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Thanks for taking the time to read my question! I am currently a rising senior in high school. I scored an 1870 on the new SAT, have an unweighted GPA of 3.8 and am very involved in extracurriculars. For example, I am the president and founder of my school's Young Democrats Club and am completing internships under the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and under the local teacher's union. By the time I finish high school, I will have taken 6 AP classes along with 15 honors classes. I have a list of several schools I'm interested in. I was wondering, how many reach schools should I apply to? I'm working with a private SAT tutor to bring up the SAT scores, what other advice would you have for me to make my application more desirable to a school like Georgetown? Finally, would I be considered a legacy at a school if my grandfather attended it?
It sounds like you're doing all of the right things! You have a strong record and should be in the running at a number of fine schools. In response to your specific questions, the only thing I can think of that you could do to possibly improve your chance of getting into a top school is to take the SAT again. You have a very good score, but if you think you could raise it a total of 100 points or so you probably would improve your chances at some of the top schools. It's hard to say how many "reach" schools you should apply to. I think you just need to decide which ones you would really like to go to. A number in the 2 to 4 range comes to mind, but, again, that's a personal choice. I don't know if financial considerations affect you, but, as you know, schools charge an application fee. As far as your legacy question, that depends on the school. Some schools will give a preference to legacies, so you need to check directly with the schools you have in mind.

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I will be applying to college in the fall, and am nervous about being accepted to my top choice schools. I currently have a 3.8 GPA and am taking AP and honors courses, and I am very involved in sports, Girl Scouts, and the local Boys and Girls Club. My problem is that I have never been very involved with in-school activities because of my commitments outside of school. Is lack of involvement in school sports and clubs looked upon poorly by colleges? Also, I know that the National Honor Society is well respected, but my school's policy on accepting students to it is that you need 72 in-school service hours. As I explained above, I don't have the necessary hours and therefore wasn't able to be in NHS. Should I mention this to the colleges I apply to? Thank you for any help.
First of all, without knowing your test scores, it's hard to say what your overall chances are at any particular school. My own feeling on this is that colleges care much more about the depth of your commitment to outside activities rather than the breadth. They would rather you be involved in just a few activities and devote meaningful time, rathern than have more actitivites but not devote much time to any of them. Therefore, I think should be fine with the acitivites you have, assuming you devote some significant time to them (by the way, I also assume that the reference to "sports" means some type of organized league rather than just some "pick-up" games). I probably would mention on your college application that, while you would be eligible for NHS, your commitments to various activities outdie of school prevented you from being involved with NHS. Of course, I'd be sure to also tell the colleges about the extent of your involvement in sports outside of school and the scouts and some of the positive benefits you've received from your participation. Good luck!

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I have a few questions. When is the best time to find financial aid and where can i find applications for these? Also, when is the best time to tour colleges and is it required to get an interview?
You should start investigating financial aid opportunities, particularly merit-based scholarships and grants, in the second semester of your junior year. You'll probably need to start applying in the first semester of your senior year. Of course, you should follow the specific requirements prescribed for any particular source of aid. With regard to touring colleges, there are basically two approaches to take. One way is to visit schools in the first semester of your senior year and before you apply to find out which schools you might like to attend. Other people prefer to wait to see where they've been accepted before visiting on the theory that there's no use in visiting a school until you know you've been accepted there. Which way you go on this depends on your budget and time constraints, but I think the second approach makes a little more sense. However, it's a personal decision and there's no right or wrong answer except, obviously, to visit a school you're considering before you have to respond to an offer of admission. Also, if you're applying for early decision to a school, you certainly should visit the school before you apply since by applying early decision you're aggreing to accept an offer of admission should it be made. You don't want to agree to that without being sure it's the school you want to attend. As for interviews, most schools do not require them. If you want an interview you usually have to request it. If you're on the borderline with a particular school, an inverview could be something to consider.

