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Fargo student with endless elite college options decides to head west

Fargo North senior Martin Altenburg has selected Stanford as his college of choice to continue his education after being accepted to many of the top schools in the nation. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 2
Fargo North High School senior Martin Altenburg, after being offered entry to all of the Ivy League colleges and several other top universities, has chosen Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., to continue his academic career in fall 2017. Helmut Schmidt / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — Stanford University has won the heart of one of the best young minds in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Martin Altenburg, an 18-year-old senior at Fargo North High School, was accepted to all eight of the elite Ivy League schools, University of Chicago, California Institute of Technology, and several other top-flight institutions.

Acceptance at each of the Ivy League schools, which have some of America's choosiest admissions standards, is a rare academic feat that's drawn some national attention.

But leading the pack were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, Altenburg said. Decision day was Monday, May 1, and he picked Stanford to be the place he'd not only grow academically, but find himself as a person in California.

"If I went to MIT, I felt like I'd continue having the same personality," Altenburg said this week. "If I went to Stanford, I could take some time to find out who I am as a person."

He wants to study engineering—perhaps biological engineering—but he is still undecided.

His dreams include starting his own company.

"It would be really cool if I could be like a biomedical entrepreneur, just make things, engineer things," Altenburg said.

Other schools that wanted him on campus this fall were Rice University, the University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University, where Altenburg has already been taking classes, such as Calculus III.

But it was securing admission at all the Ivy schools that led to two stories about Altenburg on CNN. Business Insider, a news website, published his application essay in full, a description of his train of thought while on an eight-mile run that touches on violin concertos, "passive racism" and the bittersweet prospect of leaving his hometown.

His resume is as overflowing as his inbox.

While he enjoys math and physics, Altenburg also excels in music. He plays violin in the North orchestra and is the concertmaster. He also plays in the school's chamber orchestra, and Fargo Moorhead Area Youth Symphonies.

In the fall, he runs cross country. In the winter, he's on the swim team. This spring, he's running track.

He's on the student council, served as lieutenant governor for Key Club, is president of the school's environmental club, a past president of the Spanish Club, acts as a team captain in Science Olympiad and takes part in math competitions.

He also helped found the Fargo Youth Initiative.

Doing more than schoolwork has "made the high school experience more fun," he said.

His mother, Kris Altenburg, said she saw her son's promise early, particularly in mathematics. As a young boy, he'd read math textbooks in the basement, according to one of the CNN stories.

"I knew that he was going to excel and do really well," she said. "We knew he was gifted from a young age.

He's like a typical teen when it comes to keeping his room clean, she said, but his school work has always been "very organized," as was his college search.

"He just kind of would come out and say I'm going to visit CalTech in two weeks, that sort of thing," she said. "Those kind of things didn't surprise me."

In his junior year, Altenburg said he took five Advanced Placement classes and studied on his own for a sixth. He ended up earning top scores of 5 on each exam to earn college credit. On his ACT test, he scored a 35 out of a possible 36.

He's now busy catching up on the coursework he missed while visiting schools, as well as taking several more Advanced Placement exams.

When those are out of the way, "It will be sort of fun. I'll go to high school for fun. It's like a lot of the last four years I've been focusing a lot on academics," Altenburg said.

But the big decision, the stressful decision, is out of the way.

Stanford is his next step in his journey of discovery.

"I think in the end I made the right decision," Altenburg said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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