Profile: Switching Goals and Refocusing

Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School grads tell their stories, dish out admissions tips.

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Charlie Xie, his class's valedictorian, is headed to nearby Vanderbilt University to study biomechanical engineering on a full-tuition ride. His top choice, MIT, rejected him, so he switched his goal from getting into the top engineering program to finding a good, affordable college. After getting rejected or wait-listed by Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, he realized that "I put too much emphasis on academics." Charlie didn't play sports or work; he says, "I fit that Asian nerd type pretty well."

GPA: 4.0 unweighted

SAT/ACT scores: 740 math, 800 critical reading, 760 writing/35

Extracurrics: Magnet Science Olympiad Team, Magnet Math Team, National Honor Society, volunteering

Essay topic: Personality growth through life

Hardest part: Completing the applications on time

Advice on essays: "Try to find something you're passionate in and build on that." Charlie had a hard time picking a topic and says his main essay was too general and formal.

Tip: Don't send in essays without someone reviewing them.

Coping strategy: Began running when starting the application process, listened to music—and procrastinated!

Advice: "Research how colleges calculate financial aid before spending too much time applying for scholarships. Many schools simply deduct the scholarship award from the need-based award, essentially making the scholarship money useless if it amounts to less than the need-based award."

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