College Advice for Younger Olympians

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College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby paleonaps » April 27th, 2013, 9:14 am

One thing that I noticed about the college app process is that it can be mind-numbingly confusing. Everybody tells you different things about how the application process works - from whether racial quotas are still in effect to whether any institution is truly "need-blind" to where the best programs are. In such a critical time in our lives, we need good advice - this good advice is hard to come by.

I've come to understand that the best advice for college apps - whether it be choosing which schools you'll apply too, how financial aid works, and what the colleges are looking for - is from those who have done it recently. That's why I created this thread - I want it to be a place for advice and honest answers, where the younger Olympians can ask their elders questions and receive accurate answers.

I'll start out with this: the Ivy League.

The Ivy League is technically no more than an athletic conference among 8 schools - Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell. That's the order of how they are ranked, by the way. Now, while the title technically only designates athletics, it has become associated with excellence in education and prestige, and have consequently become ubiquitous in media. Another consequence of this connotation is that many people are mistaken about who is in the Ivy League. I recently talked to someone who was convinced that SUNY Potsdam was an Ivy, but it's more common for people to mistake MIT, Caltech, UChicago, and Stanford for Ivies (for the record, they are ranked higher than many Ivies - Chicago and Columbia are tied, and Stanford is only outranked by the top 3). This connotation has also led to lists of Public Ivies, Hidden Ivies, Black Ivies, and Southern Ivies, which are basically excellent schools at different costs, levels of prominence, and demographics.

So is attending an Ivy important? Yes and no. As for academics, any of the schools on any of those lists will provide you with an excellent education - you just have to choose a school that is strong in your area of study (a topic for another day). They're all beautiful, and they all have different things they can offer you. If you like to study amidst the beauty of the East Coast, shoot for Cornell and Dartmouth. If you would rather be in a metropolis, Columbia can't be beat. If you want the most beautiful campus, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, and Yale are all excellent. But attending an Ivy can be important for another reason - the name is excellent for later in life (a degree from Dartmouth on a job application can be very helpful, for instance). I know it sounds superficial, but it's not to be completely discounted. Sometimes an Ivy will also have the strongest program for what you want to pursue - for instance, Brown's medical program is superb, and has one of the best and most successful Geology departments in the nation. Then again, sometimes it won't. Aerospace engineers are advised to steer clear of the Ivies, and go elsewhere instead, for example.

Now for the kicker - money. Many schools nowadays are trying to offer generous financial aid to poor families, but at the expense of the upper-middle class. There is basically a slump zone between making the upper limit to financial aid (about $150,000 a year) and actually being able to afford an Ivy League education out of your pocket. Many of my classmates fall into this category, and keeps them at state schools or the local community college. Unfortunately, many colleges are now comparably expensive, and some, like Stanford and UChicago, are actually more expensive than some Ivies. The most expensive school in the country is Sarah Lawrence College, which is just north of New York City and costs over $65,000 a year. No Ivy League school gives out merit scholarships, though, while some comparable institutions do, in addition to their financial aid.

The bottom line: shoot for the Ivies if you want. Payment may be an issue, but you can seek outside scholarships if you have a burning desire to go to one. Just don't assume that it's Ivy or nothing. There are over 50 excellent colleges and universities in this country which all offer excellent educations - it's up to you to choose one.
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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby EastStroudsburg13 » April 27th, 2013, 2:45 pm

The bottom line: shoot for the Ivies if you want. Payment may be an issue, but you can seek outside scholarships if you have a burning desire to go to one. Just don't assume that it's Ivy or nothing. There are over 50 excellent colleges and universities in this country which all offer excellent educations - it's up to you to choose one.
This. So much this. Although I would argue that there are more than just 50; after all, every university has its strengths and weaknesses. It all depends on what you're looking for an what you want to study.
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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby mnstrviola » April 27th, 2013, 6:34 pm

To those of you who have experience, what SAT prep would you recommend, especially studying all the vocab?

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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby EastStroudsburg13 » April 27th, 2013, 6:45 pm

Read a lot, and get a good, reputable practice book. Anything 2200 and higher is essentially interchangeable in top colleges' minds, and you could argue that the same is true for 2000 and up. Worrying about getting a perfect score is a waste of your energy, in my opinion, and you should be focusing on other things like schoolwork, extracurriculars, and perhaps internship, research, or work experience.
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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby Paleofreakazoid » April 27th, 2013, 6:48 pm

This thread is a fantastic idea, thanks Naps!

What do you guys recommend doing over the summer? Also, could you guys talk about SAT IIs a little? Thanks!
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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby caseyotis » April 27th, 2013, 6:51 pm

I'm very interested in attending Cornell University because I've heard from so many people that it's one of the best - if not the best - schools for veterinary medicine. Would it help me any that my grandfather was the Head of the English Department there before he retired? .-. Also, I have used the Princeton review book for SATs (it has about eighth practice SATs in it, as well as one PSAT).
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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby Kokonilly » April 27th, 2013, 7:00 pm

What do you guys recommend doing over the summer?
Research, if you can and if that interests you! Learning. Stuff. Camps. Whatever. (I am so eloquent.) Don't sit around and go to the beach; use that time for educational stuff. Doesn't even have to be academic - you could go backpacking in Europe and that would be an amazing experience.

