DAILY LEARNING

TOPICS
1. What requirements do you need to get into what schools?
2. How to look up GPA and SAT requirements of a specific college?
3. Getting into the top schools.
4. REAL EXAMPLES

Interested in how I can help your student get into his or her dream school?

1. What do colleges look at?
In very simple terms, colleges look for 3 things, in the following order: GPA, SAT/ACT, and extracurriculars.

GPA and SAT/ACT are the most important. Together, they form the student's academic achievement.

Most colleges have a range they select from. Students below the range are not considered. Students above the range gets in regardless of extracurriculars. For students within the range, then factors such as extracurriculars and the personal statement come into effect.

2. How to look up GPA and SAT requirements of a specific college?
Type the words "GPA SAT percentile" + name of college into Google. Click on the first link. Aim for the 75th percentile to be competitive. You need higher than 50th percentile since students with hooks, such as athletes and legacies, drag the averages down.

Alternatively, type the words "Parchment" + name of college into Google. Click on first link. Click the "accepted" tab to see averages. Again, aim to score higher than average.

3. Getting into the top schools
The previous rule is taken to the extreme for the most competitive schools, like many of the top 25, and especially the top 10, of the US News list of best national universities.

For these top schools, academic achievement is simply a filter. Very very roughly speaking, students above a 3.8 to 3.9 unweighted GPA with multiple APs in Junior and Senior year and with 2200+ on the SAT are "smart enough". Top colleges have so many applicants that even these strict standards give them a much larger pool of applicants than they have seats for. Students below this cutoff are at a huge disadvantage.

From this large pool, top colleges pick students based on extracurriculars and "fit". As a result, the personal statement, extracurriculars, and recommendations become much more important for top schools.

Top colleges will often select for specific types of outstanding strengths. For example, they may have a certain number of spots for great programmers, and they look for students who have interned for companies like Google, or contributed to open source software projects, or published successful Iphone apps. They may want a certain number of future scientists, and they look for students who have published papers or worked on original research.

The bar is quite high, because schools are simply looking for the best in each category, and the best in each category are the most accomplished high school students of the entire country in that field. The goal is for the students to somehow distinguish themselves from other students with similarly high grades.

There will definitely be a large number of seats for "well rounded" students with great grades, great test scores, and "normal"(but still highly impressive) high school activities, but there are an even larger number of well rounded students competing for those seats.

4. Real Examples
The best way to get a feel for how admissions officers think is to look at this thread. Over 1000 real seniors posted their profiles, including grades, classes, test scores, and extracurriculars, as well as which colleges they applied to, and the results.

For each case, look at the student's statistics, decide how strong the student is as a candidate, and then consider each university and try to imagine why they made the decision they did. What part of the student's profile was the deciding factor?

Think like an admissions officer. Look at the student's courseload and see how many AP and IB classes he or she took. Look at the student's standardized test scores. Consider the student's extracurriculars and imagine what "type" of student this is. College admissions is quite "fuzzy" at the top level, once the student has good enough grades and test scores a large part is about "fit". For those students who wrote their thoughts and conclusions, they are well worth reading.

For example, look at poster "kaarboer" about 1/4 of the way down the page, in post #1820, and compare him with the poster right beneath him, "dividerofzero" in post #1821. They were both good students and both got into good schools, but they were completely different.

Kaarboer had great SAT scores, but a very mediocre(for the colleges he's applying to) GPA. He has a good variety of extracurriculars, especially an internship with a research scientist in which he co-authored a research paper and very good personal statements, according to himself. An admission officer would classify him as a well rounded future Economist who is smart but maybe a little lazy, with extracurriculars that relate closely to his intended field of study.

For a single crucial school, U of Chicago, his strengths offset his weaknesses. You can see the school hesitating about him, because they waitlisted him.

DividerOfZero had perfect SATs(!), perfect grades, and a heavier courseload of AP classes with all 5's on his AP tests. Why didn't he do much better?

His personal statements were "decent" but not great. His counselor recommendations were mixed. He was "competitive at the state level" at designing web applications, which relates to his engineering major, but I'm not sure how well he communicated this. Basically, to the admission officer he's the stereotypical Asian applicant: all grades, no personality or special strengths.

To add insult to injury, UC Berkeley waitlisted him! Historically students with grades as good as his don't have much trouble gettingo into UCB, but its school of engineering has gotten a lot more competitive recently. In addition, I strongly suspect his personal statements were bad.

Read his thoughts. I agree with all of them.