University of Chicago

Student: Jeff

Admitted school: University of Chicago

Jeff was from Florida.  He went to a specialized urban public school for strong academic students (by admission). This student was a math whiz. He had various accommodations in math to allow him to accelerate. He started taking college courses in math prior to high school, and throughout high school had dual enrollment courses in local colleges to take the appropriate level math courses. Jeff also was enrolled in the IB curriculum at his high school which is very challenging. This young man took the most demanding courses available at his high school. Jeff had a high GPA and had taken several AP tests prior to college admissions, scoring highly on them. Jeff was selected for various honor societies including a collegiate level math honor society. For college, he was interested in pursuing pure math, with the eventual goal of a PhD and likely becoming a math professor. He had won various academic awards, including being a National Merit Semi-Finalist.

Outside of academics, Jeff was very active in soccer, playing for both a club team and his school team (captain of the latter). He also was on the Math Team (involving both individual and team math competitions), Latin Club (including competitions), Physics Club, and wrote for the school IB magazine. He also was very active in community service which included regular mentoring of underprivileged city youth with an organization. He also was involved in an organization that teaches children with disabilities to play soccer. He also was active in community service projects through a religious youth group, as well as participated in other religious based activities.

During Jeff’s summers leading up to tenth grade, Jeff attended an all male sleep away camp for 7 years. The summer between 10th and 11th grades, he applied to, got accepted, and attended Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics (HCSSiM) for six weeks away from home and loved it. In 11th grade, our counselor guided him in the selection of math summer programs for the summer after junior year and assisted him on every step of the application process to these programs, which was very similar to the college admissions process and sort of a dry run, so to speak. Jeff applied to extremely competitive programs and disappointingly did not get into them. He didn’t have any easier programs on that list. He was OK with this and ended up attending a leadership program for three weeks in Costa Rica that included elements of community service. He really loved it.

Prior to Jeff’s senior year in high school, we discussed how he might take initiative to do something a little different.  Jeff loved helping others with math. He opened his own math tutoring business in the community and got some clients. This is an example of our encouraging and our advisees to go the extra mile with their interests, beyond just being on a team or in a club, but taking some initiative and leadership to pursue their interest in other ways.

Jeff’s family took him on many college visits around the country during his junior year.  This really helped him figure out which sorts of schools he preferred.  In his college selection, he seemed to mostly care about the math program at each school than any other factor.  However, he also discovered that very large schools like Stanford or Berkeley were not really the best for him.

We worked a lot back and forth to refine his college list after all these trips. Also, he had some interest in playing soccer in college and contacted soccer coaches at all the schools on his list, but he was not an officially recruited athlete. Our counselor helped him put together those packages sent to coaches.

Jeff’s final college list was: Princeton, California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Williams College, Harvey Mudd College, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Haverford College, Bucknell University, New College of Florida, and St. Lawrence University for a total of 11 schools:  3 Reaches, 1 Reach/Match, 4 Matches, 1 Match/Safety, and 2 Safeties. At the time he applied, he liked Princeton and MIT the best.  The acceptance rates at both schools, however, made them long odds, even for a very strong student, without any particular stand out “hook.”

While he loved Princeton, we discussed and decided to not apply there through their Single Choice Early Action option.  Instead, he used the Early Action option at three schools: MIT, CalTech, and University of Chicago.

We went over his recommendation writer options and he chose his high school math teacher of 3 years, including for an independent study, his AP History teacher, and a college math professor he had had for 3 courses. For supplemental (non-academic) recommendation writers, he used his high school soccer coach and his rabbi with whom he had worked in different capacities for several years.  It is important to pick recommendation writers who know the student very well.

Our counselor also guided this student early in his senior year with his National Merit Scholar essay. So, before we even go to his essays for his college applications, we had worked on quite a few together in his junior year for the summer math program applications and then in senior year on the National Merit Scholar essay.

When we planned out this student’s Application Plan of Attack and Essay Master Plan, our counselor tried to find overlaps as much as possible to write the fewest essays needed, but he still had a great number of essays to write.  This is often the case with the most selective colleges.

The results of the Early Action round, which he got in December of senior year were:

MIT: Deferred

CalTech: Deferred

University of Chicago: Accepted

At that point, Jeff declined to apply to Harvey Mudd, Bucknell, and St. Lawrence, which were lower on his list than University of Chicago in his preference, and those applications were not yet completed by the time he had heard from his Early Action schools.

When a student is deferred in the early round (or same idea if wait listed in the regular decision round), our counselor will help design a plan of action. Doing nothing is not advised. In this case, since he was still interested in MIT and CalTech, he sent an update letter in the winter of senior year with new activities and achievements that occurred after he had submitted his early application. He secured an additional recommendation from a college math professor he had studied under to be sent. He then had his guidance counselor advocate on his behalf by calling these two schools. Our counselor also advised him on sending in an additional gimmick of sort to each school very geared to that school and his interest in it. It couldn’t hurt.  However, come spring of senior year, he was not accepted to MIT or CalTech, though with that early acceptance to University of Chicago, it really helped because he was excited about that school and had it in his pocket. In fact, while Princeton remained his first choice, he had grown to like University of Chicago so much, that all was not riding on the final decision letters still to come.

His final results were:

Accepted: University of Chicago, Haverford, New College of Florida

Waitlisted: Northwestern

Deferred, then denied: MIT, CalTech

Denied: Princeton, Williams

Didn’t end up applying: Harvey Mudd, Bucknell, St. Lawrence

Considering how highly selective many of the schools were on his list and the fact that in the end, Jeff only applied to 8 schools, he had a positive outcome overall.  He ended up choosing to attend the University of Chicago, which he loved and found to be just right for him. University of Chicago is a renown school that has become just about as hard to get into these days as the Ivy League schools.  Not only did he major in math, his beloved passion, he branched out at Chicago and minored in Film! In the end, Jeff really did land at his best fit school, which is the goal!

Case Highlights:

  • Jeff is a math whiz with excellent GPA.
  • Our counselor carefully planned each application steps with Jeff.
  • Jeff received offer from University of Chicago in Early Action.