

Oh, and consider Canada. McGill and University of Toronto are both top-flight research universities in top-flight cities, with student bodies that are differently composed from American universities, because Canada lacks the whole Ivy system (the schools are basically public Ivies) and available at roughly half the cost. And if you come up, shoot me a line and I'll buy you a drink. Good luck.
posted by vecchio at 12:28 AM on September 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

Just to note that if you're still in Kansas, you really ought to file an application with Kansas too. While you seem highly qualified, it's always possible (if unlikely) that anti-lightning will strike multiple times and you won't get the prime offers you want. In that case, spending a few years in Lawrence is hardly the worst thing that could happen.

If your family isn't wealthy, and so financial aid packages will be a factor, I'd recommend applying especially widely. When I was TAing at Duke, I ran into a student who was from Virginia. When I asked why she hadn't gone to William and Mary or Virginia, she replied that Duke was actually cheaper after everyone put out their aid packages. Applying widely, you might find that one prime school doesn't care for you, another will admit you but otherwise not go to bat for you, but the third actually wants you badly enough to put together a better aid package.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:37 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do have a caveat in that my parents will not allow me to attend a liberal arts school that is not a high-level research university.

What do your parents hope to accomplish by imposing this requirement? At first blush, it seems misguided and ill-informed.
posted by Good Brain at 1:13 AM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Lots of people are recommending the Claremont colleges. I attended there, and while they might fit your criteria, I'm afraid they don't really fit your parents' criteria, since they're undergrad only. If you do get them to bend on that aspect, definitely apply to Pomona. One of the best in the country and a great all-around education. CMC is good if you're looking for business/econ, I'd only do Mudd if you're sure you want to do engineering or math. It's pretty narrowly focused. Pitzer's (probably) not challenging enough, and Scripps is women only, which may or may not work depending on your gender (couldn't tell from the question).
posted by Bella Sebastian at 1:19 AM on September 7, 2013

Illinois for engineering/sciences. Harvey Mudd, also.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:10 AM on September 7, 2013

In addition to Wesleyan (Go Wes!), I'd also recommend Williams, Middlebury, and Amherst as liberal arts colleges with top-level research opportunities.
posted by Betelgeuse at 4:40 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to second looking outside of the US at McGill and UofT. They are top flight schools, you get to live in a major city, the cost is low compared to an Ivy or really many US schools and it s a totally different experience. It's something worth considering.
posted by GilvearSt at 4:40 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

washington university in st louis--well ranked, highly regarded research institution (especially on the medical side), but it's not an ivy.
posted by oh really at 4:49 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're a bit better on paper than I was in 2004. I had free reign from parents in applying to colleges, but I strongly suspected I didn't want to go to a liberal arts college. I applied to Yale, Harvard, Brown, Chicago, Berkeley, Wesleyan, Reed, and Illinois. In other words, I'm seconding the Chicago suggestion, I guess. If Chicago doesn't appeal, there's also Northwestern. (They're really different, but appear somewhat similar from a distance--I met a lot of people in California who applied to both, but I think no one from my school did because we could visit both easily and decide we were only interested in one or the other.) I remember considering Tufts, Brandeis and Michigan (which nearly took the Berkeley slot above). Washington University in St Louis would likely get past your parents as well (I forget why I stopped considering it, possibly to LAC-y for me).

I got into all but Harvard, Yale and Brown. I went to Berkeley, which I was not expecting to be the outcome when I started applying, it was pretty much my 'what if I want to go to a big school' choice. Reed was my 'maybe I want to go to a liberal arts college after all' choice (and I passed it off as a safety, as they have a bizarrely high acceptance rate). Illinois was mostly there for financial reasons, but might appeal to you. I shouldn't have applied to Wesleyan. It's very much a liberal arts college and somehow this didn't dawn on me (and I even visited!) until after I got in, so maybe it could sneak past your parents.