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My daughter is a junior in high school. She currently has a 4.0 and is number one in her class of 200. I believe there is another student that is number one as well. Our school gives academic scholarships to the number one and two students. If there are ties, they use ACT scores. My daughter took the ACT for the first time and scored a 29. Would you suggest retaking the test and seeing if she could go any higher? Also, do colleges give scholarships for ACT results? My daughter scored a 34 in math and thinks she probably could get a perfect score in this subject.
Well, it certainly makes sense for your daughter to take the ACT again. If her score is higher, great; if not, all she’s lost is a few hours of her time. You don’t want to second-guess yourself later, and it would be a shame to lose out on a scholarship because of a few ACT points. To find out about scholarships given by colleges, you need to check with individual schools. Most scholarship criteria are very specific, and certain scores on standardized tests are often among them. In general, though, strong test scores will only help your daughter’s chances of getting a scholarship.

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I am currently a sophomore at a fairly well known private school in Florida. I am in all honors classes, have a 4.15 GPA (out of a possible 4.3), am a member of the student council and PALS (an organization to help new freshman), the manager and statistician for the varsity basketball team, have starred in 2 plays, and plan to take 3 AP courses as a junior. My school does not list class rank, but I would guess that I am 8th out of my class of 155. Last summer I took a sports law course at Duke. This summer I will attend a legal conference at Stanford and a leadership conference in Washington, DC. I recently took the new PSAT and received a 71 in critical reading, a 73 in math, and a 77 in writing. Academically, I'm not worried, but I have not done much community service. Though I have 100 hours, most of it comes from volunteering at a summer camp. I'm concerned that not having enough community service will hurt my chances of being accepted into a school like Stanford or George Washington. Is it necessary that I help out more in the community or can I continue to focus on academics and leadership?
Let me start by congratulating you on your accomplishments so far. Your excellent grades, strong test scores, and variety of extracurricular activities should give you a good shot at getting into some of the country’s most prestigious colleges. If you want to get involved in another volunteer activity, that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s necessary. First of all, 100 volunteer hours are nothing to sneeze at. Second, you seem to be involved in plenty of extracurricular activities already. Colleges would rather see you participate in a limited number of activities and devote significant time to them than join every club in sight but not be deeply involved in any of them. Basically, you’re doing all the right things already. As long as your SAT scores are consistent with your PSAT scores, you should be in great shape. In the meantime, relax a little and enjoy the rest of high school. You don’t want to burn yourself out before you get to college!

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I am planning to go to college in Boston and I currently live in South Florida. My family suggested I should consider going to a public university near home and then transfer to either the University of Miami or a school in Massachusetts to finish my undergraduate degree or master’s degree. They say that it will not only be cheaper, but it would also ease my transition to college and in becoming more independent. Do you believe this is a good option or is this just some kooky idea to get me to stay home?
This question is hard for me to answer without knowing your financial and family situation. Public universities certainly cost less than private ones, and it’s true that you could save money by going to a state school for a while. Living at home would also allow you to save money. Having said that, I would encourage you to live on campus, wherever you go to school. Living away from home allows students to take full advantage of college life and to experience the independence your family mentions. It sounds to me like your family is experiencing something very normal: difficulty in letting their son or daughter go. Talk to them and see if this is the case, or if there is some other motivation for their wanting you home. If they’re simply sad to see you go, tell them you understand what they are feeling, but that this is a natural next step in your life—one you’re very excited about. Just because you’re leaving home doesn’t mean your family is losing you, Sometimes, in fact, going away to college can actually improve parent-child relationships! You might want to also consider attending one of the very fine Florida state schools, such as the University of Florida or Florida State. That way, you would have the experience of being away from home (and probably a car’s drive away) and, as a Florida resident, would pay a much lower tuition than at the University of Miami or as a non-resident attending the University of Massachusetts. This might accomplish the goals of both you and your parents.

