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    #247306 - 07/08/20 02:14 PM Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out?
    Anisotropic Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 12/09/18
    Posts: 20
    I posted here last year about some unusual test scores and the difficulty I was having with interpreting them. A lot of things have happened since then and I feel like I may need some more advice.
    College admissions turned out to be a disaster. I think I've got a pretty good idea of what went wrong, but I've not been able to stop beating myself up over the results. Clearly they indicate either that I'm unintelligent or that I'm intelligent but will never be given the chance to prove it.
    I applied to a total of nine universities: Brown, Caltech, Harvey Mudd, NYU, UChicago, UW, MIT, UCLA, and UC Berkeley. I was accepted to only three: UW, NYU, and UCLA.
    I think my error was failing to appear human. I had very few ECs and only a handful of volunteer hours. I wrote my essays about my passion for math and desire to share the beauty of math with others by becoming a professor. Although at the time of my last post I had planned to go into physics, my interest has since shifted towards applied math (since math has applications both in physics and elsewhere).
    This is just the latest installment in a dreadfully long personal history of failure. I was never recognized as gifted because the district didn't look at individual IQ results. I applied to the Robinson Center's UW Academy program for early college only to be rejected once again. I had a 36 on the ACT and the highest score from any student accepted that year was a 35. My physics teacher even wrote in his letter of recommendation about going over quantum mechanics with me and that he "[had] a master's degree in physics and [had] nothing more to teach [me]." I applied to three summer programs after my junior year - RSI, SSP Astrophysics, and PROMYS. I was rejected from the first two and waitlisted at the last. Eventually they took me off the waitlist and accepted me into the program. I attended and enjoyed it greatly, but I still feel it would've been better to get some additional research experience than to just learn more number theory, modern algebra, and combinatorics.
    One thing I did enjoy about the last year was discovering the option to take classes as a non-matriculated student at UW. In addition to PDEs, I also took courses in fluid dynamics, stochastic modeling, Chinese linguistics, thermodynamics, advanced stochastic processes, optimization theory/convex analysis, and dynamical systems. The way I approached the work wasn't very healthy though. I'd take notes but never study them, and I'd wait until the day before homework was due to work on it and then grind out page after page of LaTeX into the early hours of the morning. This worked for me until very recently - I didn't receive any grades below 4.0.
    It eventually became quite galling to compare my results in these classes to college results. There were graduate students in my fluid dynamics class, for example, who'd gone to Caltech, MIT, and numerous other top undergrad schools. Yet I'd always receive the highest test scores in the class by a significant margin. The average on the final was 77.6% and I scored 100%. Taking twice as many credits as the threshold for full-time enrollment status didn't push me.
    There was also a problem connecting with the other students. In many of these classes the majority were working on their PhDs and 7 or more years older than me. That's a huge gap in life experience. And especially difficult to bridge for a student who's only on campus for a small fraction of the day.
    Caltech hurt the most. My fluid dynamics professor had gone there for his undergrad and master's degrees and strongly recommended the school to me. He wrote my recommendation. It seemed he was happy that it would be such a good fit. Then they didn't take me.
    I tried to kill myself the day I received the news. Emptied a bottle of antidepressants. That put me in the hospital for a few days.
    Since then I don't think I've been dealing effectively with anything. I took my final exam for dynamical systems shortly after that and managed again to obtain the highest score in the class, but I'm now worried that I may have damaged my brain to the point of not being able to do math anymore. I resorted to using quite a few substances (alcohol, cannabis, DXM, DMT, salvia, kratom, LSA, nitrous oxide, and solvents) as a form of escapism. My parents found me on a couple of occasions passed out with a bottle - once covered in vomit. DXM put me in the hospital again (accidentally this time) when I took over a gram and went into acute urinary retention. The only one I'm still using at this point is kratom, which I started as a form of self-medication. I kept feeling this persistent ache in my chest that kratom helped to numb. I've just gotten a prescription for antidepressants that I hope to replace it with. There are some things I'm even less proud of doing and don't care to share.
    With all these disruptions, I was unfortunately unable to register for classes at UW for Spring quarter. I'm disappointed since I particularly wanted to do one pure math course in analysis on manifolds, but I'm probably not smart enough anymore to understand it.
    I'd begun work on a very interesting research project (modeling optimal proliferation of Chlamydia with tools from stochastic control - especially interesting since it drew on some of the material I'd learned in molecular bio) with one of my professors last year but stopped sending my progress on it after I received college results. There's probably no opportunity to resume.
    I stopped working on my classwork too. I never finished optimization or advanced stochastic processes. I took incompletes in the classes but couldn't bring myself to slave away for such a travesty of a future. Now I've failed both.
    Being chosen as a Semifinalist for US Presidential Scholar helped to boost my self-esteem temporarily but the inevitable elimination in the final round only reminded me that I'll never achieve anything worthwhile.
    There's one person I've met who actually seems to understand me. I have a rather close relationship with her, which I might like to make closer, but it's probably impossible. And that hurts me more than anything else. I've joined the Triple Nine Society in hopes of finding somebody else to talk to but I doubt that'll work.
    I've also been wondering if I had an even cognitive profile all along but ASD masked it. I know that a lot of the hobbyist "high-range" tests are extremely inaccurate, but I've taken a few for fun and almost always managed to get either the highest or second highest score (not mattering whether they were verbal or spatial). The theoretical scores I've gotten on these are usually around 170 - likely inflated in almost every case but suggesting at least that my verbal and nonverbal abilities aren't too far apart. As far as CPI goes, I've taken both the auditory digit span test at (12 forward, 10 reverse, 10 sequenced on first attempt) and the symbol search and digit-symbol substitution tasks on (78 raw SS, 141 raw substitution).
    I don't want to go to college at 18. It's a sick joke. I taught myself calculus when I was 12 and scored a 2380 on a practice SAT in 8th grade. If only I'd signed up to take it officially through a talent search, perhaps I'd be better off now. But I can just picture the school telling me I'm too stupid for that.
    What do I do now? I'm trying out a new therapist - my last didn't really work that well. Do I go to university? Do I try to salvage my chance with UCLA? Do I go to community college? 90% of me just wants to turn my back on academia forever and never look back.
    "The thing that doesn't fit is the most interesting."
    -Richard Feynman

