Acceptance Blog

College Admissions: Why scores and statistics don’t result in acceptance anymore

Every winter, we see a pattern. Senior students with strong GPAs, usually 4.0+ from a solid high school, known for rigorous academics with an SAT score of 1500+ and ZERO college acceptances. Why does this pattern occur every year? And what steps can I take to ensure that my student does repeat the winter cycle? 

From Kindergarten through 12th grade, we tell students that excellence equals achievement. Work hard, get good grades, and get into a great college. I still believe this can be true, despite the stress of the current college admissions world. But taken at face value, it’s also a lie. 

We no longer live in a world where “just” working hard and getting good grades means you will necessarily gain acceptance to any school of your choice. The numbers just aren’t on your side.  

Grades and test scores get you on the table for consideration. However, consideration and acceptance are two very different things. College educational planning is the process that bridges the gap between consideration and acceptance. To provide more context, let me offer you a recent example:

Here are the stats from a senior student who we spoke with four months before high school graduation:

  • Attended a highly competitive, nationally ranked magnet school for STEM
  • 4.6 GPA, including many AP courses across the board, especially in AP Physics (2 courses) and very high-level mathematics
  • 1590 on the SAT
  • Aspirations to become a mechanical engineer
  • Multiple rejections and ZERO acceptances

When I met this student, he had applied to a variety of schools. His applications included some “reaches,” including MIT and Duke. And some that should have seemed more predictable. However, by February of his senior year, he had not been accepted to any school. He had been denied or deferred at every single school, including one school that he honestly considered a “safety” school and one or two that felt like very likely targets. And he was right– those should have been safe bets for a student with his profile. But college admissions doesn’t have an algorithm, and relying on what should happen according to the numbers had put him way behind where he should have been.

When we met, the more alarming part of his story was that the only schools still lingering on the horizon were highly selective schools with meager acceptance rates. It wasn’t looking good. We looked at his complete application, college list, goals, and personal and academic narrative. We realized a few things:

  1. His list was a mess. He had yet to thoroughly research his schools beyond a sense of the ranking and his sense that he was a very bright student who should go to a good school. 
  2. He hadn’t been able to build a narrative in his application portfolio. 
  3. His admissions essays were adequate but would not set him apart. 

When we triaged his application to Duke, I informed him that his application was in a pool of candidates with very similar stats. And he would need more than a high SAT score to stand out and gain admission. 

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending for our student. After going through an intense process of determining academic and community goals, we re-engaged the application process with rejuvenated focus and rigor. As a result, he made outstanding choices, resulting in a merit scholarship to a top-ranked program for the particular type of engineering he wanted to pursue. 

But those wins were not easy to come by and created unneeded stress for the student and parents in their last months together before he went to college. 

When parents ask me why students should work with an outside counselor, it is these students that I think about the most. Each of them had the academic experience that should have led them to believe they would have an exciting and encouraging college process. But that belief overshadowed the fact that there is real work to do, real strategy to think about, and a landscape that does not reward merit alone, as much as we would like to believe it does. 

Our college educational planning team at PrepMatters helps families avoid these situations by building a plan with professional knowledge and execution. As a result, students participating in the program become reflective, insightful young adults. They work through their college process with a deep sense of who they are and they flourish. By the time they submit applications, they’ve already picked the right schools and have everything they need to build a compelling application. Watching these students cross the application finish line is a result of when hard work meets proper investment in a robust process. 

If you are curious how this process might work for your student, let’s set up an appointment with one of our staff to understand your student better and develop a plan to meet their goals. 


About the Author: 

Katy Dunn 

Katy Dunn has more than fifteen years of experience educating and advising thousands of students as a teacher, counselor, and administrator throughout the DC metropolitan region. The primary lesson she has learned along the way is that each student needs and deserves a focused educational plan, designed to maximize attention and opportunity while minimizing unhealthful stress.

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