Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

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Amtran
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Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby Amtran » Wed Aug 29, 2012 2:41 am UTC

Hi all,

I'm looking at Junior year starting tomorrow, which has started me thinking about where my academic choices now and in the future will take me. Such an emphasis is placed on college these days, and - at least in my experience - it's come across as if the major you choose in college pretty much determines your career path for the rest of your life (barring, of course, getting another degree).

To what extent is this true? And how did all of you choose your majors? As of now I have a vague idea of what I might possibly be interested in doing (law, politics, or engineering), but there's no way I'd be able to commit to a degree at the moment.

For those of you at U.S. universities, how much did your GPA play into whether you got accepted or not? Higher than a 4.0 seems to be pretty much the absolute minimum to be able to attend an Ivy League school today.

My absolute first choice for Uni would be Oxford University, as my father and his father both attended there (not to mention it's a fantastic school and England is bloody amazing). I've heard it's much harder for international students to get in. As I am in the process of getting an IB Diploma, will that help me at all?

Finally, I'm going into my second year of rowing. Do sports factor into admissions as well? Or as long as you're a "well rounded" young individual, will you be fine?

I'm just...very, very apprehensive about the whole college application process and spent all of last year stressing about my grades and which classes to choose for this year. Honestly what I'd love is for someone to tell me that everything I've heard is a myth and it's not that hard (but I know that won't happen :roll: ).

I appreciate any insight y'all are able to give.

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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby beojan » Wed Aug 29, 2012 8:36 am UTC

In the UK, you pick one subject to study at degree level, and study only that subject for three or four years at university.
If you are having trouble picking a major, you may be better off at a US institution where you also study other subjects, and can, if you wish to, change majors. At UK universities, it is very difficult to impossible to change degree subject.

Also, at the best UK institutions (especially Oxford and Cambridge), admissions are almost entirely based on academic ability in the subject you have applied to study.

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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby Andromeda321 » Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:39 am UTC

Your major does not decide the rest of your life. While yes, if you ended up doing political science you'd have to go back if you wanted to become an engineer (though plenty of people return to school later in life, just saying) there are plenty of people who end up doing nothing like what their majors intend. Thinking back on my friends from my physics major their ranks now include a science journalist, a librarian, a nuclear technician, various guys in business/ defense contracting, grad school in physics/astronomy/engineering and one recently started work for the FBI. Ok, it's a rather versatile degree, but I think that it's not unusual to have stuff like that happen to your college buddies post degree- I assure you you're not choosing the rest of your life now.

Second, my best advice to any freshman is just take as many courses as you find interesting and see what sticks (I'll agree that if you're uncertain maybe stay in the USA- you can always study abroad in England for a year in your program, or at least make that a priority when selecting schools). Only advice I have there is it is way harder to go into hard sciences/engineering/etc than out of it, so just keep that in mind...

Third, if you're really not sure of what you want to do consider doing a gap year between high school and uni- if you're familiar at all with England you know they're much more common and encouraged there instead of the US and for good reason. I promise you learn more when traveling and exploring about who you are and what you want to do in life than you would during a first year of uni, and probably for cheaper too.

Four: your life is not over if you don't go to an Ivy league school- I know plenty of kids from high school who didn't but got into great schools for them and are doing great things, I know kids who went to Ivy but moved home post graduation and aren't doing much of anything. That said, my grades were never particularly good so I don't think they matter as much as others say (I'm more a never let schooling interfere with your education type person), but it's definitely worth noting that the day you enter college no one gives a crap about your GPA or SAT scores or whatever you find terribly important in that regard now.

Hope that helps. Good luck.

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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:40 am UTC

I can't offer much relevant help being from the UK and not having started uni yet (I'm starting in October).

Still, beojan's point is definitely worth re-iterating. There aren't many courses in this country which allow anywhere near the degree of flexibility as those in the US.

There are a few places which offer natural sciences courses which cover almost all the sciences (usually maths is separate from them though) and there are few places which offer PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) which is probably about as close as you'll get to a "liberal arts" course at any of the top universities (with the exception of the New College of the Humanities, which is based on the American liberal arts structure although it's only taking its first cohort this October so would still be finding its feet as an institution, it's also about twice the price of any other UK university).

