Fargo North High School senior Martin Altenburg is an outlier among the class of recently accepted college students.
The 17-year-old North Dakotan went into admissions season unsure how many Ivy League schools might accept him.
He already had an inclination that good things may be ahead after he applied early to Stanford and was accepted. Next came likely letters — an early notification of acceptance for regular decision students — from Harvard, Columbia, and Brown.
So as he began opening his remaining five Ivy League decision letters on a bus ride back from a science Olympiad tournament last Thursday, anticipation began to mount. Letter after letter confirmed his acceptance. When he got to the last letter, from Yale University, the entire bus took note.
“Everyone was looking over me on the back of the bus when I opened it,” Altenburg told Business Insider. “They have the little bulldog video that they play when you get in and everyone sort of went crazy,” he continued.
In addition to the eight Ivies, Altenburg was also accepted at Stanford University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The California Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago.
Attending a college outside of North Dakota — let alone an Ivy League school — wasn’t even on his radar at the start of high school.
“Originally my parents didn’t want me to apply to these schools because they thought we’d have to pay full price which, at a lot of these schools, is more than our yearly income,” he said.
Financial obstacles weren’t the only hindrance to him setting his sights on top colleges. Because he didn’t have much exposure to information about top colleges, or reassurance that he and students just like him could do well in college, early in high school he never even considered he could go.
But after gaining knowledge about the admissions process and confidence that not only could he attend a prestigious school, but excel at one, he set his sights as high as he could, applying to some of the best colleges in the world.
“We’re sort of a low-income family and so I wanted to push myself to see where I could be able to see the world, be able to get a job that allows me to understand how the world works, and make a really big difference,” he said.
Altenburg also has a voracious appetite for learning, and has scored a 5 — the highest mark achievable — on every single Advanced Placement exam he’s taken, which include biology, European history, human geography, English language, Calculus AB, and chemistry, to name a few.
“I like taking the AP exams and studying for them because it’s a lot like a college environment where you learn how to study like a college student,” he said.
When Altenburg ran out of maths courses available at his high school, he took Calculus II at MIT his junior summer in a program called Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES). In the fall semester of his senior year, he took Calculus III at a local college in his area.
Altenburg scored a 35 out of 36 on the ACT and a 1510 on the SAT, though he didn’t use his SAT score on his applications.
In addition to all of this, Altenburg plays the violin and thinks he may minor in music while at college. He competes as a three-sport athlete in cross country, track, and swimming.
As the school year winds down, Altenburg must now decide which of the schools to attend. His top contenders are Harvard, Princeton, MIT, and Stanford.
In addition to finding a school that will help him explore his academic interests, he’s looking for the school that will be the right fit.
“I know in high school I’m sort of an outlier in terms of my interests and my motivations, and I really want to find a community in college where I’m able to relate to having a passion for environmentalism and the sciences,” Altenburg said.
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