Hi everyone! My name is Matthew, and I’m working at SupertutorTV this summer. This post and video will be about what I did in high school and how I got into the Columbia University for the class of 2021!
A Couple Things First
I grew up in southern California, right next to the beach in the city of Santa Monica. I have gone to only public schools my whole life. My high school, Santa Monica High School, was a really big public school which I think was nice because it exposed me to many different types of people and broadened
my perspectives. One of the benefits in my opinion of going to a public school versus private school is that it’s arguable a little easier to stand out amongst your peers. However you do have to be more outgoing as opportunities don’t simply float around in large public schools. But there are always going to be pros and cons.
Sure let’s jump over to the big one which almost everyone would agree is grades and academics. I’ve always thought it was important to do well in
school and how working hard now would pay off later. So, yeah, I had straight A’s throughout high school with a total of 10 AP classes under my belt upon graduating with two community college courses mixed in. I usually maxed out my schedule, even with some community college courses or online classes, and was one of the few valedictorian candidates within my graduation class of about 700 seniors. I always tried to take courses that were relevant to my intended major (engineering). So yeah, perfect GPA, lots of APs, I was that guy in high school I guess, fun times… It was more of just a safety cushion though. I don’t think grades like that are required to get into good schools, but they can’t hurt.
I think a lot of us spent a lot of time worrying about numbers in high school, and I mean rightfully so. I took the SAT I on the old 2400 scale and three SAT II subject tests, Math II, Chemistry, and Physics. I scored a 2370 on my SAT (800 R, 800 W, 770 M, 9 E). I was also awarded with the national merit
scholarship award for the PSAT with a score of 1500 (740 E, 760 M). For my subject tests, I scored 800s on the Math II and Physics subject tests, and a 790 in Chemistry. I really can’t stress enough how good studying and time management played a part in getting these scores. You can never go wrong with taking lots of practice tests ahead of time and they are the best way to prepare in my opinion. As for AP scores, somehow I ended up with 5s on all 9 of my AP tests by the end of my senior year.
English Language and Composition
English Literature and Composition
Spanish Language and Culture
Don’t really know how that happened, but yeah, again, I would say that good studying habits are your best friend there. You don’t need to grind for hours a night weeks in advance. I usually found that preparing three to four nights before the tests was sufficient. Overall I was very happy with the scores I ended up sending to colleges. I don’t think you need to go crazy over getting such high scores, but it did help me feel confident that they would only help my chances of being admitted. Activities When it came to my activities outside of school, I always lived by the philosophy of participating in things I actually enjoyed and not doing them just for the sake of putting them on college apps. By my second year of high school I think I had a really good mix of activities that I enjoyed doing every week. I played varsity tennis all four years, played the cello in the orchestra all four years… I was also working towards the rank of Eagle in the boy scouts, and volunteering or doing community service projects throughout the entirety of my high school career. I think some of the greatest assets to my application, when it came to my activities, were the independent engineering projects I did over the years because I was genuinely interested in engineering and wanted something to show that to the admissions committees. So, I created a blog (mattmade.me) where I hosted images and descriptions, kind of in a tutorial style, of the projects that I did over the years. I built subwoofers, drones, and even an electric longboard just to name a few. I think it really helps, especially when you’re applying into a very specific program, to show that you’re already very interested and involved. Later in high school I also co-founded an engineering club where we built machines and entered competitions, winning regional events with opportunities to go to national tournaments.
For my essays I always tried to stick to the hard facts, the things I knew the most about, and most importantly, the things I actually really wanted to talk about. And as a person who genuinely loved engineering and working with my hands, spending time in the outdoors with the boy scouts, many of my essays were about specific projects I did, my problem solving abilities, or my desire to apply my passion for engineering in large, world-changing concepts. For my common application essay I actually wrote two different essays, but I will talk about the one that I submitted to Columbia. I chose the “identity” prompt, where I talked about my cultural identity, having come from two first generation immigrants from vastly different parts of the world. The angle I took was how coming from two very distinct cultures within my own household actually gave me a broader perspective and, in the end, more to contribute to a community such as the one at Columbia. I delved into some anecdotes from my childhood that I really felt helped define that identity and distinguish it from one that is strictly white or strictly Korean. For the Columbia specific prompts, I did my best to establish my unique fit for the school and why it was the right place for me. I made very specific references to the engineering core curriculum and some the current research being done there on battery technology that really interested me. For the engineering school specific prompt, I told a story about how I first got into electronics and engineering in general. It all started in the 7th grade, when my dad went digging into storage and brought out these old vintage computers from his childhood. He and I spent a good few months restoring them, replacing memory and other components, and playing vintage games together. I basically discussed how that experienced piqued my interest, which would eventually escalate into me undertaking my own projects and deciding to major in engineering. I guess the basic point I always tried to convey with my essays was that I was someone very passionate about my own interests, who will go out and get things done, and won’t wait for opportunities to come to them. I wanted colleges to see someone who was active, takes initiative, and will bring something new and exciting to their campus. Final Notes: Like Heidi (check out her video on UPenn, by the way!), I did not have any demographic hooks. I come from a middle class family living in the nice suburban neighborhood of Santa Monica, right next to the beach! I did not have legacy to any schools to which I applied, and I did not apply ED to Columbia. One point that I really want to get across is the nature of the college admissions process. I did NOT get into all the schools I applied to, not by a long shot. I don’t think anyone is going to deny that there is some degree of randomness to the process, which is why I applied to several schools and not just one. But to give yourself the best shot possible, I would recommend pursuing activities you are actually passionate about, not just ones that look good on apps, and maintain a good balance between academics and being active outside the classroom. You’re much more likely going to make something out of an activity you actually enjoy as opposed to one you’re doing for the sake of applications. The best thing you can do is show the admissions officers that you’re already very passionate about your intended major and that you will make the most out of your college experience. Another pretty big debate going on is how your ethnic background affects your college prospects. Based on my personal experience, do I think that it matters? To be honest, yes, just from what i’ve seen at my high schools. However, I never really felt the need to hide my heritage on my applications. Feel free to ask any questions about anything below! I’m really looking forward to my college experience and wish you the best of luck in your own application process! I hope this was helpful for you guys and be sure to check out the other resources here on supertutortv.com!