I think UK university applications have to be in earlier than those in the US as well, for Oxford and Cambridge (I'm not 100% sure how this works for international students btw), the application has to be in by the middle of October IIRC and lots of people will get their's in by the end of September.

I think though, that foreign students (it may be mature students instead, I'm not sure, the person who told me this counted as both and I can't remember which she said this was because) can apply to both Oxford and Cambridge (UK students can only apply to one) in which case, if you do decide you want to come over here for uni, it's worth keeping in mind.

Anyway, it's not unusual not to know what you want to do yet so don't worry about it; if you stay in the US, you won't have to decide for a long time, and if you come over to the UK, you've still got a whole year to decide.

Also, I have to disagree slightly with beojan about changing course. Whilst it is very difficult (if not impossible) to change course once the course is underway over here, it's usually not too hard to change to another course (provided you're suitably prepared) if you ask as soon as you get there. This means that, provided you know the rough area you want to go into this time next year, you don't have to be 100% certain which subject within there for another year or so, there's a bit of time to change your mind.

Andromeda321 wrote:Only advice I have there is it is way harder to go into hard sciences/engineering/etc than out of it, so just keep that in mind...


Just to elaborate on this point. I saw someone post some general advice about which classes to take within science when you're unsure what you want to do, which was that it's best to stay "upstream". By upstream, I mean further along the purity scale from #435. The idea is that it's generally easier for a mathematician to become a physicist or a chemist to become a biologist than it is for a chemist to become a physicist.

Now obviously, taken to an extreme, this would just say "do maths" which clearly isn't going to be right for everyone. What you should do instead (if you're more interested in science than arts subjects), is (if you have to take one route), take the course that is the most upstream you think you'll enjoy.

That way, if you change your mind, you can change major downstream quite easily whereas, if you started downstream, you'll probably have a hard time.

Andromeda321 wrote:Third, if you're really not sure of what you want to do consider doing a gap year between high school and uni- if you're familiar at all with England you know they're much more common and encouraged there instead of the US and for good reason. I promise you learn more when traveling and exploring about who you are and what you want to do in life than you would during a first year of uni, and probably for cheaper too.


Whilst this is definitely true for arts subjects, it is not the case in STEM subjects, particularly at the harder end (physics, maths and engineering in particular) where gap years are strongly discouraged. The reason for this is that, whilst a gap year can definitely help you with a degree in the humanities by broadening your experience, in STEM subjects the main effect of a year out is that your mathematical abilities disappear.

Clearly having forgotten almost all your maths is going to hurt your first year performance so most unis will be wary of STEM students taking gap years.

Just something to bear in mind.
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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Sep 01, 2012 11:26 pm UTC

Amtran wrote:I'm looking at Junior year starting tomorrow, which has started me thinking about where my academic choices now and in the future will take me. Such an emphasis is placed on college these days, and - at least in my experience - it's come across as if the major you choose in college pretty much determines your career path for the rest of your life (barring, of course, getting another degree).

To what extent is this true?

The short answer is that it's not at all true.

A great number of people do not work in the field in which they studied. My wife has a BFA and works in social services. The engineering tech at my workplace was a sociology major.

When you're applying for jobs, a degree in a related field is definitely a strong asset. In certain professional fields, you do need a particular certification and that might itself require a certain degree; for instance, if you want to be a Professional Engineer, you have to have a 4-year engineering degree from an ABET-accredited program. Interestingly, you don't necessarily have to go to law school to be a member of the bar and practice law (this varies by state).

But that doesn't mean your career path is determined. "Related fields" can be pretty expansive. Natural science majors sometimes end up as engineers, and vice versa. Pretty much any major that exists can lead into an MBA, if that ends up being your thing. People enter law school from any number of directions that may or may not become their particular specialization within law. I would agree with the previous poster who said that in general it's a lot harder to get into the hard sciences and engineering fields later on than to go the opposite direction; though I don't think there's much of a difference when moving in between various natural sciences, in that case it all depends on your sub-specialty and where there's overlap because everything gets mixed up at different scales.
Amtran wrote:Honestly what I'd love is for someone to tell me that everything I've heard is a myth and it's not that hard (but I know that won't happen :roll: ).