    #247307 - 07/08/20 04:24 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    aeh Offline

    Registered: 04/26/14
    Posts: 3990
    Nice to hear from you again, but sorry it's in response to some disappointments you've experienced.

    You raise a lot of questions, which I'll try to respond to, not necessarily in order of presentation or importance (apologies in advance for any I might miss or answer incompletely).

    On a practical level, I think looking for a better therapist match is an excellent idea, and likely one of the most critical actions you can engage in it at this moment in your life.

    With regard to what you do next regarding school, you have many options, most of which maintain pathways to your future goals. You have acceptances to three highly-regarded major research universities (from what I understand), and goals that will probably require graduate studies. Attending one of these universities for your bachelor's degree would be as good of preparation for acceptance into a top-tier graduate program as you make it. You could also apply for transfer into a desired university some time before you have completed sophomore year-level credits. IOW, you don't need to be in an elite university this fall (especially as a member of the class of 2024, where most of the schools you listed--including the ones to which you were not accepted--have already decided that they will be predominantly or entirely online this coming school year), in order to achieve your goals.

    I understand that one of your particular concerns is that even university will be insufficiently challenging academically. That would be a conversation to have (respectfully, of course) with your college advisor, including discussions regarding the level of, and how well you were performing in, your research and coursework prior to (and even after) a mental health crisis. It may be possible to explore connecting with a faculty member in the mathematics or applied mathematics departments to request an override into higher levels of math coursework than typically expected for freshman, perhaps supported by letters of reference from your past professors, or sample work from courses you have taken either for credit or even incompletely. They may be able to offer you placement testing, or course credit or placement by testing out. You may feel that the rupture in your educational path that occurred this spring (which you attribute to your reaction to admissions decisions) negates your other accomplishments in the eyes of others. Please remember that nearly every student on the planet experienced massive disruptions to their education this spring, so faculty members and university programs are likely to be somewhat more open to extenuating circumstances this admissions season.

