Question: Given good grades and test scores and active participation in several extracurriculars, is being a girl any advantage when applying to top engineering schools?
Being a girl should indeed give you an advantage at top engineering schools. For instance, for the fall of 2003, MIT had 10,549 applicants. Of these, only 2,898 were female. MIT accepted 29.3% of its female candidates but only 11.6 % of the males.
That same year, Cal Tech admitted 27.6% of its female applicants, compared to 14% of the males. Male applicants outnumbered the women about 4 to 1.
Then there's Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Smith has the only engineering program in the nation that's exclusively for women. At Smith, being a girl really helps. :-)