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I am a high school junior at a public high school in Florida. My GPA is around a 3.0-3.1. I've taken 7 honors classes and 2 AP courses so far. I got a 1070 on my first try on the SAT (just took the new ones yesterday). I'm in the top 50% of my class (of about 560) and have taken all the academic electives I can (psychology, law studies, etc). Though my GPA and testscores aren't exactly spectacular, I have been involved in several extracurricular activities: volleyball team, weightlifting team, track & field team, poetry club, Girl Scounts and Interact (volunteer group). I also volunteer at a local hospital. I've received various awards (e.g, Most Improved Player, Most Valuable Player) in volleyball. I also helped coach a 9 to14-year old volleyball team at the local recreation center. I am 2nd in the conference and 14th in the state for girl's weightlifting. I've had three poems published. I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder about a year ago, though I've had the symptoms since 8th grade (didn't tell my parents). With my grades and extracurricular activities, do I have a good shot at getting into a good public school in Florida? In my personal statement, should I write about my experiences with depression and bipolar, or would that look like a poor attempt at appealing to the judges to make them pity me and thus admit me?
First of all, while no college will admit you because it pities you, they may take into account that your depression and bipolar may have affected your grades. I suggest checking with your high school guidance counselor and the colleges in which you’re interested to see what is required in terms of documentation. High schools will make reasonable accommodations to students who have a condition that affects their ability to achieve to their maximum potential. Unfortunately, it may be too late for this to help you much in your high school classes. The College Board, which administers the SAT, will also give reasonable accommodations to students who have a disability that can be shown to affect their performance. These accommodations may include extra time on the SAT. Again, check with your high school guidance counselor and with the College Board (www.collegeboard.com) to see if you might qualify for such accommodations when you take the exam again (which I would encourage you to do) and which documentation you’ll need.

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I was denied from a university. I believe that the specific university would be a perfect fit for me. How would you recommend I go about refuting this decision?
Well, I wouldn't try to "refute" the decision, but it might be a good idea to make an appointment to talk to someone in the admissions office to see what the reasons were for denying you admission. Perhaps they misconstrued something on your application and/or were not given everything they should have considered. It would be unlikely that they would change their mind, but I can't see where it hurts to discuss it with them.

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I am a sophomore in an IB high school and I am not sure whether my extracurricular activities are the right activities for colleges. I am not the leader of anything in my community and I really haven't done much volunteer or community service activities. I have mainly focused my energy into after-school activities such as G-force, Youth Leadership, FCA, choir, soccer, and the full IB diploma. I want to go to college and major in nursing. Would my extracurricular activities be looked upon as good enough for colleges or do i need to do more community things and be a leader of different organizations? I have good grades, (4.25 GPA)and am number 13 out of a class of 278. I haven't taken the SAT or ACT yet. I'm not sure that my current activities will be enough to get me into a highly accredited or ivy league university. Do I need to be more involved in other things?
You're doing a lot of things, and I think with your grades and your IB courses you'll be fine. Of course, it's hard to say which schools you would get into because that will depend on your test scores as well. However, based on what you've told me, you should get into some very good schools. If you want to get involved in a community activity, it wouldn't hurt, but I don't think it's necessary. Don't overextend yourself; sometimes colleges would rather you be involved in less activities but devote more time to them. If you have too many things "listed", it might look like you're joining things just for the sake of joining without devoting meaningful time to them.