Two other thoughts: I applied to LAS at Illinois, rather than engineering. This meant I got in on Halloween and made me less concerned about not having many obvious safeties. (Engineering replied before non-rolling admissions schools, but not that fast.) If you're not applying as an engineer, you may want to find a safety with rolling admissions and get in somewhere early. (I seem to recall Purdue replying ridiculously fast, even for engineering.) Also, while I'm sure admission fees have skyrocketed in the last ten years, I could have afforded an application or two with my own money. If there's somewhere you love and haven't sold your parents on, you could offer to pay for the application yourself (if you can) and see how things shake out in March/April (you might sell them on it, you might get a crazy scholarship, etc).
posted by hoyland at 5:06 AM on September 7, 2013

A lot of the names mentioned above are covered if you go through the typical sources for rankings. You can use the ones in Wikipedia: for example the rankings done by Times Higher Ed listings, and even the NRC—both referred to in my previous academic circles, and that are research-oriented metrics that let people spill coffee over "top" versus "less-top" distinctions.

As to your parents caveat, I am reminded vaguely (both in the course of reading articles as well as personal conversation with faculty who happen to be scientists) of some arguments that liberal arts education are actually superior as preparation for research/science careers. If you have time you maybe you can find some articles online, it might have been an old nytimes article, or Chronicle of Higher Ed. Are your parents insisting on "research schools" because they sound more impressive or because they supposedly help you become better at something? Just something to consider. But like the others say, culture is hugely important.
posted by polymodus at 5:12 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My parents, too, were deeply suspicious of liberal arts colleges because they wanted me to be around professors who were actually practicing their trade in research.

But I would recommend Swarthmore very strongly, which is technically a liberal arts college but also has an active culture of ongoing research as well as an engineering curriculum, absent at most other liberal arts colleges.

A bit further down the reputational tier while also being considered "solid schools" are NYU, Tufts, Brandeis, and Boston College.
posted by deanc at 6:04 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

CalTech! I've heard it's even more selective than MIT. It's affiliated with JPL/NASA, and location-wise is infinitely better than Claremont. With your STEM aptitude, I don't see how you could go wrong with CalTech.
posted by Dansaman at 6:32 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, as well as Swarthmore, Williams, Amherst, check out Grinnell, Carleton, and a few others. Many of these produce MORE academics and researchers than research universities per capita. They tend to allow closer contact with professors--no giant classes, no TAs, no grad students taking up professors' time. And many of the schools named here are RICH (As of 2008 Grinnell was richer than Harvard by some measures). They can actually provide pretty good facilities for science and many have excellent records of placing people in summer research.

Engineering is a little more iffy at some of these schools, although I know a few have 3/2 arrangements with larger universities to allow you the best of both worlds. (And a five year degree, which is a bit of a downer.)
posted by col_pogo at 6:33 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

My cousin's son had double 800 SATs and applied to all the top tier schools but ended up going to NYU and loved it. Check this out:

The Polytechnic Institute of NYU is one of the nation's oldest engineering schools and offers education and conducts research in a wide variety of engineering, applied science, technology management, humanities and social science disciplines. The Institute -- which affiliated with NYU in 2008 and will become the School of Engineering of NYU in 2014 -- offers Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, Master of Engineering, and PhD degree programs in civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, chemical and biological engineering, chemical and biological sciences, financial engineering, computer science, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and technology management, plus, for a few select students, the humanities and social sciences.

The Institute emphasizes invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship in its programs, called i2e, to prepare students to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
posted by Dansaman at 6:42 AM on September 7, 2013

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned UVA yet. I know a BUNCH of people who went there; one is Mr. Meat, one is at Berkeley doing an astrophysics PhD, one is my brother (who is now linguistics and a programmer, but he definitely prefers the linguistics side), several lawyers, a lot of econ/business people, the guy who runs Klout. Many of them did undergraduate research. It is also a beautiful campus and in a beautiful area of the country.

