chelsea2007kl
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Hi,

What sort of courses or anything can make your application have some flair, when applying to US unis. For example, if I wanted to apply to MIT with computer science, what could I do to make my application stand out?
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londonnn
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you need to win olympiads, international awards, or A LOT of money and power, or a legacy!

Hardly anyone gets into top institutions like Harvard, MIT, etc. It's extremely hard to get into, harder than oxford, cambridge, imperial etc.

Try your best with MIT, Harvard I'm pretty sure only accept elitists and legacies.
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ry7xsfa
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(Original post by londonnn)
you need to win olympiads, international awards, or A LOT of money and power, or a legacy!

Hardly anyone gets into top institutions like Harvard, MIT, etc. It's extremely hard to get into, harder than oxford, cambridge, imperial etc.

Try your best with MIT, Harvard I'm pretty sure only accept elitists and legacies.
I know people who have gotten into Harvard and MIT without being legacy, without money, and without olympiads/international awards. I myself have gotten into a top US university without any of these. They'll definitely boost your application at a top college, but they are not 100% essential.

Just be yourself honestly. That's what admissions are looking for. They want to get to know you and what you enjoy and what you're good at through all aspects of your application, including your extracurriculars. Course 6 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) is the most popular course at MIT, so going in for that will be extremely competitive as they try to build a well-rounded class. Although you come into MIT undecided, they will ask you on your application what you think you are leaning towards.
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chelsea2007kl
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(Original post by ry7xsfa)
I know people who have gotten into Harvard and MIT without being legacy, without money, and without olympiads/international awards. I myself have gotten into a top US university without any of these. They'll definitely boost your application at a top college, but they are not 100% essential.

Just be yourself honestly. That's what admissions are looking for. They want to get to know you and what you enjoy and what you're good at through all aspects of your application, including your extracurriculars. Course 6 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) is the most popular course at MIT, so going in for that will be extremely competitive as they try to build a well-rounded class. Although you come into MIT undecided, they will ask you on your application what you think you are leaning towards.
Thanks so much for the advice.
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kamara41
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One thing I think worth noting is that for elite university admission, they take from the top, not drop from the bottom. What that means is they don't find reasons to reject people and then accept whoever is left like in 'The Weakest Link'. They find reasons to accept every student and then take the ones with the most compelling reasons.

So basically, be special.

How do you do that? Well, if there were things someone could name that would make you special, everyone would do them and then they wouldn't make you special anymore. This is why what ry7xsfa said is such good advice - be yourself. If you try to be the applicant you think MIT wants, you're going to seem like every other MIT applicant who is also trying to seem like the perfect applicant, and your application won't be special. The only way to guarantee that your application is unique and special is to be you as, as cheesy as it sounds, there's only one you. And for elite universities like MIT, you need to be the best you that you can possibly be. That means doing what you love to the best of your ability. That means taking advantage of every opportunity in your school and neighbourhood that you can. That means going and making opportunities for yourself.
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londonnn
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(Original post by ry7xsfa)
I know people who have gotten into Harvard and MIT without being legacy, without money, and without olympiads/international awards. I myself have gotten into a top US university without any of these. They'll definitely boost your application at a top college, but they are not 100% essential.

Just be yourself honestly. That's what admissions are looking for. They want to get to know you and what you enjoy and what you're good at through all aspects of your application, including your extracurriculars. Course 6 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) is the most popular course at MIT, so going in for that will be extremely competitive as they try to build a well-rounded class. Although you come into MIT undecided, they will ask you on your application what you think you are leaning towards.
You go to Harvard? Now with all due respect that is a straight lie.
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ry7xsfa
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(Original post by londonnn)
You go to Harvard? Now with all due respect that is a straight lie.
Didn’t say I go to Harvard lol. I said I know somebody who got in, and that I got into a top US university, which I can provide proof of if you really want it. The university I go to (well... I'm actually on a gap year because of COVID) is on that level though.
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themartinipolice
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(Original post by londonnn)
You go to Harvard? Now with all due respect that is a straight lie.
why exactly is it you think that is a lie?
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ry7xsfa
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(Original post by themartinipolice)
why exactly is it you think that is a lie?
^ also this tbh. Even though I never claimed to go to Harvard (and I don’t), just accusing me of lying out of the blue is kinda weird. Why exactly would you not believe it? What reason would I have to lie?
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Admit-One
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(Original post by ry7xsfa)
^ also this tbh. Even though I never claimed to go to Harvard (and I don’t), just accusing me of lying out of the blue is kinda weird. Why exactly would you not believe it? What reason would I have to lie?
Rather odd that our doubtful poster took 4 months to ask what Uni you attend, and then did so in a completely unrelated thread :rolleyes:
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ry7xsfa
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(Original post by Admit-One)
Rather odd that our doubtful poster took 4 months to ask what Uni you attend, and then did so in a completely unrelated thread :rolleyes:
Haha indeed.

