Does FIRST help you get into college?

This is not meant to be facetious or rhetorical. And when I ask this question, it is really directed at those attempting to get accepted by one of the top 50 schools in the US, maybe even the top 25 colleges. You know the ones with 4% acceptance rate and 50% of the applicant pool have a near perfect GPA/SAT/ACT scores. The ability to stand out requires applicants to go far above and beyond and also focus on individual achievement.

FIRST was never designed, and rightly so, to allow any one individual to shine. FIRST is the ultimate team sport. Most tasks require a lot of collaboration and shared responsibility. I would imagine it would be hard to find stories that shine the spot light only on yourself. It’s really difficult to impress a college interviewer when you constantly answer questions in the royal “WE”.

On top of that, FIRST demands team members to be singularly focus on FIRST during season and probably off season as well. This leaves fairly little room to explore non-STEM activities, the type that show you as a well rounded individual.

I would be really interested in hearing the perspective of students at the front and tail end of the college admissions process. Did you pull back from FIRST so as to be able to experience other things in High School. Or did you chase what you love and let fate decide.

I would also love to hear what other mentors are advising their students as well. I’ve mentored for the past 10 years and never really thought about the question until now when my own kids, who have been steep in FIRST since elementary school, are now at the front end of the college application process.

Thanks and please do not construe this question as implying there is something wrong with FIRST.

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I’m a rising high school senior at a top #350 ranked high school (42nd in CA). I’ve participated in FRC since freshman year. In my math and physics classes I sit next to seniors who are going to Yale, USC, UCI, UCLA, MIT, Harvard, Caltech, etc. I’ve talked to people who went to Stanford, etc.

Not that FRC produces poor graduates (we have some Purdue this year off the top of my head) but where you go to find top-tier college admits (the Stanford, the Yale, the Harvard, not the UC-level schools) in the school is always people who do Science Research. (Interestingly the MITs didn’t do Science Research afaik.)

The understanding I think most people in my FRC team agree upon is that “if you’re doing FRC to get into top-tier colleges, it’s a massive waste of time.” The amount of hours you spend to get pretty much no recognition is incomparable to an individually-rewarded program like Science Research. (Again, not lauding Science Research specifically, but those type of people.)

Just some thoughts.

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So knowing this, do you focus on college or double down on FIRST.

I wouldn’t word it as “college v FIRST.” Obviously you can both go to college and participate in FIRST.

You can also go to MIT and be in FRC (I see some FRC alumns in the MIT instagram page).

But how I’ve viewed this is: “I’d rather do FRC and be a bit happier than do Science Research even if it means I might get into a better college. With where my academics are at I should get into a decent UC and I’m happy with that.”

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Be on the lookout for my StuySplash 2023 lecture coming this December :wink:

In all seriousness, this is obviously a really complicated question, and college admissions are a pretty sensitive topic. The short version of the answer is that a student who has gotten out of FIRST what FIRST intends, and has developed their teamwork, communication, etc. skills through FIRST, is a student who will look very good on college applications anyway.

If your question is about the value of FIRST in the ‘extracurricular’ field of a student’s college application, especially when that student has sacrificed their academics for their team as so many do, then, yeah, it’s probably not “worth it.”

In situations where I have the power to direct something like this, I prefer to encourage students to put their academics first, and on one team I worked with, I discouraged the team from signing up for any offseason events that fell before the Early Application deadline in the school year, so seniors wouldn’t be forced to choose between focusing on their applications and focusing on their team.

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Our team (3175) has sent multiple students to Princeton, Yale, UMich (yes, it is in-state so its a little easier), Tufts, etc. These members were core members of the team and dedicated many hours to the team. However they didn’t get in on that alone. They still were very dedicated students and had to put up strong GPAs and test scores. Being a well-rounded student with extracurriculars AND classwork is extremely important.

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The prestige of the school has little or nothing to do with how well it’ll fit you, and even less to do with how competent their graduates are when they enter the workforce. There’s a couple of rants I could go on here… but in general the school name is good for getting you in the door of an interview room. Your skill that you pick up along the way–whether that’s in FIRST, in one of the many collegiate engineering competitions, or from research–is what gets you the job.