Also - University of Richmond. (Disclaimer: I graduated from there.) I did astrophysics research all throughout undergrad; many, many of my friends did research as undergrads - in fact, I think every science grad I know did research. While not expected, the opportunity is definitely there if you want it. The business school is also top notch, and you can take their classes even if you are arts/sciences. It isn't as well-known as some of the others mentioned here, but it's recognized as a good school, and it's a comfortable place to be. I felt less comfortable on the larger campuses; at UR, I recognized people every day, the campus was small enough to get to classes easily, living on campus rocked. I also got a full scholarship with similar qualifications to yours - which obviously made a huge difference. The downfall for you is that they don't really have engineering.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:54 AM on September 7, 2013

You've got Ivies on your list so let me add my alma mater, Dartmouth. You don't declare a major until sophomore year. If you decide that engineering is your thing, you can do a five-year B.E. through the Thayer school. Friends of mine who majored in both the material and biological sciences all had research opportunities through their professors - it's a small school, and even in the big weed-em-out intro classes with sections handled by TAs, you can have a ton of contact with your profs. Dartmouth calls itself a college but it's got engineering, medical, and business schools, with a fair amount of cross-pollination between them and the undergrad college.
posted by rtha at 7:12 AM on September 7, 2013

UVA is a pretty nice place to be an undergraduate, and comparable to UMich and Berkeley in terms of quality. It's in a pretty sweet little college town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Plus it's Playboy's #1 party school, for reasons that are unclear to me. You may want to add it to your list.
posted by killdevil at 7:27 AM on September 7, 2013

nthing Pomona, which is amazing and really not that far from the city, thanks to Metrolink and LA's ever-improving transit system. (The other Claremonts are good too, but if you don't know what you want to do, Pomona is better.) It has the best professors around, and you can learn all the things even though it's small. I know your parents are into the research thing, but one of the great things about a liberal arts college - especially Pomona - is that you, as an undergrad, have tons of opportunities to do research. People do amazing stuff there, and then go on to amazing grad schools, if that's what you decide you want.

If you're applying to Minnesota, why not Wisconsin? It's a better school, and Madison is an awesome town. I know some people who did an honors college thing that they were very happy with.

Washington University is really good and has the research thing going on. St. Louis isn't bad, and the neighborhood around WashU is cool.

Wesleyan is best for a really specific type of person, in my experience, so that's one I would definitely visit (and talk to some people...) before you consider it. In the end I picked between Wesleyan and Pomona, and I'd have been a very different person coming out of Wesleyan.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:17 AM on September 7, 2013

Carnegie Mellon, Rice, Duke, Dartmouth, Tufts and UVA are not exactly what I'd call 3rd tier safety schools, but you seem like a fabulous candidate so your backups are not going to be typical. Were I your mom (which ohfuckIcouldbe), you'd have to sell me on the non-liberal-arts credentials of Duke and Dartmouth, but Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh) and Rice (Houston) are exceptional engineering schools and research universities well integrated with cross-discipline liberal arts education. Both are highly reputable and may provide you with the campus feel you're after. I think you should look more closely at those schools.

Beware the Playboy Party School. I went to a school that had been on a Playboy Top Ten Party School for like 18 years in a row when I arrived. It definitely influenced student life, and not in ways that necessarily nurtured a healthy campus social culture. Same for the Greek system; if you go somewhere like Penn or UVA with a super-strong Greek system, that reality is going to be a huge influence on your undergraduate experience - for good or for ill. Proceed with caution.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:27 AM on September 7, 2013

Caltech. Occidental--small but very good.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:41 AM on September 7, 2013

Best answer: Honestly, my advice to you (as someone who went through this with pretty similar stats - I took the SAT instead of the ACT) is to forget about this strategy if you think that you genuinely want to attend a top-tier school and the only reason you're asking for other options is that you're worried about the unpredictability of the admissions process.

I understand the college application process is like throwing mud at a wall and hoping something sticks, so I would like to cover my bases." is exactly right, but with your stats (you definitely have the stats to get into a top school), leaning heavily towards "reach" schools is exactly what you should be doing - again, assuming that you want to go to those schools.
If your application shows that you're scoring in the 99th+ percentile in everything you're doing, you are practically guaranteed to get accepted to the mid-range tier of schools (Tufts, etc) unless they put you in the pool of overqualified candidates. The top schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, etc...) will still be a crapshoot, but that's why you should be playing the numbers game and applying to more of these. As a high school senior, I thought that this strategy was bullshit and that people that played the "college admissions game" were sheeple. Even though it happened to work out for me in the end, my results at the top schools that I did apply to were pretty random and it would probably have been beneficial to apply to more schools that I didn't think I had a solid chance at.