Not only that, but it’s available on my profile.
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Admit-One
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(Original post by ry7xsfa)
Haha indeed.

Not only that, but it’s available on my profile.
Hehe, well all the more reason to be sceptical of your far-fetched story that you... *checks notes* attend a half decent university
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ry7xsfa
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(Original post by Admit-One)
Hehe, well all the more reason to be sceptical of your far-fetched story that you... *checks notes* attend a half decent university
Impossible! Nobody on TSR can attend a half-decent university. Pretty sure it's in the ToS somewhere.
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Snufkin
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#14
(Original post by ry7xsfa)
I know people who have gotten into Harvard and MIT without being legacy, without money, and without olympiads/international awards. I myself have gotten into a top US university without any of these. They'll definitely boost your application at a top college, but they are not 100% essential.

Just be yourself honestly. That's what admissions are looking for. They want to get to know you and what you enjoy and what you're good at through all aspects of your application, including your extracurriculars. Course 6 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) is the most popular course at MIT, so going in for that will be extremely competitive as they try to build a well-rounded class. Although you come into MIT undecided, they will ask you on your application what you think you are leaning towards.
I mean, yes, technically you are right - you don't need those things.... but in reality, almost nobody (esp people from outside the States) gets in unless they have done something extraordinary. Good grades and common extracurriculars are very unlikely to cut it. The type of people who do get in are much more likely to have founded a business/charity whilst still in school, written a book, built a popular app, won prestigious competitions etc than... founded a club in their sixth form, completed a Duke of Edinburgh award or was the lead in their school musical.

It's awesome that you got into such a great uni, though. I am curious what your ECs were?
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ry7xsfa
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(Original post by Snufkin)
I mean, yes, technically you are right - you don't need those things.... but in reality, almost nobody (esp people from outside the States) gets in unless they have done something extraordinary. Good grades and common extracurriculars are very unlikely to cut it. The type of people who do get in are much more likely to have founded a business/charity whilst still in school, written a book, built a popular app, won prestigious competitions etc than... founded a club in their sixth form, completed a Duke of Edinburgh award or was the lead in their school musical.

It's awesome that you got into such a great uni, though. I am curious what your ECs were?
Oh I definitely agree with you that it gives you a huge boost. I was on the Sutton Trust US Programme, so I know people from the UK who have got into top unis in the US and didn't have things like olympiads or international awards through that. As much as it gives a boost, it's possible to get into those unis without these things. Though I absolutely hate giving false hope, I also don't like people thinking they don't have a single chance when they just may.

The US admissions process is brutal. I got hit with rejection after rejection during my applications process - even at unis that in theory, I would have been more than qualified for on grades and ECs alone. It's really impossible to guarantee much as an international student.

For my ECs, as well as the Sutton Trust US Programme, which was very helpful in finding out more about US unis, I had some other long-term and short-term ones. I was a part of my school's robotics club from years 9-13 as a team captain, programmer, and designer. We competed at a national and international level, winning nationals in 2017 and 2018. I play electric guitar. I taught myself for my first year, then had lessons for 4 years, taking grades 3, 4, and 6 - and I was due to take my grade 8 in 2020, but it was put off by COVID. I volunteered at robotics competitions for primary school and secondary school students, and also helped out at a local primary school science fair. I also helped the year 11s prepare for their GCSE German exam when I was in year 12, as well as continuing to keep up with retaining my German knowledge after GCSE by reading books and newspapers in German. Lastly (that I can think of), I did an internship with my music school for around 3 years, where my responsibilities included web development and maintainance, graphic design and syllabus writing for graded exam books, and sound engineering and state management at local events.

