Secrets to getting accepted in top Tech & Engineering universities

The whole admissions process of getting admitted into Tech & Engineering universities is extremely daunting, complicated and stressful. I too went through this application system and got admitted to Carnigie Mellon University (CMU), Georgia Institute of Technology, and USC. Based on all my knowledge and information compiled from research papers, I have created this guide to help anyone applying to a tech/STEM program in the USA.

Part 1- Before applying to a Tech & Engineering College

This step covers the kind of prep you need to do in the years leading up to your university admission

Research papers on how to win over Tech and Engineering Admissions committees.  

Universities rarely publish the workings of their admissions selection process. Most colleges tend to use some sort of objective rubric to ‘score’ students to make it easier and standardize how they rate and select students. The University of California schools are not only infamously known to being objective in selecting their students, but at one point UCSD had published a full scoring guide for each student on their public website (Something most schools go out of their way to hide). In fact UC Berkeley’s professor Michael Hout has even published a report on this very rubric and review procedure. Starting from page 66, he created the following report: http://berkeley.edu/news/media/r…. Since UC’s all use the exact same application procedure, this is applicable more than just UC Berkeley and in fact all the other UCs as well.

Using this data and model, we can extrapolate exactly what top colleges look for.

Academics need to be a top priority.

I have quoted the original text from the report down below.

Grades – scored as the percentile rank of the applicant in relation to other Berkeley applicants from the same school over the past three years – are the most important factor in read scores.

Academics are clearly important to every Tech & Engineering university, not just the UCs. Strong academics shows responsibility towards learning and a strong drive/passion towards it. They also show that you will be able to withstand the academic rigor of a top technology university.

Take tough Honour and AP/IB Classes in STEM.

I have quoted the original text from the report down below.

Applicants 14 and 15 both have unweighted GPAs of 3.54; their weighted GPAs are also 3.54 – indicating that they took no honors or AP courses. For that reason, eight of the 13 applicants with lower unweighted GPAs ranked above them

Students in an exam

Now yes, hard AP/IB and Honour classes will naturally lower your GPA since by nature it is a harder course. However, that’s where Weighted GPAs help. Nonetheless, every university recognizes harder courses and show a drive to challenge oneself.

Furthermore, internal school grades change between different schools since each school has different teachers and grading methods. Taking standardized testing like APs helps validate your grades. If your AP/IB scores are high, it will overshadow any low grades rendering them meaningless.

Ace Standardized testing (SAT and ACT) especially the English section over the reading scores.

I have quoted the original text from the report down below.

Grades and math scores predominate, as they do with applicants to other colleges. But verbal scores on the SAT-I carry significantly more weight in setting the read scores for Engineering applicants

Just like AP Courses, standardized testing such as the ACT and SAT help universities compare students with a singular number metric. The SAT and ACT.

Standardized testing such as SAT and ACT are even better for Tech & Engineering universities to gauge their students since everyone takes the same test unlike AP/IB courses that differ between applicant to applicant. Furthermore, the SAT and ACT are marketed as tests that can’t be studied for which draw universities to them. (In reality studying and practicing for the test can easily boost your score a few points)

Make sure to also study for TOEFEL exams if you are an International student as some universities require it for non-native English speakers.

Be engaged with your community and participate in community service

I have quoted the original text from the report down below.

“Activities – evaluated as major and minor, strong and light – affected scores 
(all else being equal) and so did contributions to community (and predictions about future contributions to Berkeley) and evidence of obstacles to achievement that appeared only in the personal statements.”

Here is where everyone has the potential to excel. Dedicate yourself to any cause you enjoy. Make sure the cause you work on is something you enjoy or intend to pursue in university since it will give you translatable experience and knowledge in the field you study. Community service also showcases the human side of you to colleges and differentiate yourself from all the numbers from testing and academics associated with your application profile.

In my case, I interned with multiple Maker Spaces in Singapore (Maker Spaces are full workshops with tools such as drills, 3d printers etc available for use to the general public). Interning at Maker-spaces not only gave me excellent material for my university essays, but it also helped me narrow down on exactly what I wanted to major in.

Build A Spike Profile

Arguably the most important step of the process is developing a spike profile. A spike profile is simply an application profile where you excell at one thing rather than be a well rounded student that doesn’t stand out in anything.

For example imagine, picture a student who spent all his school down time developing an algorithm that helped predict the financial market and partners with an investment firm. Due to working on his algorithm, the kid never does his homework and is continually day dreaming in school about how he can tweak his software/algorithm and make it more reliable. Clearly academics is not a focus of the student but any Buisness/Data Science university would want to accept him.

I’m not suggesting going to that extreme of a scenario where you might risk dropping out of school or attaining horrible grades. But don’t restrict your potential. After all, 15 years from now, you won’t remember that A you got in a class; what you will remember is the first product you created in school. Go build a spike profile that will make Tech & Engineering colleges  want you

Not sure where to get started in building a spike profile in Tech & Engineering?

