A fairly UNIQUE question...

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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: August 2003 Archive: A fairly UNIQUE question...
By Anonymous8769 (Anonymous8769) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 02:05 am: Edit


I'm in a somewhat unique situation.

You see, when I was in third grade, I had to move into a battered women's shelter for about 18 months. It was an experience that I can say that probably none of the potential applicants to ivy league universities this year will have. Beyond those 18 months, I've struggled with economic hardships pretty much my whole life (my family has lived on welfare ever since moving out of the aforementioned shelter). However, despite my economic hardships (among other things), I've managed to maintain fairly decent stats.

Here are my stats:
SAT I: 1520 (800 M 720 V)
SAT II: Math IIC (800), Physics (800), Writing (730)
GPA: 4.0/4.0 UW (my school doesn't weight GPA's)
AP's (so far): Calculus AB (5), Physics B (4), Chemistry (4), Computer Science A (4), World History (4), English Language (3), German Language (3)

AP tests I'll take at the end of this year will probably be Calculus BC, Computer Science AB, Physics C, Statistics, Comparative Politics, English Literature, and (maybe) Psychology (I'm a senior this year)

University Courses:
Algebra II (summer freshman year) *correspondence course
CHEM 107 Intro to Chem (summer sophomore year)
MATH 330 Calculus II (summer junior year)
CS 201 Intro to Comp Sci (summer junior year)
MATH 335 Calculus III (1st semester senior year)
CS 365 Operating Systems (1st semester senior year)
ENG 105 Intro to Lit (1st semester senior year)
MATH 413 Linear Algebra (2nd semester senior year)
CS 411 Network Security and Management (2nd semester senior year)
ENG 222 Concepts-Evil in Lit (2nd semester senior year)

I put the course numbers to indicate relative difficulty.

I'm not going to bother listing EC's and awards...

What do you guys think? My top choice college is MIT. Will they understand that my situation has required a great deal of self-motivation on my part--that I couldn't possibly have been prepared to compete in competitions that really look good to them like say USAMO? Will talking about my shelter experience (and my other economic hardships) be significantly helpful when applying to MIT, or should I just pick another essay topic?

Thanks in advance for any input you guys might have.

By Serene (Serene) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 02:22 am: Edit

economic hardships yes. shelter experience, a bit too far back.

By Anonymous8769 (Anonymous8769) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 02:45 am: Edit

"Life brings many disappointments as well as satisfactions. Could you tell us about a time in your life when you experienced disappointment, or faced difficult or trying circumstances? How did you react?"

That is the official MIT essay specification. It says "a time in your life." If the shelter had a really profound impact on me, would it still be too far back for them to care? The essay specification just says "a time."

By Sadeyedlady (Sadeyedlady) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 02:54 am: Edit

wow! you're my hero, to have accomplished so much with so many distractions in your life. my schoolwork is usually directly related to what's going on at home. when my mom was in the hospital, my grades suffered because i was always sick with worry and could never concentrate. definitely let the colleges know what you had to go through - a lot of their applicants are priveleged kids and had everything handed to them - good schools, expensive test prep courses, tutors, etc. you did this well without that, and if it were up to me to decide, there wouldnt be a single school that would reject you. be careful not to use cliches in your essay.
by the way, what do you want to study at MIT?

By Clickspring (Clickspring) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 04:18 pm: Edit

Why would you take the Calc BC test if you already have credit in Calc II at a CC?

By Anonymous8769 (Anonymous8769) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 05:38 pm: Edit

I guess I would be taking Calc BC to maybe qualify for more scholarship money. Siemens offers $3000-8000 for two male and two female students in each of six geographic regions with the highest number of 5's in 7 math/science AP tests. I will probably have four 5's in those areas if I take Calc BC. Besides, I get fee waivers for all my AP tests, so it's another 5 without anymore real effort or money. I've got nothing to lose...

And to Sadeyedlady, I know what you mean about your schoolwork being affected by what's going on at home. I live with just my mom at home and she's been really sick for the last couple of years (she's had like 5-6 surgeries). It's really hard to concentrate on your work when you have to check up on your mom and/or cook for her every half an hour after she's had surgery and still keep up with schoolwork.

I am a bit worried about my essay sounding cliche. This is the main reason why I'm hesitating about my essay topic.

By Anonymous8769 (Anonymous8769) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 06:36 pm: Edit

Oh yeah I almost forgot. As for what I want to study... Some combination of math/computer science/physics. Not totally sure yet... I know they banned triple majors a while ago at MIT so I can't do them all.

By Folk_Hero (Folk_Hero) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 08:49 pm: Edit

wow!!!! you're amazing!!! just make sure your socioeconomic status and other circumstances are evident on your app!

By Myway (Myway) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 10:07 pm: Edit

you should be a shoo-in. you are amazing.

By Anonymous8769 (Anonymous8769) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 12:21 am: Edit

Thanks for the kind words you guys.

You see, I have another problem though. Most of the teachers/staff don't know that I'm poor or really anything about my past economic hardships. It's something that I just really never talk about (to really anyone)--in fact, most people just assume I'm middle to upper class at my school.

I'm not sure how to make my "circumstances" stand out on any other part of my application other than the essay. There are a few people like my counselor and principal who know to a limited extent, but only because they handle school paperwork. All they know is that I get free books, food stamps, etc. Do you guys have any suggestions that would help an area of my application that's not the essay part?

For example, one of the questions that Stanford asks counselors/principals is: "Is there anything else we should know about this student (e.g., personal circumstances, unusual accomplishments, obstacles overcome)?" I'm not really sure what they would put here. Would it be wise of me to have a little talk with the teachers writing me recommendations and the counselor? I'd rather not, but if it will really help my applications, I will.