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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby caseyotis » April 27th, 2013, 7:11 pm

What do you guys recommend doing over the summer?
Research, if you can and if that interests you! Learning. Stuff. Camps. Whatever. (I am so eloquent.) Don't sit around and go to the beach; use that time for educational stuff. Doesn't even have to be academic - you could go backpacking in Europe and that would be an amazing experience.
And what about when you're an 8 1/2 grader (basically, this summer)? Should I start preparing now? I've used the Princeton Review book (or whatever official name it has) for SAT review, and I know some of the math and vocabulary and science concepts. However, I've been slacking on that recently. Do you think I should do that or SciOly this summer?
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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby chia » April 27th, 2013, 7:25 pm

Also, could you guys talk about SAT IIs a little? Thanks!
I didn't take very many, but always take it as soon after you've finished all of the material in any related class you're taking. You'll probably be fresh out of studying for the final/AP test in that class - don't give yourself time to forget the little details!

As for where to apply/Ivy League: don't limit yourself in the application process! That doesn't mean apply to a ridiculous number of schools just because you can, it means put some thought into each application for a range of different schools, whether it's your state school or Harvard or everything in between. As much research you do on each school you apply to, and as much as you think you might LOVE a certain school, do yourself the favor of leaving your options open, mentally. You'll be seeing each school with a different perspective as an admitted student than you did as an applicant (at least I did). For that matter, I've never really understood the point of committing early decision, unless the school in question is, say, Stanford :P

Yes, your intended major is a vitally important part of the decision you make. It's not everything, though. My case: I may have chosen the nontraditional path by committing to Yale for engineering, instead of a stronger, standard engineering school like Caltech, Cornell, UIUC, CMU, etc. But I know myself well enough to recognize that I'm not just a "science person" - my favorite classes in school have been English courses, and many of my hobbies are art-related. I was lucky enough to be able visit Caltech and Yale as an admitted student, which helped me to see some other distinctions that matter to me (for example, I felt almost claustrophobic at Caltech; I almost hadn't applied because of its small size). But I couldn't have forseen exactly how much those other factors mattered in November and December when I was writing those applications. (Heh, I never even expected to make it into those schools, but that's another matter.) So: don't limit yourself. Apply to a range of schools (unless you REALLY know yourself well enough), wait until March/April (my advice for what happens then: que sera, sera), and then make an informed decision (taking everything into consideration, including financial aid. You might be surprised by the amount of aid that some otherwise out-of-reach schools give!).
And what about when you're an 8 1/2 grader (basically, this summer)? Should I start preparing now? I've used the Princeton Review book (or whatever official name it has) for SAT review, and I know some of the math and vocabulary and science concepts. However, I've been slacking on that recently. Do you think I should do that or SciOly this summer?
Do SciOly!!! Seriously, SATs are important but not THAT important. Unless you're REALLY struggling with some of the concepts tested, don't worry about it until at least freshman year has started.
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Re: College Advice for Younger Olympians

Postby zyzzyva980 » April 27th, 2013, 7:39 pm

I think the best advice I can give younger sciolyers, having just gone through the search process myself, is...

Don't worry about it right now. It's good to be thinking about it... but don't stress out every night about it. Seriously. Unless you're a junior or maybe a sophomore- maybe- there's no reason for you to be losing sleep over it right now.

The amount you should be working on college should be directly proportional to the amount of time you have until you enter college. If you're not even in high school yet, you should be spending more time developing your interests and figuring out what you want to do with your life instead of where you're going to do it. Science is great, but maybe there's something else you're even more passionate about (crazy, I know) and you should absolutely explore all of your options while you still have the chance. The worst thing you can do is get your mind completely set on one career and one college.

I didn't even start my college search process until my junior year. Until then, I had no idea that Drake- the college I'll attend next fall- even existed. Things still turned out okay for me: I ended up with a full tuition to a school that I actually liked *better* than the top-flight Midwest schools and yes- even the Ivies. As for those Ivies? Don't fall into the belief that just because the school has the best name means that it provides the best education. None of the Ivies offered a program comparable in my field to what Drake offered. When I finished my research, I felt like Drake had better professors and better internship opportunities than any other school. I liked the campus better; I liked the atmosphere better.

People looked at me as if I was crazy when I told them I was accepted to Northwestern but was going to Drake. "Northwestern's so much better, right?" Well... no. Not how I judged it. Even before I got that scholarship, I knew I would end up at Drake. (Admittedly, the scholarship helped.) I didn't feel as if I should make my decision solely based on reputation, and you shouldn't feel that way either. Don't let anything pressure you into making a decision you don't feel comfortable with just because a college has a more recognizable name.

(By the way, I only applied to those two colleges. Why apply to colleges you know you're not going to? There's no reason to stress over 20 applications when 3-6 is probably all you need.)

TL;DR: I guess to sum this up, I'd say- don't stress about college now. Things will change, and you'll discover things that you weren't aware of right now. Don't get your heart set on one college, and when the time comes- when the time comes- do your research. Don't pick based on names. The fact that you're already looking towards your future means that you're already well ahead of 95% of your class. So relax. Take a time-out. I know this sounds radical and against everything you've been told, but... everything's going to be just fine.
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