Certainly not everything you've heard is a myth, but honestly? It's not that hard. Not in the ways you imagine it will be. It's hard in a lot of mundane, scary, embarrassing, and even stupid ways. It's hard in that if you royally screw up, it takes a lot of extended effort to fix things and get back to where you want to be, and that can take a long time.

Sure, you may have a final exam that makes you cry. I'm a very good test-taker with a very high university GPA, and I had a final exam just this past Spring that made me cry. It sucked but that's not what's really hard about school, and about everything that comes after school. The really hard stuff is a lot like what you're struggling with right now: Having to make a choice, and not knowing what choice to make. Or maybe the really hard stuff, for you, is fully committing yourself to a relationship, be it with a person or with a career or something else. Or maybe the really hard stuff is financial. The really hard stuff is not like a test that makes you cry, or a teacher who's a hard-ass, or a sport where you're just not quite #1. And the really hard stuff is going to come into your life no matter what you do because it's part of being human. So don't sweat it. For now, stop listening to anything that sounds like it might be superstition with regard to admissions and college and all that, and focus on how you react to things, what makes you excited on a day-to-day basis, and any hard data you can apply to the process. Lots of schools release a ton of public data about their students, their graduates, and their applicants. Go forth and pull the data, young padawan.
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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby Drowsy Turtle » Tue Sep 04, 2012 7:33 am UTC

Amtran wrote:To what extent is this true? And how did all of you choose your majors? As of now I have a vague idea of what I might possibly be interested in doing (law, politics, or engineering), but there's no way I'd be able to commit to a degree at the moment.


If you're interested in studying in the UK (as suggested below), there's absolutely no way you could study law, politics and engineering and expect to get a worthwhile degree at the end of it. For it to be worth the money, you really ought to be studying just one of them.

However, I do know several people who have done one or two years of a degree, decided they don't like it, and then switched to another one entirely (e.g. I have a friend who changed from physics to geology). So nothing is completely set in stone.

Amtran wrote:My absolute first choice for Uni would be Oxford University, as my father and his father both attended there (not to mention it's a fantastic school and England is bloody amazing). I've heard it's much harder for international students to get in.


Not necessarily. Under the new system, British universities don't get any funding for the teaching from the government; it's all supposed to come from the student (whether directly or through loans), up to a maximum of around £9000. With international students, on the other hand, there is no maximum to the amount they can charge, so there is a financial incentive to accept more international students (and, indeed, they are doing at my university at least).

Amtran wrote:Finally, I'm going into my second year of rowing. Do sports factor into admissions as well? Or as long as you're a "well rounded" young individual, will you be fine?


Having interests outside of your subject area will be a bonus; exactly what they are shouldn't matter too much. Although rowing would make you fit right in at Oxford...

I would advise that once you know what degree you're going to apply for, you start to at least make it look like you spend a significant amount of your own time pursuing your interest in that subject - when I was applying to study geophysics, I talked about geology-focused holidays, hours spent debating on forums, mentoring younger kids who were behind in science and various subscriptions to nerdy magazines (all of which was regrettably true). Then again, my degree path was so unpopular that I could have listed watching porn and arson as hobbies and still got a place (some of the worse universities were offering me vast sums of money to study there).


Somebody mentioned PPE earlier - don't do that. My university offers it, and I would describe people who graduate through PPE as expert time-wasters.
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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby eSOANEM » Tue Sep 04, 2012 11:16 am UTC

Drowsy Turtle wrote:
Amtran wrote:Finally, I'm going into my second year of rowing. Do sports factor into admissions as well? Or as long as you're a "well rounded" young individual, will you be fine?


Having interests outside of your subject area will be a bonus; exactly what they are shouldn't matter too much. Although rowing would make you fit right in at Oxford...

I would advise that once you know what degree you're going to apply for, you start to at least make it look like you spend a significant amount of your own time pursuing your interest in that subject - when I was applying to study geophysics, I talked about geology-focused holidays, hours spent debating on forums, mentoring younger kids who were behind in science and various subscriptions to nerdy magazines (all of which was regrettably true). Then again, my degree path was so unpopular that I could have listed watching porn and arson as hobbies and still got a place (some of the worse universities were offering me vast sums of money to study there).