I would not say that FIRST necessarily helped me get into college. I will say that the skills I learned in FIRST helped me clear through college and up until now.

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I’d really rather not let this thread turn into a “Is College Worth It” thread.

I really much rather understand if Colleges appreciate FIRST experiences like we appreciate them.

Seemingly, the answer is “NO!”

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I should clarify here:

I’m not talking about what kids should do long-term; I’m just answering the OPs request about how I’ve seen FRC vs other ECs affect name-brand school acceptance.

I think some people misunderstood that.

They appreciate them if the students know how to communicate them. Schools don’t automatically know what being on a FIRST team means about a student. The student themselves needs to be able to express what their team has done for them, and what they’ve done for their team, in a way an admissions officer will understand.

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Short answer:

If they don’t appreciate them, why do they suffer student engineering competition teams?

If you’re going to an engineering school that doesn’t participate in student engineering competitions, IMO, you need a new school.

But they aren’t going to understand that FIRST is to HS students what those student engineering teams are to their students unless you TELL them.

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I look forward to seeing your presentation. Will it be posted online? or in CD?

I got accepted at Northeastern. just looked it up and they’re at 44 on US News and World Report so I’m going to figure that fits. Acceptance rate widely varies depending on source, but I’m pretty sure it’s under 10%. I’m not sure where they are at for average SAT, but it’s pretty high up.

Varying Acceptance Rates

Northeastern has a bunch of side programs they accept people to that are probably messing with what they show for acceptance rate. I’m sticking with under 10% because I got into their Boston Campus.

I didn’t find this all that difficult. Even though I don’t have the ability to say I built a robot that did this thing, I was able to talk about the contributions I made and also how I had been able to work with others and design collaboratively. It’s not hard to find something to take ownership of on your team’s robot and showing how you worked with others to do something great is probably better than talking about doing something small on your own.

I disagree. My team has had a lot of overlap with the marching band, as well as a number of Boy Scouts/Eagle Scouts on the team. I’ve done both as well as another musical group and a couple of other smaller clubs. On the team I was our Mechanical Lead this year and probably in the shop more than 20 hours a week every year (except 2021, but that was due to the shop not being open very much).

So, FIRST kind of was one of the things I loved in High School. I really enjoyed the things I was doing and that kind of enabled me to both do the things I enjoyed and do things that would benefit me admissions-wise.

Overall, I think FRC was beneficial to me getting into the colleges I got into. Beyond that it’s also worth noting that it’s had other benefits for me. The skills I’ve learned are really valuable on their own, and it also got me an engineering internship through my high school. I don’t think my application would have looked anywhere near as good without FRC and I didn’t have much room to improve my grades anyways.

I also think that our team tends to have graduates getting into significantly better schools than average. In the time I’ve been on the team we’ve had 7 people go to Northeastern (1 through one of their side programs), 3 go to RPI, 1 to Cornell, and 1 to WPI. Not all of those are top 50, but they’re all very good schools.

At the same time this is also true, but I’d hope that isn’t where this question is coming from. If you really enjoy FRC without weighing in whether it’ll help you get into a top school, I expect that it will be beneficial to your college admissions.

You also may want to reconsider really aiming for top 50. At that point it’s a dice roll anyways. You can still have a very successful career without attending a top college.

One last thing, I don’t think it’s as binary as sacrifice your academics OR do FIRST. You can be an involved member of your team and still get very good grades. You may not be able to be in the shop every instant it’s open, but that’s not necessary to be one of the most influential members of your team. Find a way to make a clear contribution to your team at a feasible time committment.

I don’t think a college is going to appreciate any of your favorite things as much as you appreciate them. I think they’ll appreciate a student showing high dedication to a difficult problem as they work with others to complete the task. They probably won’t appreciate “helped build some sort of robot”.

