Making Your NCSSM Application Count

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics is a prestigious public school that offers residential, online, and summer enrichment programs. As the application for these opportunities are now open, how can you ensure your acceptance? In a recent BeyondDreams webinar, NCSSM students Uma Volety, Caroline Miranda, Parker Stiles, Michael Ferguson, and Sashank Ganapathiraju shared their experience at the school and gave advice on how to make your application count. The full webinar is posted on the BeyondDreams YouTube channel, but here are a few summarized tips and tricks!

The Life of an NCSSM Student

During times before COVID-19, students attending the NCSSM residential program resided on their campus. Parker Stiles illustrated his regular day, in which he would usually wake up at 8 and eat breakfast at the cafeteria. He attends classes in the morning and afternoon with a lunch break in between. Parker explains that a lot of NCSSM classes are college-level even though they do not have the Advanced Placement name, so there is no need to worry about taking a lot of AP classes! After school, he works on homework, hangs out with friends, and plays pool or ping pong. He says that the NCSSM community is close since everyone has difficult classes, so it is common to see friends studying together. Parker sometimes goes for a run and grabs something to eat at one of the restaurants nearby. You must be in your room by 10 P.M., which is when Parker would finish his homework and go to bed.

As for the NCSSM online program, Sashank Ganapathiraju explained, “You usually take 1 or 2 extra online classes while continuing your normal school classes.” Since the program consists of weekly online meetings with the class, it is not necessarily a daily commitment. Your workload is dependent on your teacher and the class you are taking. NCSSM offers a variety of online courses, including humanities, computer, and even music classes.

The Differences Between the NCSSM Residential and NCSSM Online Program Applications

The entire residential program occurs on the NCSSM campus. If you are ready to meet new people, are interested in going to a boarding school for your 11th and 12th-grade years, and are excited to learn a lot, the residential program is right for you!

The online program allows you to stay at the same high school you currently go to and gives a few additional NCSSM classes online. In this program, you will still be able to connect with your classmates. Over a few weekends, online students get to go to the NCSSM campus to do labs and other activities relating to the classes you are in. If you like your friends and environment at home but still want to be challenged by NCSSM’s rigor, then the online program is great for you!

Truly think about what you want to do and what you want to get out of these programs to decide between the programs. The application for the NCSSM residential and online programs are the same, so if you are unsure about which to choose, you can apply for both! It is not necessarily easier to get into one program or the other, as both are hyper-competitive.

The Differences Between NCSSM and NCSSM Summer Ventures Applications

While the NCSSM residential and online programs are year-long, Summer Ventures is a four-week residential program on North Carolina campuses including Appalachian State, UNC-Charlotte, and East Carolina University. You get to do research in your selected field and present it at the end alongside 10-15 other students.

The admissions team for NCSSM is completely different from Summer Ventures since they are separate programs. Therefore, you can modify an essay from one program to use it in another. While you can attend the NCSSM online program and Summer Ventures, you cannot attend Summer Ventures with the residential program.

Requirements to the NCSSM Application

Although the requirements of the NCSSM application are relatively similar every year, they may have some differences depending on the decisions of the admissions department. For example, Uma Volety said that her application last year consisted of 6 essays, while this year has 3 essays. The essay questions are designed to get to know you better and may be similar to:

  • Why do you need to be at NCSSM?

  • What is your favorite STEM subject and why?

  • Tell us more about yourself!

As for the extracurriculars and leadership sections, Caroline Miranda recommended to only list (not essay form) the activities that you have done in or after 7th grade and emphasize your freshman and sophomore years. The admissions committee loves to see consistency since it shows that you are interested in something and are willing to commit time. Try to focus not only on your STEM activities but also other activities to show that you are well-rounded.


It is easy to procrastinate the daunting NCSSM application, but Michael Ferguson strongly advised to start it as early as you can! To begin writing your essay, first brainstorm a topic. Do not write your resume in essay form, since the admissions committee can already see that under the extracurriculars and awards section. Instead, take the essays as an opportunity to reflect on what you did. Talk about skills you learned through doing something you are passionate about, how it has changed you, and how this is related to who you are as a student.

It helps to create a cohesive storyline throughout all of your essays by relating them to each other. Doing so will increase your chances of the admissions committee understanding a more holistic view of who you are.

Sashank Ganapathiraju explained that rather than focusing on the length of the essay, you should focus on the quality of it. Ask yourself,

  • Does your essay answer the question to your fullest extent?

  • Does your essay do a good job of showcasing who you are?

The length of the essay will come naturally if these questions are fulfilled. Your first draft is not going to be perfect, so putting the effort into editing and rewriting it will certainly pay off. Remember to add a personal touch to your essay and make sure it sounds like you by trying to avoid general statements.

Using the SAT and ACT to Your Advantage in Your NCSSM Application

Although standardized testing was removed from the application requirements this year due to COVID-19, it may prove relevant for students thinking of applying in 2022 or beyond. Parker Stiles explained that your test score is compared to your home high school. If your test score is higher than your school’s average, it shows that you are excelling at that school and proves that you are ready for the extra challenge provided at NCSSM. You do not need a perfect SAT score to get in!

Uma Volety recommended taking both the SAT and ACT to see which one suits you better. Try taking the tests earlier since it will give you more time to retake them if you need to. NCSSM does accept superscoring, so be sure to use that to your advantage!

How to be the Best NCSSM Applicant in Your District

NCSSM accepts a certain number of people from each district, so you are only competing with people in your congressional district. This makes it more competitive in places with higher populations, like Wake County or the RTP area. However, this is nothing to stress about because NCSSM tends to accept more people from an area with a higher population. If you are rejected, do not worry! You have the option to be added to the waitlist, and Uma was accepted after being added to it!

Tips to Becoming a Competitive Applicant for NCSSM

Most NCSSM applicants are straight-A students. However, Parker Stiles explained that statistics and grades cannot set you apart, so your essay will be extremely important. In you