Somebody mentioned PPE earlier - don't do that. My university offers it, and I would describe people who graduate through PPE as expert time-wasters.


Sports and extracurriculars unrelated to your subject do not factor much into universities' decisions any more. Because of this, the advice I was given was that my personal statement (you only get one) should be at least two thirds subject based and at least three quarters if you're applying for hard sciences. Many people (including me) had ~90% being subject based and got a full set of offers.

So, whilst it's worth mentioning rowing in any application (particularly to Oxbridge), it probably isn't worth going into much more detail than you have in the quoted text above (unless you've competed at some level in which case you should probably say "and competed at county/state/national level" or somesuch.

The reason you don't want to say too much about unrelated extracurriculars is that nowadays unis are judged pretty much exclusively on academic grounds (which is pretty sensible when you think about it). Because of this, there's no incentive to take people just because of their sporting ability if they're not also good at their subject so the universities (particularly the more prestigious and more successful ones who have reputations to maintain), instead of searching for the best sportsmen as well as the best lawyers, historians, engineers and mathematicians, they just look for the best people in their subject and trust that, as they take a significant number, there will be good sportsmen.

As for PPE (which I think I mentioned earlier), I don't really know much about it other than at the broadest levels but what I will say is that I suspect it varies significantly between universities. Notably at Oxford it is the modern greats and is the most prestigious degree they award (possibly second to the greats which are classics) and, as such, they probably want to ensure that the course maintains rigour and does not simply train time wasters.

Of course, as I say, I have no actual experience of it (and it isn't offered at the uni I'm going to) so this is based on surmise and what people at my school who are going to be studying it have said so don't take my word for it. Make sure you do your research before applying for it and find out the actual course content. If you can, also see what it says about it in any university's alternative prospectus (which is written by the students), you'll probably get a less biased opinion than in the main prospectus.
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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby beojan » Tue Sep 04, 2012 4:26 pm UTC

According to UCAS, unless applying for graduate entry medicine, no one can apply to both Oxford and Cambridge.

In addition, Oxford's admissions tend to be pretty much entirely academic, using aptitude tests such as the TSA for PPE or the PAT for physics and engineering, and academic interviews by subject tutors.

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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby Alex-J » Tue Sep 04, 2012 5:28 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Sports and extracurriculars unrelated to your subject do not factor much into universities' decisions any more. Because of this, the advice I was given was that my personal statement (you only get one) should be at least two thirds subject based and at least three quarters if you're applying for hard sciences. Many people (including me) had ~90% being subject based and got a full set of offers.

So, whilst it's worth mentioning rowing in any application (particularly to Oxbridge), it probably isn't worth going into much more detail than you have in the quoted text above (unless you've competed at some level in which case you should probably say "and competed at county/state/national level" or somesuch.

The reason you don't want to say too much about unrelated extracurriculars is that nowadays unis are judged pretty much exclusively on academic grounds (which is pretty sensible when you think about it)...


As a senior in high school, (as far as US Universities are concerned) I've had many college admissions officers come through and emphasize the importance of extracurriculars, especially sports, since they are a huge time commitment for many students. Many schools especially value any leadership positions or actions you have taken in any ec you belong to. College especially like to see some kind of passion or interest in the activity since some students have started "participating" in outside activities as little as possible just to get a resume boost. Special achievements, regardless of what activity you received them in, are worth mentioning.

We had an admissions counselor from Stanford come through and emphasize how important it is to make yourself stand out and seem different. US Ivy League schools have more high grades and 2300+ SAT applicants than they can (or care to) accept. I've had two friends apply to Ivies with perfect GPAs and very high SATs who did only a few small things outside of classes and AP tests who were rejected. Once you have high academic achievement you need things on you application showing involvement.