    With regard to your native and current cognitive ability, I would reassure you first, not to jump to conclusions that you have injured your capacity with your recent substance use. At the same time, I obviously cannot understate the risk to yourself and others involved in misuse of psychoactive substances. Further, please make sure your prescriber is fully aware of any other psychoactives (and preferably discontinue their use) prior to starting your antidepressants, as the risk of drug interactions is not one you want to run. As to your level of cognitive function, we have previously discussed the possibility of increases in formal IQ scores in persons with ASD, due to increasing testability. Certainly, that is a distinct possibility in your case. We have also discussed the greater value in actual performance than in predicted performance; your level of academic achievement clearly exceeds your predicted achievement based on very early (and likely low confidence) formal cognitive assessments. This is probably not worth additional anxiety.

    Finally, circling back to an earlier thought, you may wish to consider where you will have the best support system (i.e., at UCLA, at UW, at NYU, in a CC, exploring your own interests while holding a job to meet basic life functions, focusing on your mental health, etc.) for optimal function in all aspects of your humanity. I don't know what supports you would have available to you in each of the options you have, of course; I would strongly encourage you to make assessing that part of your decision-making process.

    ...pronounced like the long vowel and first letter of the alphabet...

    #247308 - 07/08/20 04:29 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    Eagle Mum Online   content

    Registered: 02/24/20
    Posts: 175
    Loc: Australia
    Clearly, you do have talent in your chosen fields of study. However talented the majority of us are, thereíll usually be someone more talented (often theyíll have had more opportunities or advantages too). I was quite talented in maths too, but after meeting Terry Tao as a child prodigy and also missing out on the Olympiad team (like you, I didnít have any help, whereas most of the others had various advantages), I did give up on my dream of a maths related career. Whilst my profession wasnít what I would have chosen, through discipline & hard work, Iíve still been able to carve quite a successful & rewarding career out of it.

    DH had an even greater struggle through high school & Uni, with little to no parental support and worked at many jobs whilst he studied. He has very much earned his professional & academic success.

    From your detailed post, you have already gained a lot of useful knowledge and skills in applied maths related fields. I can see some very useful applications for such skills - for example in vaccine development, where the understanding of both topological maths as well as molecular biology would be extremely useful for the absolute accuracy required to target a specific immunological response. There is a wealth of opportunities for someone with your emerging set of skills, but rarely does opportunity just knock on oneís door so you do have to proactively seek opportunities in fields which interest you.

    As you are already well aware, recreational substance use will do nothing to help you reach your goals. The benefits & adverse effects of cannabis are widely debated, but thereís no doubt that it can trigger permanent changes in some individuals, although genetic susceptibility is currently poorly understood. Less well appreciated but very well understood is the effect of nitrous oxide on the cobalt oxidation state in cobalamin which results in Vit B12 functional deficiency, which can insidiously cause neurological damage. At this stage, I suspect most of the effects of these substances would be short lived, but I strongly urge you to discontinue these practices.

    The world is ever changing. Whilst Big Business has unfortunately dictated how much of and how the world economy is spent on R & D, the Internet enables new ways of learning & collaboration and technology such as 3D printing enables quick prototype construction & proof of concept development. Itís up to you how to navigate this to achieve your goals.

    Edited by Eagle Mum (07/09/20 05:38 AM)

    #247309 - 07/08/20 08:40 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    Anisotropic Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 12/09/18
    Posts: 20
    I just don't know.
    I don't think I'll realistically be able to try in a college environment now. It's clear to me that I'm immensely inferior to everybody else who'll be trying to get research appointments, or into grad school, or eventually tenure.
    It's clear that I've somehow managed to compensate for a lack of real ability with dumb luck and occasional strategy but that I was finally exposed for a fraud.
    Though I know it's stupid, part of me wants to spite the system as well. I know I harm only myself by not doing what I want to do. But I just feel like a marionette dancing a twisted jig for gatekeeper after gatekeeper, and my performances are never good enough.
    And the only person I can talk to who understands is so far away.
    We can't change the past. We can only choose how to act for the future. But I'd rather invest no effort than full effort if all full effort ever gets me is 20000th place.
    I am also unsure whether it will actually be possible for me to continue on to college. I had planned to finish two of my graduation requirements for high school in the last two quarters by taking an online positive psychology course and a DE English class at CC. I completed most of the work for English, requested an incomplete for the same reason as in the math classes, and then never submitted my final paper. I haven't checked my grade but it's certain I failed. I haven't even started the psychology class.
    I was sent a diploma with the expectation that I'd order a transcript from CC shortly to document completion of requirements. I'm sure that diploma will be revoked.
    "The thing that doesn't fit is the most interesting."
    -Richard Feynman

    #247310 - 07/08/20 09:15 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    MumOfThree Offline

    Registered: 04/07/11
    Posts: 1694
    Loc: Australia
    I feel that you have received two replies far more useful than I can give you, but I wanted to respond because you are so clearly suffering so much at the moment and it is a wonderful thing that you are reaching out.

