This is a guest blog written by an AdmissionsCheckup former Ivy League admissions officer.
As I often tell students who are applying to college: Because you are applying for higher education, which is more school, and you are in school, school is going to be the most important factor in your college application. Not having the following factors in line with the selectivity of a college is going to make admission highly unlikely. All is not lost though – while there are always “Reach” schools for every student, just be sure to have enough “Safeties” and “Targets” to ensure you end up with options that will make you happy.
This will vary by high school and you are always judged within the context of what was available to you and what you did with it. Some students (and parents) wrongly think if they take the least challenging courses and get a high GPA that will impress admissions officers. It won’t. In fact, it was ranked the second most important factor in the most recent National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) survey of admissions officers.
While this might seem obvious, your academic house must be in order. If your grades are not on par with what that college typically admits from your high school, there’s little you can do at the point of your college application to “make up” for it. Students in this situation will often want to “explain away” poor performance, but this is unlikely to be persuasive. The same can be said for the classic misconception of, “Even though my grades are bad, my essay is soooo good, that the admission committee will look past that.” They wont because “a good essay can cure the sick, it cannot raise the dead.”
SAT or ACT Significantly Outside the Mid 50% Profile
Many selective colleges will tell you about “holistic review” meaning that the review process is above and beyond the numbers. This is totally true, but many families hear, “my test scores are not as important.” They are. Here’s a good guideline. When a college gives you that mid 50% of testing, if you’re in the top 25% of testing, you’re fine vis-à-vis testing. If you are not offered admission, it’s unlikely to be your testing. If you’re in the mid 50%, you’re a competitive applicant. However, if you’re below this range, there has to be something really spectacular about you in another area (e.g. recruited athlete). In essence, the college is telling you that 75% of their admitted students have a test score from the low end of mid 50% or higher. That’s their applicant pool.
Not Joining Extracurricular Activities until Senior Year
Although uncommon, a student who realized that in the summer before senior year that colleges want to see outside involvement and who suddenly joins a lot of activities shows a lack of commitment to enriching oneself outside the classroom. Then, the student tries to remedy this at the last minute.
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