For example, my brother received a wonderful scholarship from a well-ranked US school (top 5 engineering schools). The scholarship was primarily given to engineering students; however, it wasn't granted to those with the top academic stats. The scholarship was trying to bring future leaders to the university, all the students already had high academic achievements (high gpas, generally 2150+ SATs) but were invited to the program because of demonstrated leadership and personal interviews. Many of the students were Drum Majors (marching band), Eagle Scouts (Boy Scouts), or Gold Awards (Girl Scouts). One of my brothers accomplishments was being a licensed sailplane pilot. He loved flying and was interested in planes from a young age. Becoming a sailplane pilot required him to take on a job (to pay) and commit a lot of time to training and flying. He wrote about this whole experience (exclusively) in one of his essays. This was technical and challenging activity, but wasn't directly related to his major (Electrical Engineering), and he didn't try to connect the two. His essay demonstrated passion and drive, which is what admissions people and scholarship committee were looking for.

Academics are very important, without them you'll hardly be considered (unless you have extenuating circumstances), but extracurricular activities related to your future major and outside of it are important factors, especially at high ranking and Ivy League US schools.

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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby eSOANEM » Tue Sep 04, 2012 7:10 pm UTC

Alex-J wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Sports and extracurriculars unrelated to your subject do not factor much into universities' decisions any more. Because of this, the advice I was given was that my personal statement (you only get one) should be at least two thirds subject based and at least three quarters if you're applying for hard sciences. Many people (including me) had ~90% being subject based and got a full set of offers.

So, whilst it's worth mentioning rowing in any application (particularly to Oxbridge), it probably isn't worth going into much more detail than you have in the quoted text above (unless you've competed at some level in which case you should probably say "and competed at county/state/national level" or somesuch.

The reason you don't want to say too much about unrelated extracurriculars is that nowadays unis are judged pretty much exclusively on academic grounds (which is pretty sensible when you think about it)...


As a senior in high school, (as far as US Universities are concerned) I've had many college admissions officers come through and emphasize the importance of extracurriculars, especially sports, since they are a huge time commitment for many students. Many schools especially value any leadership positions or actions you have taken in any ec you belong to. College especially like to see some kind of passion or interest in the activity since some students have started "participating" in outside activities as little as possible just to get a resume boost. Special achievements, regardless of what activity you received them in, are worth mentioning.

[snip]

Academics are very important, without them you'll hardly be considered (unless you have extenuating circumstances), but extracurricular activities related to your future major and outside of it are important factors, especially at high ranking and Ivy League US schools.


As I said in my first post, everything I've posted is from a UK perspective and about UK universities where what I said is very much the case (at my school for instance we had several recent Oxbridge graduates as teachers and had admissions outreach-y type people from Oxbridge and the Russel group come in to give admissions talks. The advice from all of them was that unrelated extracurriculars barely count at all to them.

Notice, I was talking only about unrelated extracurriculars. Extracurricular stuff related to your subject should be the majority of your personal statement (5/7 paragraphs in the main body of personal statement were about subject-related extracurriculars and they were also the longest paragraphs) and is probably the most important tool the best universities will use to judge your application (before any interviews they might do or, in the case of Oxford, pre-interview tests).

It's also worth elaborating on the point I made about unis in the UK only being judged on academic grounds. In the US, collegiate sport is much bigger than in the UK (where university level sport receives no coverage at all (other than the boat race) and the only university competition anyone really watches is university challenge, a quiz show) and so, whilst in the US, a university can build a reputation on its football team and so may look for good football players (likewise any other major sport), this is not the case in the UK. There is simply no incentive for the unis to look for people with unrelated extracurriculars (such as sports in most cases) and so they do not.

Anyway, there seems to be a big cultural divide on extracurriculars between the US and UK which is probably due to the fact that degrees in the UK are usually narrower (because you have to choose one subject before applying). Because of this difference in course structure, it is easier in the UK to see which extracurriculars are relevant to your subject and which ones aren't. Because of this, universities are able to ignore ones they know will not help a student do the best they can on that course and so they do. If the unis ignore it, you shouldn't waste characters on it.

So yeah, for your applications to US unis, you probably do want to mention all your extracurriculars, but in the UK, not so much.
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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby sam_i_am » Tue Sep 04, 2012 7:28 pm UTC

Just because an institution tells you that you need a "4.0 GPA" or "30+ on the ACT" whatever other requirement they might have, doesn't mean that those are hard requirements (although sometimes they do)

A lot of the time, those "requirements" are just there to scare away people who don't really have confidence in themselves.