    It's incredibly difficult to feel so out of step with the world, so out of place. The advice I give my children, and tell myself when worrying about my children, is that primary school is the worst thing, high school is better, upper highschool is better again. University is better, work is better again. The further you travel through your education and into work, the more you will be with people more like yourself: with similar interests, who actually chose to be here doing this thing. This was true for my husband and I, it has been true for my eldest child (so far), who now supports this sentiment when talking with siblings.

    The more different you are, the longer it may be before you find a place/people that is really comfortable. But do not underestimate what a jump it can be just to get out of school and to university, even if it is not the one you had hoped for.

    It is incredibly frustrating to feel held back, that you are not being challenged. Starting school can be especially awful for highly gifted children who can't understand why they are so out of step and why they hate school so much. Now that you are older you have more executive function to bring to bear on the situation, you can make your own choices about what to persist with : because it's the path to your personal goals. It is easier for you now as a young adult than as a small child to be aware of your frustration and make active choices to do what must be done for now, while working on getting more advanced options as AEH has suggested you do, always looking forward, one way or another, to real challenges that can only be reached by building a pathway. I am not saying it will be actually easy, but only that you can at least now understand what is happening to you and bring your considerable intellect to bear on your own situation, thus making choices about how to best reach outcomes you can live with, via a process you are willing to put yourself through.

    I guess as a completely out there idea, which may be very difficult to achieve in COVID times, you could also consider applying to overseas schools who consider only academic achievement for entry. I am not in the US and I find your college entry system extremely worrying, I am glad my children will not be faced with an arms race of proving their desirability to universities on so many levels.

    People complain here that it's so unfair that entry is all about your marks and that is too much pressure for high school students, that unis should consider "the whole student". But I look at what US kids need to do to get into competitive courses or institutions and it is SO much worse because all of a sudden "the whole child" is a zero sum game too, not just their academics... My university age child finished highschool, got their final highschool score (and had studied the appropriate pre-requisite subjects at school) and was accepted accordingly to the course of choice at the university of choice. If they had not gotten a high enough mark, they would not have gotten in, it's as simple as that. No letters about why they wanted to go to that uni, no letters of recommendation from teachers, no extra curricular activities, no charity work that looks good on a resume... They did in fact have multiple extra curricular activities and had done some charity work, but the Uni don't know anything about them other than high school grades, and they don't care.

    It's true that socio-economically advantaged children have far more supports in place and so have more chance of the highest marks. But at least there is not the same degree of overt social engineering that US institutions seem to partake in by "curating" their intakes. The more university require things other than academic credentials for entry the harder it is for those with less opportunity to both study and do ECs, charity, start a business and generally promote their "whole person" as worthy of attendance.

    Edited by MumOfThree (07/08/20 09:24 PM)

    #247311 - 07/08/20 09:38 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    Anisotropic Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 12/09/18
    Posts: 20
    The objectivity you mention is exactly why I had considered applying to Cambridge. Ultimately I figured with my application portfolio I would get into at least one American college I wanted to attend (a miscalculation for sure) and that therefore it wouldn't be worth the hassle to apply as an international student and have to acclimatize to another country.
    If I do decide to take a gap year and don't (or can't) defer enrollment at UCLA, that would likely be where I'd look first.
    Our system seems disgraceful to me because it encourages students not to be true to themselves. I doubt most people that age are truly passionate about many of the extracurriculars necessary to cultivate a favorable persona. I did what I did and didn't do what I didn't do out of a genuine passion for learning about math. I figured that if I did well (even if I did well in my own way at my own thing) admission would follow.
    But instead there's a mold I have to conform to.
    "The thing that doesn't fit is the most interesting."
    -Richard Feynman

    #247312 - 07/09/20 07:37 AM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    aeh Offline

    Registered: 04/26/14
    Posts: 3990
    Anisotropic, I took the liberty of exploring the UCLA website a bit, and I think it would make a lot of sense for you to contact their first-year offices (call in for a conversation with a real person, not just their email contact form) and have a conversation. I saw evidence that they would be willing to consider extenuating circumstances with regard to the courses you did not finish this past school year, and that they can work with you on solutions.