Not everyone is as talented as that 9 year old kid who built a nuclear reactor in his backyard. If you were that talented, you wouldn’t need to read this article since universities would be lining up to offer you spots.

Having the drive to master tech concepts and fundamentals is the biggest investment you can make in yourself. Knowing this I created the course “A-Z Robotics: learn coding & electronics from fun projects

This course will avoid all the confusion that comes along learning robotics, electronics, and programming by taking a fun project based learning approach. With over 45 video lectures that total to over 5.5 hours, the course is the best investment you can make as an aspiring student who wants to study robotics, computer science/programming, and electronics.

A-Z Robotics

Learn Coding & electronics from fun projects

Part 2- University Application Secrets

Do your Research

First things first, you should decide exactly what specific major you want to study in college. The tech field has a multitude of majors such as Computer science, mechanical engineering, electrical/computer engineering, information systems, etc.

Here is a great resource to understand what major might be best suited to you

Pick your school

Now that you have determined what major best suits your interests, You need to create a list of Tech & Engineering universities & colleges to apply to. Use the Following Links: Resource 1, Resource 2

Make sure to pick Tech & Engineering universities that are strong in multiple different disciplines as most tech majors thrive in an interdisciplinary environment

Furthermore strategize on the application type. Most colleges support early action and early decision admissions which can boost your acceptance rate by a few percent.

Start writing essays early + know what to write about

Tons of people procrastinate and start their universities the week before they are due leading to poor quality essays. It took me 3-4 fully different essays (15-20 revisions per essay) to finalize my Common App essay.

Here is where your spike profile will shine. Hopefully you have followed the steps above and built a spike profile. Make sure to dive deep into your passions and build on it on every essay for each school. Note, don’t repeat the same answer in every essay in hopes to showcase how important/special your spike is. Instead focus on creating a narrative/story with your essays. Treat your essays like an onion where each essay is like uncovering a new layer/perspective about your passions.

Do note that you can reuse your essays between universities especially since their supplementary essay topics are often so similar. However, Just like I mentioned in the earlier points in the post, make sure to modify each essay you reuse to be tailored to university you are applying to. A good way to make sure you are a good match for the university is to read and reference their vision and mission statement (Can be found on their websites).

Letters of Recommendation.

Letters of recommendation are critical for giving credibility to your application. Most universities will require recommendations from your school teachers and counselors, however, most universities will also accept external recommendations.

External recommendations are critical to showcasing your spike profile, participating in internships or in your community helps build you meet professionals who can write recommendations to showcase your talents and passions

Lastly, when picking your teachers for the teacher section of the recommendation letters, choose teachers that knows you well and understands you behind your academic grades. A recommendation won’t be strong if your teacher just mentions that you performed well in the course with good grades. A great recommendation can only come from a teacher who knows you well, and who will not only mention your academic prowess, but also your strengths, your weaknesses, how you stand amongst your class, and how you stand amongst all the students that he/she has taught, some special cases where you really impressed him, what he sees in you regarding your potential for graduate studies and career, etc. 

Essentially, you want to make sure that the admissions team knows that your recommender truly knows you well and what their recommendation is valid.

Interviews

NEVER overlook/turn down the opportunity to interview. Due to the volume of applications each university receives, they spend 10-15 minutes per application. Compared to the average 1- 2 hour interview, you can truly shine and give the interviewer to truly understand you. 

Essays are especially limiting in terms of word limits and the questions they ask, furthermore, school grades hide true passion. Interviews are the only thing that can help you get a competitive edge in the increasingly cut-throat admission process of top ranked universities.

Luck-

At the end of the day, admissions also boil down to luck. Most applicants applying to competitive universities excel in academics, extra-curriculars/spike profile, and have fantastic essays and recommendations. The college has limited seats and can only accept a certain number of students. Sometimes a member of the admissions committee might be able to resonate better/personally relate with one applicants profile over another’s. In cases like these, it boils down to pure luck and the best thing you can do is making sure to apply to a handful of schools to ensure an acceptance.

Being a minority, however, does tend to boost your chances of acceptance since schools are always trying to look more diverse. Being a the first child in a family to go to college also boosts acceptance rates, and your gender can boost your acceptance rate (Especially in STEM majors) as universities are trying reach a 50:50 gender split.

While Luck is out of your control, your portfolio and skill-sets are. Having the drive to master tech concepts and fundamentals is the biggest investment you can make in yourself. Enroll in my course “A-Z Robotics: learn coding & electronics from fun projects” to become a master in robotics.

This course will avoid all the confusion that comes along learning robotics, electronics, and programming by taking a fun project based learning approach. With over 45 video lectures that total to over 5.5 hours, the course is the best investment you can make as an aspiring student who wants to study robotics, computer science/programming, and electronics.

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