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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby Adacore » Wed Sep 05, 2012 1:46 am UTC

sam_i_am wrote:A lot of the time, those "requirements" are just there to scare away people who don't really have confidence in themselves.

I'm not sure how much this is true. I know at Cambridge they make an effort to try and find the people who are brilliant, but lacking in self-confidence. They're certainly not trying to deliberately scare away the unconfident.

Might be another UK/US culture thing, though.

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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Sep 05, 2012 9:13 am UTC

I think that this is an Oxbridge-only effect. Oxbridge always get a load of criticism for not being socially inclusive enough. The statistics show that this is almost entirely due to the fact that, in general, people from less good schools are less likely to apply in the first place (even when compared to people getting the same or lower grades at other schools). As such, it's a necessary PR exercise (and gives them a bigger pool of people to choose the best from) for them to do all of these outreach programs to encourage those who'd otherwise self-select out.

And, because of this, the grades they say they'd want are fairly firm. They're not interested in finding the most confident people, they're interested in finding the best. Now they generally don't give out offers they don't think people will achieve, but the grades will not be low enough that you can do no work and still get in and, if you do miss the grades, you might end up in a summer pool and get picked up by another college, but there's a good chance you won't get taken (the only exception to this is if you miss your grade in STEP (the maths entry exam for cambridge) in which case they are sometimes lenient if it was a hard paper because then they have your actual paper to look at and can make a proper judgement of your actual skill).
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Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:48 pm UTC

Amtran wrote:I'm looking at Junior year starting tomorrow, which has started me thinking about where my academic choices now and in the future will take me. Such an emphasis is placed on college these days, and - at least in my experience - it's come across as if the major you choose in college pretty much determines your career path for the rest of your life (barring, of course, getting another degree).

It depends - most undergrad degrees do not prepare you for any specific career, and you'll see graduates from these programs end up in an astounding range of jobs, including many with no apparent link to the degree. There are, of course, exceptions - business, medicine, teaching and engineering in particular, are pretty much job-training, leading to careers in directly related fields.

Amtran wrote:To what extent is this true? And how did all of you choose your majors?

By accident; I went into uni liking science, fell out-of-love with chemistry in a week, physics in the first year, leaving biology the only option left. A few years later I graduated with a degree in cellular biology - then a PhD, now I'm a prof... :roll:

Amtran wrote:As of now I have a vague idea of what I might possibly be interested in doing (law, politics, or engineering), but there's no way I'd be able to commit to a degree at the moment.

If this is a real problem, you can look for a uni which has the first year as 'general studies'; it gives you a chance to test the waters before committing to a particular track. Unfortunately, this used to be the norm, but is now a rare option.

Amtran wrote:For those of you at U.S. universities, how much did your GPA play into whether you got accepted or not? Higher than a 4.0 seems to be pretty much the absolute minimum to be able to attend an Ivy League school today.

Keep in mind - USA or otherwise - coming out of high school about your only selling point is your GPA. If its not high enough, you'll be ignored - its only after you pass the GPA threshold* that other things like entrance essays, etc, come into play.

*unless you go to schools with legacy admissions, etc.

Amtran wrote:Finally, I'm going into my second year of rowing. Do sports factor into admissions as well? Or as long as you're a "well rounded" young individual, will you be fine?

This is highly dependent on the school you're applying to. Some have great programs for sports (if you qualify - simply being a rower doesn't guarantee you a position on the rowing team), other unis don't give a damn. As someone else mentioned, sports is becoming less-and-less appreciated by universities. Ultimately, you're either good enough that you're being scouted, or its not worth more than a sentence in your application.

Amtran wrote:I'm just...very, very apprehensive about the whole college application process and spent all of last year stressing about my grades and which classes to choose for this year.

1) Make sure you are taking classes that will meet the administration requirements. There is usually an expectation that applicants have completed grade-12 level (or even more advanced) english, social studies, math, and sciences. These expectations are always outlined in a universities administration guidelines, found on their websites.
2) Do well - you don't just need the right courses, you need the good grades. Good grades get your foot in the door - without them, your application goes in the trash.
3) If applying to top-tier schools, you should have some volunteering or other experience - these schools often look at more than grades, and having the capacity to show you're 'special ' through community activities, academic development outside school, 'life experience' (a vague term meaning you've done more than sit in your parents basement the past 18 years), etc, can help put your ahead of other applicants.