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Dear Admissions Guru, This is my junior year, and I am extremely stressed out about my chances of getting into an Ivy League school. Currently, I have a 4.4 GPA, rank number one in my class of 458 students, and am taking all the AP classes available at my school. I have been taking advantage of my summers by attending the NYLF program on medicine, and am attending the People to People's program at Johns Hopkins University this summer. In the community, I am a youth executive board member of the Santa Clara Valley Red Cross Chapter, an intern at a medical clinic, a clinical research assistant, a YMCA youth and government delegate, and a hospital volunteer. At school, I am President of my Red Cross Club, and a member of NHS, CSF, and Literary Society. My SAT score is about a 1200. I understand that I need to improve my score; however, besides the SAT, I feel very uneasy. The load of stress is making me feel "burned out". Although I am stressed out and constantly tired, I know that there are other spectacular students out there. I feel as if I am not doing enough to get into Stanford University or Johns Hopkins University. What else can I do to make myself stand out? If I am doing the right things, what am I doing now that DO make me stand out?
First of all, you are doing everything you can do and more! Your class rank, GPA and activities are very impressive. And, your SAT score of 1200 is definitely nothing to be ashamed of. Now, is your SAT high enough to get into Stanford or Johns Hopkins? Maybe not, but you'll still get into an excellent school (and, with your being number one in your class and all your activities, you still may have a shot at these schools). Don't stress yourself out over this. All you can ask of yourself is to do your best. I would not recommend that you get involved in any more activities because it looks like you're already busy enough. You need to have some free time to yourself too. In fact, I think you ought to stop some of the things you're doing so you have some time to yourself to do whatever you want to do--relaxing things like reading, watching television, going to a movie, concert or sporting event, etc. Put everything into perspective. Getting into a good college is important, but I don't think you have anything to worry about in that regard. Just do your best to try to raise your SAT score, keep doing the other things you're doing, and stop worrying! It's ok (and actually important) to have a little fun in high school too! Too much stress is not good for your physical or mental health. Relax and enjoy your high school experience.

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How is the IB program looked upon even if you dont have the best grades (3.1+-)
If you've succesfully completed the program, colleges will look at it very favorably. Of course, it is best to have good grades of at least a B. However, all in all, it's an excellent way to show your academic ability, particularly since not all high schools offer the programs. If yours does, then that give you a distinct advantage assuming you received at least reasonably good grades (B or better)>

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I'm a sophomore in a highly-ranked public high school. I have always scored in the top percent of all high school students in the nation on standardized tests (including a composite score of 31 on the ACT in 7th grade). I am taking several AP classes (including AP Calculus), and am signed up to take 5 more next year. I am also heavily involved in music, ballet, and volunteer work. However,I have been having a lot of personal problems at home for the past year. In the second half of my freshman year and the first semester of my sophomore year, my grades have dropped from a 3.9 average to a 3.15 average. I'm hoping to ace my junior and senior years, as well as my ACT and SAT, but I'm worried about how my freshman and sophomore grades will affect my college admissions chances. I want to go to a top school, though not necessarily an Ivy League. Any suggestions?
Well, all you can do now is work as hard as you can to improve your grades. If you're successful in doing so, then you could write a letter to the colleges to explain why your grades went down. Assuming it's a plausible reason, and assuming that you're able to increase them back up to where they were, you will have done your best to minimize the damage from your grade decline. And, colleges will appreciate your candor. That would be my approach.

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I am a junior in high school. I have been taking all the honors and AP classes at my school, and have been keeping my Straight A's since freshmen year. Although I have a passion for academia and community service, I did not attempt to join a sports team because I found myself unpassionate about sports. Will I have a disadvantage when I apply to college?
Well, not because you're not involved in sports, but you will have some disadvantage is you're not involved in any extracurricular or community activity. Based on your grades alone, assuming you have good test scores you'll probably be able to get into some good schools. However, to be able to get into the upper echelon of schools, I think you need to get involved in some of these activities.

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I am a junior in high school. For the past three years, I have been taking all honors and AP classes offered at my school. My GPA has been a 4.0 (unweighted) since freshmen year. Besides grades, I am very active in my community. I am active with only a few community programs, but devote hundreds of hours to the various programs. How will colleges evaluate me when they compare me to students from richer schools with more AP classes or extracurricular opportunities? Do I have a disadvantage if I am at a poorer school?
I wouldn't worry about how you'll compare to the "richer" schools. It sounds like you're doing a great job both in your course work and in giving back to the community. If you can get good SAT scores, you'll be in good shape.