I know at least one of the teachers writing me a recommendation would be utterly shocked to learn about my "circumstances." Actually, come to think of it, that same teacher has told my AP Chemistry and AP Physics classes the he had to work ~40 hours a week in high school just to support himself. Maybe he'd write me a better recommendation if I talked to him because he could identify with my situation. He's always telling us about the value of hard work, etc. Any thoughts?

By Zingares (Zingares) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 12:39 am: Edit

Did your school pay for those courses? I know I took two this summer of my freshmen year and they didn't pay for mine. It totalled like $800- $1000. I guess you must have goten money otherwise how could you afford it. I hope those courses at local unis help you as much as I hope they will help me later on. Nice Job.

By Cmaher (Cmaher) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 01:20 am: Edit

Put it down if they ask about hardships or put it down in the extra "info" sections.

You should tell people, especially your teachers.. Why wouldn't you tell people, it is not like they would look down on you, they would be, yes I know it sounds crazy, even envious of your situation in some ways.

By Anonymous8769 (Anonymous8769) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 01:29 am: Edit

As for the college courses, my mom just used a credit card and is still paying interest on the classes that I took before senior year (apparently there's no financial aid for students without either a HS diploma or a GED). I'm working around 15 hours a week throughout senior year and giving my mom all of the money I get to pay ~$3000 for senior year classes, and whatever other money I make to pay for the other classes that I took before.

By Sadeyedlady (Sadeyedlady) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 06:58 am: Edit

are you applying to any liberal arts colleges?

By Emma (Emma) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 09:33 am: Edit

Very impressive - yes you should say about your hardships, but as you're intellegent enough to know, not in a 'poor little me' way but as a more factual way (they'll work it out).

An essay on the subject could work, especially with the MIT title - it's practically written just for you!

If you manage to pull off an essay about your struggle which doesnt seem 'poor little me'ish then i'm sure they'll be even more impressed because it is quite hard to do. The bad ones i've read all have a depressing cover over them. Try to avoid that, and somehow keep it light, the bad bits more factual, and more on your passions of learning etc.

Another option is to write an essay about something else and slip in a sentance or two about it, or add a few subtle hints here and there.

Then again, having said all that, if your background is put somewhere else on the application, why waste a valuable space? It would be nicer to win them over with a talent for writing on some passion of yours, and then to read somewhere else eg a teacher, or other info bit, about your past. Blah that sentance didn't make sense, but hopefully you know what I mean!

Good luck with whatever approach you choose!

By Soozievt (Soozievt) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 09:57 am: Edit

You ARE indeed a terrific candidate and very accomplished, even without your family background. However, top schools like having a diverse student body and your background should definitely come across in the application, the hardships, etc. You could do the essay as you said. Or you could write a supplemental essay in terms of telling them something about yourself that is not on the application, and do the regular essay on something else. Also, when you list ECs, for example, and you list your job, make sure you specify that all earnings went to pay for college courses. Also, yes, have the guidance counselor speak to your circumstances. Schools want to know stuff like this. It makes your accomplishments stand out even more. Also they want kids in their class from all types of backgrounds. Do not be shy to share with that teacher about your family background. Like you said, he may very well identify with it and certainly it puts your accomplishments in a different light that he may speak to in his letter.

I wish you the best. MIT would be lucky to get you.

By Dadx (Dadx) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 10:22 am: Edit

Your last post is a very big problem for you. IMO, a reasonable adult reaction to your description of your circumstances after looking at your record was that it was in fact, hard to believe.

Your accomplishments will allow you to be admitted to some extremely good school, but if you want even more credit for hardship I believe you need to have some corroboration on your application of the true nature of your circumstances.

The fact that no one knows anything about you makes your story sound "fishy". Admissions officers have been around the block several times. If they make a call to your counselors and conclude that you are an overacheiving conniver and are overstating your hardship, it will sink you in a nanosecond, which would be too bad, given your excellent scores. You should think carefully about this, especially since you are very admittable without any extra push. Good luck.

By Xiggi (Xiggi) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 12:08 pm: Edit


I agree that some adcoms -or people in general- may develop a healthy dosis of skepticism. However, wouldn't the FAFSA forms give them an insight in the true financial picture of the family? I agree that it would be a VERY good idea to tell the counselors at the school. I am pretty sure that they know how to keep personal information confidential. They will understand that the student did not feel compelled to discuss her hardships as long as she could overcome them. But, now is the time to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

By Anonymous8769 (Anonymous8769) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 07:21 pm: Edit

I'll take the "hard to believe" from Dadx as a compliment. The fact that you actually don't believe me is good--I suppose it'll make adcoms take a second look.

But seriously though, who would lie about something like this? What kind of terrible person would just make up something like this to get into college? It shows a complete lack of integrity, but not only that--it takes up peoples' spots at good colleges that have really had to work hard for everything in their lives that they've achieved.

Xiggi is right, if they check the FAFSA forms, they'll know for sure that I'm telling the truth. I can honestly tell you that my mom hasn't made more than $40,000 (it's probably a lot less than that) her entire life... Illness is only one of many reasons why (it's a really long story that I'm not going to go into).

I assure you that everything I've posted is true. I simply wanted to find out what the best way was to use my circumstances to my advantage. It seems as though the consensus is that I should at the very least talk to my counselor which I'll be sure to do.

And about my story being "fishy," I agree with you. Most people that know me would probably find it very surprising but not hard to believe--I try to be honest in everything I do and people who know me know that I wouldn't joke around about something serious like that.

Thanks again for all your advice.

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