    Also, they appear to be planning on mainly online and hybrid classes for the fall, which means there is a good chance you could have a somewhat more flexible college environment.

    And as to some of your perceptions about where you rank intellectually, I would point you to the research on imposter syndrome, with findings that a surprisingly high number of high achieving persons believe (inaccurately) that they are not as qualified for their roles as their peers are, and that "if people only knew," they would be exposed as frauds. Here's a readable and practical lay article on this published recently in Science (AAAS), and written with a target audience of practicing scientists:

    In the small sample of your accomplishments that you have referenced in your communications with us, it is apparent that there are objective, external data that support your high mathematical ability, which is why I maintain that this should not be a concern. It may be, though, that some of the markers you rely on for external validation of your ability are weaker in sensitivity or specificity, or have confounds (e.g., admission to a specific post-secondary institution), but have outsize impact on your perceptions. These are conversations that it might benefit you to have with your therapist, regarding interal and external sources of validation, relative weighting of different data, and developing resilience for unexpected outcomes.

    You have a tremendous amount of potential (based on what you have already accomplished, especially in the face of obstacles), and many possible paths to a fulfilling life of intellectual and relational satisfaction. Whether you enroll in UCLA this fall, or take a gap year, I would encourage you to continue challenging yourself not only intellectually, but also in your understanding of yourself and others.

    ...pronounced like the long vowel and first letter of the alphabet...

    #247313 - 07/09/20 01:21 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    Wren Offline

    Registered: 01/14/08
    Posts: 1685
    At your age I had a great doctor who told me that I needed a therapist who was at least smart enough that I couldn't lie to. I think you need the same thing. Not that I think you are consciously lying. Your brain is very good at managing the excuses. You have some good educational options. For some reasons, you didn't get Caltech. Figure out how to make your life work and the education and career will fall into line. Maybe you will get your PhD in math (and if you like stochastics) you will work on Wall st and make billions. Or apply it and make warp engines. Good luck.

    Edited by Wren (07/09/20 01:22 PM)

    #247314 - 07/09/20 04:54 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: Anisotropic]
    pinewood1 Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 01/25/19
    Posts: 41
    Hi Anisotropic.

    I think you've been sold a narrative that may have been somewhat true in your parents' or grandparents' day, but it isn't true now and hasn't been at least since I was applying to colleges.

    No one is guaranteed a spot at a big-name university. It doesn't matter if you have the writing talent of Shakespeare, the mathematical talent of Gauss, and the musical talent of Mozart all rolled into one. It's a lottery. It says nothing about you that you were rejected from the places you wanted to go.

    I hope you can take a step back from the emotions that are overwhelming you, and realize you aren't alone.

    I'm also a PG person who hit a bad mental health wall and was no longer able to achieve (in my case, my senior year of college). I seriously considered suicide. I had to do a lot of grief work around this - mourn the narrative I was sold that some Amazing Future was due me just because of my intellect, mourn the dreams I'd had of becoming an academic (which is also a lottery now, and no one is guaranteed it), mourn who I was told I was - while working in an exploitative CS job after graduating by the skin of my teeth.

    The narrative that's spun about PG people is a mirage, a castle in the air. We're supposed to be The Future (tm) and Achieve Great Things (tm) - not be regular people with regular pesky human emotions and needs.

    It's better on earth. And you can still achieve things that make you proud after hitting the wall. I promise. "There'll be new dreams, there'll be better dreams, and plenty, before the last revolving year is through." -Joni Mitchell

    If you'd like to talk to me privately, either here or on another platform, I'd be happy to talk to you.

    #247315 - 07/09/20 05:25 PM Re: Taking a Gap Year or Dropping Out? [Re: pinewood1]
    aeh Offline

    Registered: 04/26/14
    Posts: 3990
    If I have never said it to you before, pinewood, I have to tell you now how extraordinarily impressed I am by how you have transformed the very challenging hand you were dealt early in life into strength and compassion as an adult, fully worthy of your promise as a PG child.
    ...pronounced like the long vowel and first letter of the alphabet...

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