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I have been accepted to a state university with a full tuition scholarship, along with three high ranking (top 35) schools. I am interested in pursuing my education past the undergraduate level, and I am curious if going to a less prestigious school, even if i receive better grades there, would hurt my chances at a respectable grad school.
That would depend on the schools involved and what type of grad school to which you aspire, but it's unlikely it would materially affect your chances as long as the state school was one of those in the top tier of public schools. In fact, your chance of getting into a grad scholl may be better if you go to a "less prestigious" school and get better grades. Having said that, I would recommend going to the best school for you, taking into account not only the school's reputation but also college life issues such as type of campus, student mix, location, etc.

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I am a high school sophomore and I'm planning my classes for the last two years of high school, but I'm unsure of what classes to sign up for. Would AP or average level classes be better? Would it look better on my college applications to have possibly lower averages in AP classes or to take regular classes and to have possibly higher averages? Which would colleges look more favorably upon?
It's hard to answer that for sure. It depends on the colleges, your grade point average, SAT scores, etc. The AP courses definitely "look" good. However, my opinion is that I wouldn't take the AP course unless you're confident that (1) you'll get at least a B in the course, and (2) you plan on taking some of the AP exams. I'd also suggest taking something in between AP and regular such as honors courses.

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I am a Sophomore at a public school. I currently have a 4.4 GPA and am 3rd in my class (only because I take an extra class that brings down my GPA), I take the highest-level (honors) classes that are offered to me and over the past year have had only 2 B's (those only being 9-weeks grades, not final course grades), the rest have been A's. For the past two summers, I have volunteered at my local American Cancer Society office. I am on my school's tennis team, a member of the math team, and a member of Beta Club. Also, I participated in the Duke TIP program last summer, advancing myself in Math. On the Old SAT, my highest score is 1330 and on the New PSAT, my score was 1990. Other than improving my SAT score, what should I do to be a better candidate for an Ivy League (or close) school?
Wow! You're doing about everything you can do. There's an old saying, if it's not broke, don't fix it. That seems to apply to you. Just keep doing what you're doing and try to get your SAT score up. Obviously, if you think of a unique or different activity, you should do it. But, from where I stand, you're doing all of the right things. When you get into your junior and senior years, you might want to take AP courses. Other than that, no specific advice.

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I am interested in very selective colleges and am looking for ways to deem myself worthy of an Ivy League school. I recieved a letter in the mail for a 3-week creative writing workshop at Simon's Rock College of Bard in Massachusettes. My dilemma is, it is either this creative writing workshop (selective acceptance) or surf camp in California! How much emphasis do colleges place on summer programs? Sometimes I feel as if I am wasting my high school life away trying to get into a university I don't have a chance at, but other times I feel like I am not putting in the extra 3% Ivy League school admissions offices expect.
While it's important to be involved in good activities, it doesn't mean you can't have some fun too! My feeling is that whether you pick the workshop or the surf camp isn't going to make that big of a difference. Schools want to see a little diversity in what you do, so I'm not sure that the surf camp would be so bad to have on your application. You'll have other opportunities to put in that "extra 3%".

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I am currently a junior in high school, but I am also going to college full time and getting high school and college credits. I didn't do so well in the college classes my first semester except for one class, but my high school grades were all A's. I really want to go to a liberal arts school. My first choices are New York University and Berkley, but I don't know what to do! Can you help me?
If you're getting all A's in high school then you'll have a shot at going to NYU or Berkley. The colleges shouldn't hold against you the grades you get in college courses. However, I would advise that you check with the colleges you're interested in to make sure they will give you credit for the courses you've taken. Also, I would make getting good high school grades a priority, and, therefore, would suggest you not overburden your time commitment to the college courses.

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My son has a solid and consistent 3.3 GPA and is in his second semester of his senior year. He has been accepted already at Chico and San Jose State Universites, a small private college in Oregon and Colorado State. Despite a lot of help and effort, he got a D- in his first semester in Pre Calculus. He also got 2 B+'s and 2 C+'s. How much should we worry that these schools will rescind their offer of acceptances?
It depends on the school. Most make their approvals conditioned on satisfactory completion of the student's remaining high school courses and receiving their degree. This may involve not getting below a "C" on certain required courses. In general, it is very rare for a college to rescind its offer; however I advise that you check with the school your son wants to apply to and find out the specific requirements after being admitted.