This was all on top of strong GCSEs, good A-Level predicted grades, and a good ACT score.
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okb
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(Original post by ry7xsfa)
Oh I definitely agree with you that it gives you a huge boost. I was on the Sutton Trust US Programme, so I know people from the UK who have got into top unis in the US and didn't have things like olympiads or international awards through that. As much as it gives a boost, it's possible to get into those unis without these things. Though I absolutely hate giving false hope, I also don't like people thinking they don't have a single chance when they just may.

The US admissions process is brutal. I got hit with rejection after rejection during my applications process - even at unis that in theory, I would have been more than qualified for on grades and ECs alone. It's really impossible to guarantee much as an international student.

For my ECs, as well as the Sutton Trust US Programme, which was very helpful in finding out more about US unis, I had some other long-term and short-term ones. I was a part of my school's robotics club from years 9-13 as a team captain, programmer, and designer. We competed at a national and international level, winning nationals in 2017 and 2018. I play electric guitar. I taught myself for my first year, then had lessons for 4 years, taking grades 3, 4, and 6 - and I was due to take my grade 8 in 2020, but it was put off by COVID. I volunteered at robotics competitions for primary school and secondary school students, and also helped out at a local primary school science fair. I also helped the year 11s prepare for their GCSE German exam when I was in year 12, as well as continuing to keep up with retaining my German knowledge after GCSE by reading books and newspapers in German. Lastly (that I can think of), I did an internship with my music school for around 3 years, where my responsibilities included web development and maintainance, graphic design and syllabus writing for graded exam books, and sound engineering and state management at local events.

This was all on top of strong GCSEs, good A-Level predicted grades, and a good ACT score.
I agree with exactly what you say about not telling people it's all hopeless!

I just graduated from Harvard and I never won an Olympiad, had never been to the US, was the first in my family to attend university, and needed a full scholarship. Yes, the acceptance rate is really low and I felt very lucky to be accepted but it's not totally impossible! I did work incredibly hard for it but I also only did things I enjoyed as extracurriculars.

It's really about your attitude towards US applications. I only applied to 4 US colleges (ones that offered full financial aid for internationals) and knew I would be also very happy going to a UK university. My thinking was that getting in would be nice (and financially helpful because it would have meant no debt for my undergraduate degree) but not essential - I was just excited to go to uni! I applied reasonably last minute, didn't put all of my eggs in one basket, and importantly, I was myself and nobody influenced my application. I knew that my application was honest and a good representation of myself and what I liked and I knew if I got accepted it would mean that Harvard was the right place for me and if not, it wasn't meant to be.

Honestly, the Student Room and College Confidential (the US counterpart to TSR) can be full of people being quite negative about the application process (and also often factually wrong) and I am sure they mean well but as long as you are realistic and have a healthy attitude towards applications and don't stress yourself out too much, go for it. My feeling has always been that it's the job of the Admissions Officers to decide whether or not you should go there, so why do their job for them? If you have great grades, spend time doing extracurricular activities you love, and like the US university system (which is VERY different to the UK), apply!
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Snufkin
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(Original post by okb)
My feeling has always been that it's the job of the Admissions Officers to decide whether or not you should go there, so why do their job for them? If you have great grades, spend time doing extracurricular activities you love, and like the US university system (which is VERY different to the UK), apply!
If applying to US colleges was cheap and relatively pain free (as it is in the UK) then I would agree with you. But it isn't. So yes, go for it if you think you have a real shot but people should be aware from the outset that the chances of admission are vanishingly small. Your attitude towards admission was good, if only more people went about it that way.

Finally, I would say that (to a degree that few people will admit to) the US admissions system is essentially a lottery - go for it if you're feeling lucky or just want to see, but don't spend too long on the application process to the detriment of other more important things.
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ry7xsfa
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(Original post by Snufkin)
If applying to US colleges was cheap and relatively pain free (as it is in the UK) then I would agree with you. But it isn't. So yes, go for it if you think you have a real shot but people should be aware from the outset that the chances of admission are vanishingly small. Your attitude towards admission was good, if only more people went about it that way.

