What Your Guidance Counselor Won’t Tell You

Valedictorians are denied admission by elite institutions frequently.  According to 2009-2010 NCES data, there are more than 23,000 high schools in the U.S. and each one has a valedictorian. Further, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, more than 35% of graduating seniors have an A average. There are a LOT of well-qualified applicants to Ivy League institutions and other elite colleges that don’t get in!  In-depth and unique extra-curricular involvement, excellent SAT/ACT scores, demonstrated leadership and awards for your talents may not be enough to secure a spot at a top-tier institution. These schools also look for passionate students who are already very accomplished in research, the arts, sports, academics, or philanthropic endeavors.

It’s almost always better to apply early. College admission offices want to put together their class as efficiently as possible. For some colleges, that means they’ll fill more than half of their freshman class with early action and early decision applicants.  Applying regular decision when there are fewer spots can mean your file is suddenly much less appealing, even if you are a competitive applicant to begin with. Colleges with rolling admission also tend to favor early applicants for the same reasons. While your high school guidance office may feel overwhelmed with requests to gather your information earlier in the school year, it’s almost always a good idea not to wait to apply.

You can still secure merit aid money even if you aren’t a perfect student. The trade-off is that it may be at a less-competitive institution. These colleges will want to raise their GPA and SAT/ACT profile with their entering class and your scores and GPA may help in that effort. You may also find it is easier to secure admission or scholarship at out-of-state institutions since they’ll be looking to increase geographic diversity a

You’re better off visiting a college when students are on campus. Though it’s convenient to visit a college during a holiday or summer break, those breaks may also coincide with the college’s not having students around. That may be fine for an initial visit, but if you want to attend the school, you should take time away from your high school classes to make visiting colleges while they’re in session a priority. There’s no substitute for seeing a college campus while students are there! It’s easier to get a feel for your “fit” on campus when you can see the surrounding neighborhood, the students walking around, and the overall energy of campus. You’ll also find it’s easier to visualize yourself on a college’s campus when other students are there.

The “right” amount of colleges that you should apply to can be anywhere from 4 – 10. Some students apply early decision and find out before any other applications are due, but they should have a list of other schools that interest them. As you move through your senior year, your preferences and the type of colleges that fit your needs may shift. Having an equally divided split of safety, stretch, and reasonable schools will give you plenty of options to consider as the acceptances and aid packages roll in.

Your GPA may be recalculated, and as a result, your 9th grade performance matters just as much as your performance in 11th grade.  It’s important to note that colleges often need a way to compare GPAs across different high schools. So, they create a level playing field by pulling out your core academic coursework from your transcript and recalculating your GPA. Take every year seriously; have a strong start and continue that trend throughout high school.


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