Don't waste your effort applying to every safety school you like - it's called a safety school for a reason. Pick one or two that you can actually see yourself going to, send in your applications, and go on your merry way. Same goes for the mid-tier schools - you really should be admitted to almost all of them that you apply to, so take a couple suggestions from this thread and apply. Otherwise, focus your efforts on your dream schools.
posted by hot soup at 9:37 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Claremont is in the inland empire. There's really not much interesting to do in that general area, and it's hot as hell in the summer. That's why I suggested CalTech and NYU - great schools in much more interesting places.

I agree that the best research universities don't necessarily have the best teachers. That's important to keep in mind.

On another note, keep in mind that your choice of school is not going to automatically impart upon you learning, growth, and success. Those things will come from how much effort you put in. There are people who go to great schools and achieve little, and people who go to average schools and achieve great things (a list of such people would make for a great AskMeFi question).
posted by Dansaman at 10:04 AM on September 7, 2013

Note that Chicago famously does not have an engineering school. On the other hand, Chicago is a fantastic school and if you later decide you really want to study engineering, you have a great story for a transfer application to Columbia Fu Foundation. Worked for me, anyway.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:14 AM on September 7, 2013

McGill! It'll be cheaper and better than most other schools out there. Plus, Montreal rocks.

NYU is also a good choice, but it ain't cheap.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:34 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Syracuse University?
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 10:37 AM on September 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers!
The three Ivies I'm applying to are UPenn, Yale and Harvard.
I'm applying to MIT early action, and UMich (Because they're both open, unbinding, early action programs.) It also means that I can't apply to other schools early action/decision (MIT is my dream school.) Is applying early decision somewhere really that much of a boost?

I am Asian-American, which probably works against me in admissions. I think it helps explain a bit of my parent's rationale- they are traditional first generation immigrants. The story of my child must do well academically, must go to a top school is pretty strong with them. My sister went to college before me, and desperately wanted to go to a liberal arts school, but the discussion turned out badly. They were unmovable. So she ended up going to KU and being happy there, although my parents were disappointed. I think that I am more competitively inclined than she is, and want to go to a school that will be not only academically challenging, but also have a thriving social environment.

Financial cost is not a concern for me- I have no chance of getting anything need-based, and as long as my parents like it, they'll pay. At the same time, it also means that I am thus reliant them- it seems like fewer and fewer schools are giving merit-based scholarships.
posted by Just Another Entity at 10:44 AM on September 7, 2013

Penn, if it's not already on your ivies list. (I'm a Penn engineering alum, and will be twice-over in a couple years. Also, don't call it "U-Penn" if you visit.) And the reputation as the "party Ivy" is super-easy to avoid if you want. There are 10k undergrads; the frats and partiers are a very loud minority.

Carnegie Mellon and Case Western (the latter I'm shocked no one has mentioned). Great engineering; I almost went there.

Honestly, though, I think you're fine. You sound an awful lot like me-- standout stats, especially for coming from not-the-northeast. I only got rejected from MIT (though I have a sneaking suspicion it's because the only other person from my school who applied was ranked one spot above me, a legacy, but no extracurriculars).
posted by supercres at 10:45 AM on September 7, 2013

On your update-- Cornell, especially for food science. I assumed that was on your list. Princeton too, for engineering.
posted by supercres at 10:46 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not going to mince words here - the scenario of an Asian-American male applying early action to MIT with an interest in STEM is pretty much the embodiment of the I'm-qualified-but-it's-still-a-crapshoot dynamic of college applications these days. That's not to discourage you from applying - honestly, I think you could probably improve your likelihood of admission by applying SCEA/ED to another school, but if MIT is your dream school, you should just go for it. From what I've seen, MIT has a pretty unique culture and student body that you won't find replicated elsewhere. A lot of Ivies, on the other hand, have pretty similar demographic makeups to one another and provide pretty similar (albeit good) undergrad experiences.

Re: your list - I'd second Princeton - either the engineering school or A.B. Cornell has Applied Economics and Management and Food Sciences and plenty of hardcore engineering. I'd also check out Duke - anecdata, but they seem to play fewer "games" with the applications/waitlisting etc and accepted most qualified applicants I knew (plus it's one of the few schools in this tier with A Real Sports Team).