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If past StuySplashes are any indication, it’ll make its way to StuyPulse’s website shortly after the lecture happens, and will be streamed on StuyPulse’s YouTube channel. We don’t have dates or lecture schedules set yet, but those will be up on Instagram (and maybe CD?) as soon as we know.

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Back when I was teaching, my students would frequently encounter a situation where getting an A in Robotics (the highest grade achievable) would actually bring down their GPA because it wasn’t a weighted grade point like AP classes. Students who did fewer classes and just did less overall were getting higher GPAs and were getting into good schools. At the college fair at Champs STL 2015, I asked some recruiters from the ivy-league schools about this. I asked “Do you use GPA as a primary discriminating factor when reviewing applicants?” They would not directly answer the question, and have the usual “we care about the whole student” response but I was persistent with my question. When I wouldn’t back down and they wouldn’t answer, one of them finally said “Sir, you’ve asked more than your fair share of questions.” That told me all I needed to know.

So, I re-wrote the class to be an honors class, which has a weighted grade point. Soon after, this became the trend for pretty much all elective classes. They’re all honors now, which is really devalues the meaning of an honors class.

My advice, do what matters to you. If you do that, and a university doesn’t accept you, it’s their loss. Successful people can be successful in a variety of places.

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This. :point_up:

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IME, my FRC experience didn’t help all that much in college apps, but I also ended up in a nearly guaranteed transfer pipeline from the local community college to the local state university. I did, however, find that it made me extremely well-prepared for internships (in embedded networked hardware devices).

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Short answer: No, it didn’t help me.
Long answer: It might have helped me.

In my case, the university I attended did not ask for essays. It didn’t read recommendation letters. The activities section of the application didn’t allow for more than the name of the activity (no description/explanation). I was a number in a spreadsheet. My GPA was multipled by some factor which was then added with my test scores also multipled by some factor. I was then sorted on a spreadsheet, and because I was in the top x% of applicants based on that formula alone, I was admitted.

I could actually argue FIRST made it harder for me to get in. My GPA certainly suffered in high school because of my time in FIRST, and my test scores probably could have been higher with more time devoted to studying instead of playing with robots.

But in another sense, FIRST taught me how to think and how to solve problems. Even though I say FRC brought down my GPA, there are plenty of counterexamples of ways that FIRST helped me do better in classes. It’s hard to quantify the impact of FIRST on my GPA and test scores, really, which in my case is all that mattered.

Schools are decreasingly focusing on GPAs and scores only. Even my alma mater, a huge public university, started shifting to a more holistic approach during the pandemic.


Separately, though, I don’t really care that FIRST probably hurt more than it helped with my college admissions process.

Why? Because I was much more successful once I got there than I would have been without FIRST. Knowing how to interact with an interdisciplinary team, solve problems, and think creatively is invaluable.

With college and a handful of jobs under my belt, I can also say that I’m much further along in my career than I expected at twenty-something, and I attribute much if that to FIRST, too. My peers from high school and college that didn’t do FIRST or other really great youth programs are clearly a couple steps behind. I have lots of friends doing lots of great things, but by and large the ones with the most impactful roles, job satisfaction, and leadership potential are FIRST Alumni.

Give now, or whatever.

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A clarification:

Most universities are not expecting extremely well-rounded students, they want an extremely well-rounded student body. This means that they don’t expect students to have a wide variety of talents, in fact often they would rather a student excel in their niche than be the jack of all trades and master of none.

Use FIRST as a way of showing what you’ve worked on. Your projects and what you’ve learned from them are how you differentiate yourself from other candidates outside of academics.

Source: Uncle works admissions at top tier school (no, it didn’t help me :frowning: )

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I went to a top 50 university. I’m not really sure why I put so much effort into doing that, and it is one of the bigger regrets I have. I don’t think there is anything especially invaluable about an undergraduate education at an “elite” school, in particular if you are studying a discipline where you intend to go straight to the workforce after your bachelor’s.

Get the best grades you can, don’t compromise that too much. Grades are important. But otherwise, like, enrich yourself how you best see fit (though, be mature about it when deciding what “best see fit” means). Also, don’t go into debt. Also, don’t go to RPI.

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