Your school likely has a counsellor, who can hopefully help you pick the right classes.

Others here have more insight into some of the specific schools you've inquired about - listen to them. My advice is more general, and is applicable to most uni's.

Bryan
I have a new blog, on making beer.

Not that anyone reads it...

ImagingGeek
Posts: 380
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Location: Canada

Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:52 pm UTC

Just because an institution tells you that you need a "4.0 GPA" or "30+ on the ACT" whatever other requirement they might have, doesn't mean that those are hard requirements (although sometimes they do)

They usually are hard limits. Most uni's (all, if talking about top-tier) receive far more more applicants than they have spaces for. GPA is a quick/cheap (if not overly good) way of reducing the number of applications they have to go through in detail (which isn't cheap, btw - you have to pay a lot of people in order to go through them quickly enough). That's not to say its a bad idea to apply if you don't have the recommended grade, but if you don't have that grade, be aware that the likelihood of your application being sent to the trash without an in-depth reading is quite high.

Bryan
I have a new blog, on making beer.

Not that anyone reads it...

Luge
Posts: 9
Joined: Wed Sep 19, 2012 10:18 am UTC

Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby Luge » Thu Sep 20, 2012 8:27 am UTC

I am from the UK, and I can confirm that we don't do majors and minors over here (or indeed in Europe at all). You choose a single subject and do that for 3-4 years. Some universities have "X with Y" degrees, which will contain around 20% of subject Y, but it will be forcussed entirely on subject X. Examples are Music with French or Law with Politics.

Two thoughts:

1. Consider the other Red Brick universities (a very informal and slightly antiquated term for some of the older universities in the country), some of the more subject-specific universities, plus Durham.

2. Think about what you might like to do as a career. I did an engineering degree, and had very encouraging reactions from the careers services and employers when I was in my final year. Engineers learn in their first year how to write concise and informative reports. They are used to working with numbers: Spreadsheets, databases and probably computer code (maybe a little C++ or (ahem) COBOL) as well as with other disciplines (engineering is basically applied physics, chemistry, materials science, mathematics and project management). As a result, they can make attractive employees for businesses of any type.

I did a degree in Ship Science and Naval Architecture (how to design ships, basically). Now I work for a major oil company working with remotely operated vehicles 500m below sea level, installing new wells and pipelines. It's one of the most fun things I've ever done.

L.

m4d4sb34ns
Posts: 64
Joined: Mon Aug 02, 2010 11:16 pm UTC
Location: North West UK

Re: Degrees, Careers, and Straight-A's

Postby m4d4sb34ns » Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:48 am UTC

A small additional point on UK degree choices - as people above have pointed out, you generally just pick one subject and do that full-time. If you're interested in science however, I'd recommend looking for a Natural Sciences course being offered - Cambridge, Durham, Southampton and UCL all definitely offer it, not sure about Oxford. It's gradually increasing in popularity so will probably be more widely available by the time you apply.

The idea is that you can mix and match courses from a few different 'hard' scientific disciplines, so for example whereas I did a full Chemistry degree, if I went back now and did NatSci I would probably get rid of the organic synthesis modules and include some physics instead. Obviously it's still a comparatively focused degree and not useful if you're more interested in something like social sciences or humanities, but those courses tend to be more diverse here anyway. For example a friend of mine studied psychology/sociology/criminology, and I know of other people studying history/politics/economics. You just can't jump entirely between faculties without a starting from the beginning, but hopefully by the time you apply you'll have an idea at least which general field to go into.

Regarding post-university life, the observation I would offer is that all of the engineers I know have decent graduate-level jobs, all the scientists are either doing PhD's like me, or have suitable jobs. The maths graduates I know aren't currently where I imagine they wanted to be, and the humanities group are a mixed bag, with some having to settle for non-graduate jobs while others have done much better.

Of the subjects the OP mentioned, I can imagine you'd find a combined Law and politics course somewhere, although if I were you I'd make sure the emphasis is squarely on the law side. Engineering looks fun but I have no idea how much scope there is to study the full range of electrical/mechanical/aerospace/chemical courses here, so you may need to be more specific.


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