A moment of perfection

Planning, hard work helps Andy Ylitalo ace his ACT exam


Stillwater Area High School Senior Andy Ylitalo achieved a moment of perfection this year. He scored a perfect 36 on his ACT.

According to Ylitalo’s letter from ACT, a perfect score is very rare and on average, fewer than one-tenth of one percent of all test takers earn the top score. Among ACT-tested U.S. high school graduates in the class of 2011, only 704 out of more than 1.6 million students earned the composite score of 36.

Ylitalo was pretty happy about it.

“It’s a nice shimmer on my resume and it’s a nice memento of a moment of perfection,” he said. “Other than being a novelty, I knew it would be a huge help for college applications and I was really relieved. A lot of colleges place so much emphasis on grades and scores and it helps access a lot of these schools.”

To get the perfect score, Ylitalo put in hard work and a little planning. He took the test in eighth grade, when the score wouldn’t count to see what his strengths and weaknesses were so he could improve them.

Ylitalo’s strengths were in math and science due to his participation on math team and love of science.

“I realized that I’d have to read faster. So over the years I’ve taken AP English classes which gave me lots of textbooks that you’d have to plow through and comprehend,” Ylitalo said. “In 11th grade I realized I’d mostly gotten better at the skills I was lacking in eighth grade. By the time I took it this year I had finished all my other standardized tests and was kind of synced-in to the timed test zone.”

The perfect score, along with his other activities could open many doors for Ylitalo going forward.

He plays the alto sax in jazz and concert bands, coaches a junior high math team, is captain of the SAHS science bowl team and currently participates in the University of Minnesota’s talented youth math program.

Ylitalo finished that program last year, but it offered another class this year he decided to take to spend some more time with the other students in the program.

“It’s a math class for mathematicians and it’s about the mathematics of counting. It’s kind of cool, for me at least,” Ylitalo said.

Ylitalo’s post-high school plans include college and graduate school. He’s already been accepted at the U of M and he hopes to get into Stanford. He expects to hear back today from the Palo Alto, Calif., school.

“Stanford is my number one choice right now, but I plan on applying to others just to make sure I have options. I want to be 100 percent sure of my decision going forward,” he said.

In college Ylitalo hopes to pursue a career in some science or math-related field.

“I’m thinking about going into chemical engineering or some other engineering-related program, maybe something in physics,” he said. “It would be cool to get a second major or minor in math because it’s been such a major component of my life and I’d like to study beyond what I need to.”

Ylitalo plans on going to grad school to pursue a career in research, though he’s not completely sure which research path he’d choose.

“I couldn’t say anything in particular because I don’t know how my interests will change in 10 years. But at the moment I’m really enjoying my research at the U of M on nanostructures,” he said. “I’m looking at compounds at the atomic level and learning how to manipulate tiny structures and finding out what will happen. There’s a lot of research that goes in to it because you need to be so precise to get the end result. But I think it’s fascinating how the world works.”

His tips for others about to take the ACT: take it early, identify what you need to work on and study hard in those areas that give you the most trouble.