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  • Nora Sun

Tags: MIT


Institution: MIT University

Study: Major in mathematics and computer science


High School Experience

I’ve always been into both the arts and sciences, so a lot of my activities (music, painting, research, etc.) were always concentrated on what I was interested in. My free time was spent running or playing video games, which happened more often at the end of the school year (after testing was over). I know a lot of my friends have been stressed about college applications since my freshman year, but I was more focused on doing whatever I wanted to do—it worked in the end! I don’t really like partying, but I like to go out with my friends every so often. I especially like going to small indie overpriced coffee shops to study after school.


Course choices

I was always really interested in art, so I took a lot of art classes, both studio and history. I also took quite a few music classes as I play the violin. Other than that, I took a few “non-conventional” science courses, such as physiology (instead of AP Biology) and AP Environmental Science (instead of AP Chemistry). I ended up taking chemistry at a community college over the summer though. My math track was standard, starting at Algebra 2, but my school got rid of Calculus BC so I studied for the AP test on my own. I took a standard english path, but I grew to love literature. I am not a fan of the social sciences, so I took a few over the summer to clear more spots for art classes.


AP/IBs

My school doesn’t offer IB courses, but I took quite a few APs! I took World History, Music Theory, Environmental Science, English Language, Studio Art, Calculus AB, United States History, English Literature, Computer Science Principles, Statistics, Art History, and Physics C: Mechanics. I self studied Calculus BC because my school doesn’t offer that course. I passed every exam with a 4 or 5 except for World History (on which I failed, and did not submit) and the ones I took this year, as I do not have the scores yet.


GPA

4.0 unweighted, 4.53 weighted


Standardized Testing

ACT: 35

SAT Mathematics II: 800

SAT Chemistry: 710


Extracurriculars

My most time consuming activities were cross country and violin. On the side, as a cosplayer, I sew and craft, and this takes up a lot of my time too—I make all the patterns and style wigs myself. I was in a few clubs, including Science Olympiad and Red Cross, but I held minimal leadership positions. I made a Physics club at my school (and hence became president), but I didn’t write this on my college applications as this was really something I did for fun beyond anything else. Over the summer, I did neurology research and radiology internships, which I enjoyed immensely. My summers were always packed—the one after my junior year, I interned while taking two classes at a community college, but I quite like routine.


Recommendations

Tip: ask for your recommendations early! I asked for mine early September, but by the time October/November rolls around, most teachers are flooded with requests and might decline. The ones who wrote recommendations for me were all teachers I had for multiple years, and my physiology/biology teacher called a few schools for me (but I got rejected from 3 out of the 4 she called so I’m not sure whether or not this made a difference).


Essays

I had one world to describe myself—explorer. I talked about my vast interest in both the arts and sciences, and how I felt like I needed to be the connection between the schism between the liberal arts and stem (is that cliche?). All of the subjects I learned outside of school (forensics, astronomy, calculus, and French) were done purely out of interest, and I mentioned that as well, as I learned everything on my own using online sources. There’s no limit as to what I wanted to try, so I think the word “explorer” fit me quite well.


Strengths

My teacher recommendations were really strong; I learned of this after I submitted my application. I think being so free to explore and try out new things was my greatest trait, as I come from an area where resources are immense (Los Angeles) and I make use of everything I can handle. Of course, this means that applicants in rural areas or places where such resources cannot be attained need not compare themselves to someone in my situation; it’s really all about how you used what is around you to better yourself (both academically and as a person in your community).


Advice

The best advice I can give is to live. Exploring what is around you and bettering your knowledge on those things, or simply walking into a laboratory at a nearby university and asking to shadow, or anything else that you can access will help you in not just college applications but in your ability to learn. In my Asian culture, it’s common to hire expensive tutors and college advisors to help strengthen applications, but I think this can be done on your own if you have the motivation it takes. Of course, if you need another shoulder to lean on, I’m sure the college advisors will definitely get you far, but they will only get you so far in your willingness to discover. I’m not sure how I would define where I am; with my university (MIT) specifically, I cannot sugarcoat the high test scores and GPA that will absolutely boost your application. However, your essays should really show your determination and perseverance. If defining “where I am” is my motivation, start with baby steps (enroll in free online classes, or look at the stars and learn the constellations) to really enjoy learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean classroom/textbook education, but could be learning a new skill as well: painting, sewing, knitting, graphic design, etc. I think this will get you farther in life.


Circumstances

I suffer from chronic illness (I did not mention in my college apps out of fear of judgement), but that was something I had to consider when planning out my college application timeline. I don’t know when I might have days where I can’t work on the application, so I need to make sure I don’t procrastinate. My school is not that competitive; I go to a public high school where relatively few (about one or two a year) students go to an Ivy League or an upper private. I think this might be important to note, as I am quite sure it affected my college applications immensely. Additionally, because no student has gone to Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, etc. in the past ten or so years, essentially everyone that I know who applied to such schools were rejected.


Why?

I was torn between UCLA and MIT, as I love Los Angeles, but I’ve lived here my whole life and decided it might be fun to go outside of California! (Also, because there are Trader Joe’s and Wetzel’s Pretzels in Boston as well.)


#MIT

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