Nontrivial College Application Tips from a Rice University student
Oct 31, 2022
2 mins read
💼 Bachelor: Operations Research & CS
⏳ Aug 2021 — May 2025
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A brief introduction
My name is Bayzhan, I'm a sophomore at Rice University studying Operations Research (applied math) and Computer Science. I'm an international student from Qazaqstan and a graduate of the National School of Physics and Math (fizmat Astana). I'm writing this post with the hope that at least one person will find it helpful.
In this post, I will not be sharing any of my stats—that has been done by thousands of people before me and will be done after; knowing that my GPA was x, and my SAT was y will not give a lot of insight but rather distract. This is because you will never know every detail of my application (even I don't), and you will never know why I got in. Thus, knowing that my SAT score was low does not imply that everyone can get in with that score (what if a significant factor in my application was a recommendation letter?). All you need to know about college is the general info like acceptance rate, average GPA, SAT stats, min English proficiency test scores, stats on international students, and financial aid. Also, don't forget that you'll be reviewed holistically :)
The college application process is super random, and there are no guarantees that one will be accepted. I have hundreds of friends with objectively good resumes that were rejected from everywhere. And I don't know what exactly in my application caught the admissions officer's attention. In fact, I was rejected by 15/15 colleges during my senior year. I took a gap year and was rejected by the other 19/20 colleges I applied. Rice was the only school that I was lucky to get into with a scholarship that met all my financial needs.
Organize everything. By everything, I mean literally everything. Here are some screenshots of how I organized my essays and tracked applications/communications with colleges.
As you can see, I tracked down every email that I've sent to colleges. "1" in the excel cell means that the email regarding (column Name) was sent.
Google is your perfect college counselor. You can find an answer to every question yourself. Ask about brainstorming essay ideas, ask about SAT prep, and ask about the CSS profile. Watch tutorials on TOEFL prep and essay writing on YouTube. Only after you fail to find an answer to your question on the Internet, go ahead and ask a real person (your friend, college counselor, nearby Education USA rep, etc.).
The additional Info section is important. Use it to explain certain parts of your resume that admissions people might not understand. For example, in my academic honors section, I had a line saying "International Zhautykov Olympiad - Prizewinner in physics". I thought that would probably tell nothing to the admissions officer, so I decided to describe that achievement in the following way:
"The International Zhautykov Olympiad (IZHO) is a high-level science competition in physics, math, and computer science for HS students. IZHO 2020 had 570 participants that represented more than 20 countries. To participate, I passed three selection stages." Makes sense?
Structure your activities section. MECA = mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. Try to structure your activities section in accordance with the MECA principle. Moreover, don't forget a good quantitative & qualitative description for each of your activities.
Example: Let's say you have an activities list that looks like this:
(1) I taught physics, (2) I tutored math, and (3) I volunteered as a tutor;
Applying the MECA principle and adding some quantitative description, you can convert that to:
(1) I taught physics and math for 100 hours, 40 of which were volunteering hours.
Be consistent and organized, especially with essays. It is a creative process that requires time, so don't wait until it's too late.
I would say that there are 5-6 unique topics that colleges will ask you to write about. You will recycle a lot of the essays, while simultaneously adding minor improvements. The longer the period between recycling an essay on one topic, the bigger the improvement you'll add. Thus, if you write your essays in a span of a longer time, the improvements will be more noticeable: for each topic, the essay that you're recycling will be better than the previous one by a quantity that increases with time.
Apply early. Even if your resume is not ready. When you apply EA/ED, you learn a lot of things (explicit and implicit) that will help you for RD.
Work on yourself, not on college apps. You spend a lot of time making your application look good, but don't forget that, at the end of the day, you're building yourself, not your resume. With this mindset, even if you get rejected from all of the colleges, you will not feel like you wasted your time. No! You'd have learned a new language, improved your reading comprehension & logical inference skills, dedicated years to your hobbies, and understood who you are and what you want in this life.
Illustrator & Designer
7 months ago
Oh, awesome advice, thank you very much for sharing your wisdom. And I totally agree — a person must work on themselves, not on the admission process: it is the universal truth indeed. Organizing tips are super useful!