Finally, I would say that (to a degree that few people will admit to) the US admissions system is essentially a lottery - go for it if you're feeling lucky or just want to see, but don't spend too long on the application process to the detriment of other more important things.
The US admissions system for international students is definitely a lottery - with there also being requirements to properly enter in the first place. You have to have the grades, ECs, and everything else at a high level to even get a chance, but you really can't guarantee anything - especially at the very top schools where the acceptance rates are so marginal.

If you know the system, and you're 100% sure you wouldn't have it any other way than to go to the US, spend your time on the applications, but keep in mind that you can't guarantee admission even if everything looks perfect, and you could easily spend that time doing something more enjoyable. I spent a lot of time on my essays, and a large part of that was researching the university. I have to say I had a lot of fun doing it - finding out about these places and why I would probably love it there was really fun - but it was extremely time-consuming and at times exhausting.

I think this also serves as a warning not to apply to too many places in the US. I applied to 15 in total, and spent every day of my Christmas break writing essays (including Christmas Day). By the end, I was extremely burnt out and tired from all of it as I didn't give myself a break. I also spread myself too thinly so none of my essays really got the time they needed and weren't of the quality required of the US system - and as a result I was only admitted to one uni (statistically speaking, the hardest uni on my list to get into, which again shows just how much of a lottery this really is), with 6 rejections and 8 waitlists. That's my biggest regret about the process. If I were to go through it again, I'd apply to maybe half the number I did. It would definitely to difficult to narrow it down to just 7/8, but it would be so much more worth it when it came to applications.

Finally, I just wanted to say that US applications are definitely expensive. $60-$80 per application is extremely steep. Make sure to check if you're eligible for any fee waivers, and if you are, use them!
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okb
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(Original post by Snufkin)
If applying to US colleges was cheap and relatively pain free (as it is in the UK) then I would agree with you. But it isn't. So yes, go for it if you think you have a real shot but people should be aware from the outset that the chances of admission are vanishingly small. Your attitude towards admission was good, if only more people went about it that way.

Finally, I would say that (to a degree that few people will admit to) the US admissions system is essentially a lottery - go for it if you're feeling lucky or just want to see, but don't spend too long on the application process to the detriment of other more important things.
The cost of applying is a good point! And you need a lot of support from your school which is tough and not always possible. School guidance counsellors can waive application fees through the Common App which saves a lot and I only had enough money to sit the SAT once and I think it was £110 ish (which is obviously more than the £23 needed for UCAS). My school managed to fund my SAT through the 16-19 Bursary Fund. It's definitely hard if you're up against people who can afford to take the SAT multiple times. That being said, one thing the US colleges tend to do (if they're aware of the differences between the UK school systems) that UK universities don't really do in admissions is compare similar schools (i.e. compare state schools with neighbouring state schools and private schools with private schools) to assess how you're doing relative to the opportunities offered to you. Also, due to COVID, many schools aren't asking for SAT/ACT scores and there are rumours they might make them optional in future anyway to it's important to look at the specific requirements for each school. I wouldn't say applying to Harvard was necessarily more painful than applying to Oxbridge or applying for something like Medicine that requires a lot of prep but again, I only applied to 4 and had quite a relaxed attitude towards the whole thing.

Going to the original question, I applied for CS and ended up concentrating in Statistics (focusing on data science) so I might be able to give you some ideas for CS-related stuff. I won an engineering essay prize from Cambridge (there are quite a few run by the individual colleges and you can make £££), attended (and organised) a few Women in STEM events, built a few projects (most of the people I've met at MIT/Harvard are always working on something), volunteered as a CS tutor, that sort of thing. I think organising societies/hackathons/conferences is good because it shows passion for the subject while showcasing leadership and teamwork skills. You could try reaching out to local universities to ask if you could maybe do research/shadow a researcher (I didn't do this and know it's quite hard but you'll be amazed how kind Professors are, they love people being interested in their work). I don't really know of many good courses but I will say that something that seems to unite a lot of my friends is that people made opportunities for themselves rather than found them. For example, instead of taking a course, they wrote one and delivered it to local kids. Instead of joining a society, they founded one and organised a lecture series or hackathon. Most importantly though, do things that interest you! These are just some ideas for how you can show your passion.
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