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Important Information For Applicants to Top Tier Colleges

Hi Students and Families,

Warning: there's a lot to read here, but it's worth the time if you are applying to the most selective colleges.

2021 will be a year unlike any other in college admissions. First, we worried that 2020 deferrals would eliminate spots for 2021 grads, and fortunately, we know just the opposite is true. Simply put, colleges will need to admit students because of the loss of tuition dollars, both institutionally and from governmental aid. Test optional admissions at nearly all colleges throw a wild card into the mix, but over 50% of students applying to top tier colleges submit scores. Subject tests are less popular than ever, and are rarely required because most colleges have dropped requiring them and many students have had no opportunity to take them.

In 2020, some of my professional colleagues weighed in on what kind of students they are seeing admitted ED to hyperselective colleges. These students are not athletes or legacy admits. This information may not be encouraging, but I would rather share it and see you happily surprised by an acceptance rather than be bitterly disappointed by a denial or deferral. My experience in 2020 (two of my students were ED admits to Ivies) confirms this info from my colleagues below:

Here is a list of the common qualities among admitted students:

--They have taken the most rigorous curriculum available and have perfect or near perfect grades, SAT/ACT scores at or above 1500/34, and deep commitment to a few extracurricular activities.

--They have a strong inner drive to accomplish and are confident, mature, compassionate, and involved.

--Participation, leadership and/or recognition in their activity at the state or national level

--A high degree of independence, with accomplishments that involve little parental pressure or involvement

--Genuine passion; they are not preoccupied with “what will look good to colleges”

--My words: These students have both the stats and the fire. My prediction is that Class of 2021 students applying to hyperselective institutions will have a slightly better edge this year.

"They have weighted 4.6 GPA and above or 4.0 unweighted, 1570 and above for SATs and 800s in ALL subject tests.

They have EXTRAORDINARY participation in extracurriculars where they are statewide, nationally or internationally ranked and have GLOWING recommendations. These kids are just extraordinary in every way with excellent study and time management skills, are resilient and most of the time not pampered by their parents."

"For half a chance at ED to Brown, Vandy, JHU, GT, or Stanford, students need all A’s in the maximum rigor of the school. By All A’s I mean a 4.0 UW, or maybe a 3.9 something, and then with that they must have been in the top rigor for all core classes. For most of my students, that looks like 1 or 2 AP’s sophomore year, and then 5 junior year and 5 senior year. Some students will take even MORE APs than this, but I find that’s not necessary. Students need to maximize rigor in the way the high school recommends they do it. So there’s no need to take an extra AP if you are skipping the natural order of classes the high school prescribes. BUT if 10 or so kids are in AP Lit, you should be as well. There are slight allowances. If a student doesn’t do an AP sophomore year, they can overcome that if everything else is great. If a student isn’t in AP Calc junior year, that’s perfectly fine if they are on the honors math track and just didn’t get to that level yet. If a student uses elective for an activity (like photography or speech and debate or orchestra or theater) that’s good too. BUT for the most part, there’s no getting around rigor. There’s more forgiveness in grades. So I’ve seen kids with 4 B’s get into Ivies ED, but if there’s a drop in rigor, no way."

"As for test scores, a 34 is not seen as a negative. I think you need a 35 for the score to really be a non-issue. And a 36 will carry weight at a school like Vandy which is still very score-aware. A 33 is a negative that CAN be overcome, but really a 34 is the score that to me is the minimum. And I really do see that turning more to a 35 lately. Two + subject tests at 750 and above are required if subject tests are taken."

"Activities must run clear and deep. A successful candidate to these schools fills up the activities list at a minimum. Colleges LOVE consistency over all 4 years of high school. IMHO, kids don’t need to do original things like start non-profits (gag me with a spoon) or author a paper. BUT they need to be engaged authentically in their activities. They need to be involved in their communities and/or high schools. But a typical resume of a kid at a top school might be a sport, two consistent school-based things like orchestra and debate), a couple of leadership roles outside school, and then some enriching summer stuff— like a good job or some dip into a possible interest. This is not exactly what a kid should do, but this is just an example of something I might see. I am a FIRM believer that kids should NEVER do something thinking it will look good to a college. They need to do what feels worthwhile to them."

"Do not underestimate the importance of very very strong recs. Can’t get around those either."

All this information proves why it's so important to like every college on your balanced list. If you have the numbers and extracurricular activities that hyper-selective colleges seek, you should definitely apply. However, whether you choose to reach for these colleges or not, remember that it is you who creates your success in life, not your college.

Pamela Kwartler, Certified Educational Planner


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