About me: an overview of my application


Brinda Ambal

At the expense of sounding arrogant, I won the game without playing the game.

I should preface this section by saying that I don’t intend for this to be a brag fest in which I encourage others to compare themselves to me or anyone else. I’m sure there are “less impressive looking” applicants who were admitted to schools I didn’t get into and vice versa. Besides, I would hardly consider one’s college application to be an optimal predictor of “real world potential” beyond high school. I’m including this chapter for no reason than to give you a better picture of my high school track record and where I’m coming from, so as to provide some sort of filter through which you can view the rest of this guide. One other note is that this is by no means an exhaustive list of my application information — I’m not going to publish my essays, for example — but I believe the content herein is thorough without taking up too much of your time.


  • Straight, white, cis male
  • Middle/upper-middle class family with two college-educated parents
  • Attended a public high school in an affluent suburban area; school offers almost every AP course and sends students to elite colleges every year


  • GPA: 4.351 weighted, 4.000 unweighted when applying (graduated with 4.413/4.000)
  • Class rank: N/A (Parkway does not rank students)
  • ACT
    • My plan last year was to take the ACT in February without much preparation, then to study for the in-school April test. Welp, we saw how the second half of that plan worked out.
    • Times taken: once
    • Composite score: 33
    • Section scores: English: 35, Reading: 35, Math: 33, Science: 30
    • Applied test-optional?: No, I sent my test scores to every school I applied to.
    • For more on test scores, you can read my post here.
  • PSAT
    • Total score: 1450/1520
    • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: 690/760
    • Math: 760/760
    • National Merit Semifinalist (named a finalist since then)
  • AP exams
    • 2017 – United States History: 5
    • 2018 – Human Geography: 5
    • 2019 – World History: 5
    • 2020 – English Language and Composition: 5
    • 2020 – Statistics: 5
    • 2020 – United States Government and Politics: 5

Course schedule

Note: I took all of these classes for regular, unweighted credit unless they are labeled as an honors or AP course. The only exception to this is journalism, which has an honors grading option for upper-level students.

  • Seventh grade
    • Algebra 1
  • Eighth grade
    • Honors Modern U.S. History
    • Geometry A
    • Spanish 1
  • Freshman year
    • Core classes
      • AP Human Geography
      • Honors English 1
      • Algebra 2 with Trigonometry
      • Chemistry: Matter and Change (single semester)
      • Physics: Forces and Motion (single semester)
    • Electives
      • Spanish 2
      • Newspaper 1
      • Improvisational Theatre (single semester)
      • Physical Fitness Concepts (single semester)
  • Sophomore year
    • Core classes
      • AP World History
      • Honors English 2
      • Pre-Calculus
      • Biology 1: Cells and Variation (single semester)
      • Biology 2: Evolution and Ecology (single semester)
    • Electives
      • Spanish 3
      • Convergence Journalism 2
      • Actors’ Studio 1 (single semester)
      • Competitive Speech and Debate (single semester)
  • Junior year
    • Core classes
      • AP English Language and Composition
      • AP Statistics
      • AP United States Government and Politics (single semester)
      • Chemistry
    •  Electives
      • Spanish 4
      • Convergence Journalism 3
      • Cadet Teaching: Journalism
      • Advanced Competitive Speech and Debate (single semester)
      • Health and Wellness (single semester during the summer)
  • Senior year
    • Core classes
      • AP English Literature and Composition
      • AP Macroeconomics (single semester)
      • AP Microeconomics (single semester)
      • AP Comparative Government and Politics (single semester)
    • Electives
      • Honors Spanish 5 (prepares students for the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam)
      • Convergence Journalism 4
      • Independent Study: Journalism
      • Yoga For Fitness and Wellbeing (single semester)

Extracurricular activities

For information on crafting your own extracurricular activities section for the Common App, you can read my post here.

  • Speech and debate
    • Team captain and elected executive board officer
    • National Speech & Debate Tournament quarterfinalist in congressional debate
    • National Speech & Debate Association Degree of Superior Distinction (achieved at 750 merit points)
  • Newspaper
    • Managing Editor-in-Chief of the Pathfinder
    • Whatever awards Mrs. Klevens tells us to add to this webpage: some fairly prestigious national and international high school journalism accolades
    • Third place in the Missouri Journalism Education Association’s Feature Video Story of the Year contest
    • Three-time Best of School Newspapers Online awardee for individual story-writing excellence
  • Sportswriting
    • Paid staff writer covering St. Louis Cardinals news and statistical analysis for SB Nation’s Viva El Birdos website
    • I don’t know if I’m supposed to publicly share our site traffic data, so I’ll err on the side of caution.
    • Published articles cited by ESPN Radio and CBS Sports
    • Invited by the Cardinals to an interview event with President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and Team President Bill DeWitt III
  • Theatre
    • Improv team captain and theatre department officer
    • International Thespian Society 5-Star Thespian
    • Missouri State Thespians Honor Troupe
  • Mental health advocacy
    • Reached out to and met with Missouri State Senator Jill Schupp to develop statewide mental health and suicide prevention policy, including the establishment of a mental and emotional health education pilot program in elementary schools
  • Accomplishments since applying (Note: Many of these occurred after schools I applied to released their admissions decisions, so you can disregard them. These might be things I would ask to be added to my file if I were waitlisted (see this section for more information) at a school I wanted to attend, but since I was already accepted to Rice and set on enrolling there, this became a moot point.)
    • National Speech & Debate Tournament qualifier in policy debate (students are only allowed to compete at nationals in one event, but I also performed well enough to qualify in United States extemporaneous speaking and congressional debate)
    • MSHSAA State Championship quarterfinalist in policy debate
    • National Speech & Debate Association Degree of Outstanding Distinction (achieved at 1,000 merit points)
    • Second place in Quill & Scroll’s Audio Podcast Single Episode contest; honorable mention in the Review Writing category
    • Second place in the Missouri Journalism Education Association’s Opinion Story of the Year contest

Closing thoughts

I don’t know if this looks scary or not. I mean, it probably does since this entire process can be terrifying, but I hope this section provides a little perspective. Even as a junior, a time when many students make a last-ditch effort to max out their schedule, I only juggled two honors/AP classes, English Language and Statistics, during first semester and three, U.S. Government as well, during second semester. The accelerated courses I did take were out of genuine interest in those subjects. Similarly, you won’t find a single extracurricular activity on my Common Application that was motivated by college admissions. Rather, I trusted my support system, abilities and natural curiosity to facilitate more valuable intellectual and personal growth. 

Notice how all of my extracurriculars “match up” with classes on my high school transcript. I didn’t hatch some mastermind plan in the name of college app continuity; I just explored things that I thought were fun and interesting. I’m pleased with my four T30 (universities with a top-30 ranking) acceptances not only because I have amazing schools to pick from, but because I believe they validate my philosophy even for those operating under an “elite school or bust” framework. At the expense of sounding arrogant, I won the game without playing the game. For all I know, I could be an extreme outlier in that sense, but getting the best of both worlds is possible. An engaging high school experience and successful college admissions cycle are not mutually exclusive.