Speaking of scholarships - USC gives out some huge merit scholarships - half or full rides for National Merit, etc.
posted by hot soup at 11:38 AM on September 7, 2013

When applying to big state schools, check out any honors programs they have. I was in the honors program at Illinois, and they gave me a scholarship that covered the difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition. Also, there were all kinds of cool perks - priority registration, classes taught by actual professors, mentor programs.
posted by Daily Alice at 11:44 AM on September 7, 2013

the cost [of Toronto or McGill] is low compared to an Ivy or really many US schools and it s a totally different experience

McGill, sure, since you'd be in Quebec.

But for someone from Kansas, Toronto isn't going to be a stunningly different experience from GenericBigAmericanCity. Ontario is pretty much Ohio with different tv networks and weird money.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:54 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is applying early decision somewhere really that much of a boost?

Based on what I've read in places like the NYT's Education section - so, do your research by school - yes, it can make a huge difference, especially at the most selective schools. Here's the NYT early admit percent list; some schools admit a giant percentage of the overall class via their early admissions pool.
posted by rtha at 11:56 AM on September 7, 2013

To be blunt, your parents are fools if they won't let you go to Pomona, Amherst, Swarthmore, or the like. Those schools have incredible reputations nationwide. If your parents would be willing to send you to (nevertheless very good) state schools like Michigan or UT, they are failing to abide by their own criteria by shutting you out of at least trying for the top liberal arts colleges, because those state schools just don't carry the same reputation.
posted by sinfony at 1:00 PM on September 7, 2013

Best answer: If you are adequately representing your parents position, they sound quite ignorant and ill informed (albeit in very conventional ways).

College is, for many, the first major step in making a life of their own. I suggest you make the most of it. Given the rough picture you've painted of your parents, I think it is inevitable that you will be faced with situations where your choice is either disappoint them, or disappoint yourself. You will be better off opting for the former over the latter, and the sooner you start the better.

Breaking out of the college options your parents are comfortable with may not be a battle you can or should win at this point, but even if it isn't, you should take the best position available to you within that territorry, and you should push the boundaries in a direction that suits you. I say this, because I think your own instincts are good, much better than your parents.

As to how to implement this strategy:
  • Build a list of schools that will satisfy your parents. This list on its own is practically useless, because measures of undergraduate experience and outcomes are not a major part of most rankings of top research universities.

  • Build a list of criteria that you can use to disqualify schools from that list. For example, schools that require or strongly pressure an early choice of major. I'd also suggest knocking out schools that are too close to home (far enough away= visits in either direction over 3-4 day weekends are impractical/inconvenient). Look for assessments of the quality of undergraduate instruction at major research universities (I am sure there are plenty of such accessments to choose from). Look at the criteria they evaluate to decide which lists are most meaningful to you.

  • Build a list of schools that will satisfy you, that your parents might possibly accept. You can likely draw heavily on the body of research you used above. I wouldn't weight the presence or absence of some specific major too heavily in your own choices. Often their are more general majors that will translate, and you can always get a masters if you get to the point where you need additional education/credentials to get into a specific career path.

  • Finally, pick one or two schools that will satisfy you, that your parents are unlikely to accept, but which will force them to reevaluate their assumptions. In this category, I'd suggest Reed, Harvey Mudd, and perhaps Swarthmore. They are all small, undergraduate-focused institutions go toe to toe with top-tier research universities in terms of undergraduate outcomes in disciplines where conventional wisdom would assume the research universities have major advantages.

  • You then assemble a portfolio of schools to apply to from these candidates. Taking this approach minimizes your downside risk, by eliminating schools that would please your parents, but not you, it also gives you examples to shape your parents perceptions.

    In the end though, where you end up going as an undergraduate is often much less important to your future than what you do after you arrive on campus. You sound like you already have the foundation to succeed by almost any metric of suceess yyou choose for yourself.
    posted by Good Brain at 1:08 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

    You seem literate and sane based on this question, and with your profile, I don't see how you could avoid getting accepted to at least one top school if you just apply to a bunch. (When you hear about people with flawless test scores and impressive extracurriculars getting denied, it's often because they came across as somehow troubled in essays or interviews.)

    This is really not true. Top schools are entirely capable of filling their incoming freshman classes two or three times over from the applicant pool. The idea that "[coming] across as somehow troubled" must be a factor if someone with an apparently perfect résumé isn't admitted, in anything other than a tiny minority of cases, is just not how it works.

    If you're looking at the sciences and engineering, I'd say you should consider adding Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Princeton, and Swarthmore to your list.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I agree with the University of Rochester (Meliora!). I went there undergrad, and their reputation has only strengthened over time and they are turning out some great stuff. Local legend says they were asked to join the ivies, but UofR turned them down. I don't know if it's true, but the academic reputation (and the students) reflect that.

    Depending on what you want to go for, maybe UMass-Amherst? You mentioned Food Science, and they've got that program. Given how strong the engineering and chem/bio etc. departments are, along with the really strong agricultural and permaculture traditions they're building, it might be one to consider. They've got the best linguistics department in the country, and their ChemE/Polymer program is at the very top. And it's a Tier 1 Research University with an Honors College. They've kind of lost their "ZooMass" party culture over the last several years, and overall I've seen the quality of students improve over that time.
    posted by absquatulate at 2:20 PM on September 7, 2013

    With your stats, the University of Alabama will give you an automatic "full ride" scholarship if you apply before December 15th. It has several different honors programs. Back in the day, applying to colleges with rolling admissions didn't count against applying early elsewhere, so you might want to find out if this is still true. Wouldn't it be great to have an acceptance in hand soon?

    Ohio University has an honors tutorial college.

    Another liberal arts college to investigate is Haverford, and maybe Deep Springs?

    As you possibly know, the overall acceptance rate of a particular institution is not necessarily your acceptance rate. Academic credentials aside, acceptance rates can also vary based on your decision plan, gender, geographic location, race, family's ability to pay, intended major, quality of your application, citizenship status, demonstrated interest, athlete/ legacy status, etc.
    posted by oceano at 3:22 PM on September 7, 2013

    I think you will be fine at any of the top 20 on the U.S. News list. Honestly, it's just college (I work for one). There is a wide variety between Harvard and a third-tier state school, of course, but the difference between Harvard and Vanderbilt? Mostly prestige. You're a motivated kid with a supportive family. Throw a dart at the U.S. News Top 20 and you'll (a) get in somewhere, and (b) do well in life.

    FWIW, some of these schools have no-loan financial aid policies--which means they will make up the difference between your family's expected contribution with scholarships, grants, and work study. The idea is for nobody to graduate with debt (or with much debt--some students do take out loans because their parents contribute less than expected, or for other expenses--but we're talking a few grand, not hundreds of grand).

    I don't know how up to date this list is, but here are schools offering no-loan financial aid packages.
    posted by elizeh at 3:55 PM on September 7, 2013

    If you're applying to UT Austin, consider applying to the Plan II Honors program, which is a school-within-the-school.

    And another school I'd add to the suggestion pool is Tulane.
    posted by Runes at 7:51 PM on September 7, 2013

    So, if you want to make your parents happy and get a liberal arts-style education, I think that the Ivy League schools that will give you the most liberal-arts-like education are (in declining order of liberal-artsyness) Brown, Dartmouth, and Princeton. I don't think you'll get a true liberal arts education at any of those places, but they might get you closest to that experience. It's not clear to me why none of those three are on your list, but you should seriously consider them.
    posted by Betelgeuse at 10:01 AM on September 10, 2013

    A little over a decade ago I was in a similar situation as you (not quite as highly ranked, but high) and I chose Tulane. My college counselor recommended them because they are a competitive school but regularly give merit scholarships to top-tier students. I didn't get the Deans Scholarship (basically a full ride) but I got 50% off which wasn't bad! Tulane has a rep as a "party school" but I assure you that there is a large contingent of very academically-focused students. I enjoyed the honors program and living in the honors dorm.
    posted by radioamy at 5:49 PM on September 11, 2013

    « Older Any plumbers awake?   |   What do we do with old money? Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.