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For a high school student planning on medical school, is it better to choose a private or public university for undergraduate studies? Would the honors program at the public university be similar to a private school in terms of medical school admission? How much of a difference does your undergraduate school make in medical school admissions?
Whether you go to a public or private school depends on a number of factors, including financial, since private schools are so much more expensive. Putting aside the financial issue, in order to enhance your chances of getting into medical school, I would generally suggest that you try to get in the best schools you can (and also apply, of course, to some "safety" schools). There are more "top ranked" private schools than public schools, and the undergraduate school you go to does make some difference when applying to medical schools, although it's hard to quantify how much. Having said that, graduating from a private school rated higher than a particular public school probably doesn't impact your chances of medical school admissions that much provided that the public school is still highly ranked as well (e.g., among the top 15-20 public schools in the country). An exception would be if you get into one of the Ivy League or one of the other top 15 or 20 highest ranked schools in the country. In that case, the reputation of these schools would make a difference. And, yes, I think the honors program at many of the public universities are considered on a par with many of the highly ranked private colleges. I think you also need to factor into your decision college life issues such as geographic location, student mix, type of campus, etc. Of course, if you do well enough in your undergraduate studies and on your MCAT test, you can go to medical school even if you don't attend one of the top ranked private schools or honors programs at a public university. I hope this helps. Good luck!

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Our 8th grade public school daughter has been doing EPGY math for a couple of years in lieu of our school curriculum. She likes it and the rigor of the course seems more suited to her math ability. Any info from colleges if she stays with EPGY through high school level courses (hence no math grade included in transcripts)? As she plans for hs classes, is a 4.0 in standard hs fare better than a high 3+ average in higher level classes?
EPGY isn't going to be as well-known to some colleges as, say, AP math level classes, and although I'm not sure about this, I don't think EPGY courses will be accepted for college credit. Obviously EPGY has a great reputation, though. Typically, a high 3+ in more challenging classes would fare better. If you get a 4.0/4.0, who's to say what you were really capable of?

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I am a senior this year and my number one choice is University of Maryland-College Park. I am now in the middle of the waiting game to hear back from them. I have a 3.2 GPA and did well(above 1200) on my SAT's but these are somewhat below Maryland's expectations. I have heard that big schools such as this can rule out applicants rather quickly. I just was wondering if they would rule me out for admission before looking through the rest of my application, such as the essay I spent a long amount of time writing? Also, my father attended the University of Maryland and I am curious to how much that actually plays into the whole admission process.
If you're a Maryland resident I think you have a shot. I imagine your SAT scores are well within the range of accepted students, although your GPA is probably at the low end of their range. It's really hard to say how good your chances are because it also depends on your extracurricular activities and other accomplishments. I don't think they would rule you out right away if you're a Maryland resident. The essay could help a little, but I don't think it will be that big of a factor. The fact that your father went to the university may help but it's hard to say how much. Most schools do give extra consideration to "legacies" although this has become the subject of some controversy. Last August, President Bush came out against giving any preference to legacies, but it's safe to say that legacies will continue to be a factor for probably quite a while. By the way, the fact that you didn't hear yet probably means that you're being seriously considered and possibly at least put on the wait list. You might want to see if you can have an interview. Good luck!

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Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm a sophomore in high school, and I have a 6.76 out of 7.00 GPA. My class rank is currently 7/945. I'm also an officer in Interact Club (volunteering and community service), and I teach and assist at my church. I am thinking of trying out for my dance/drill team this fall since it is a good extracurricular activity, and I also enjoy dancing. Dance/drill team is approximately $900 - $1,000 the first year and requires a lot of dedication. They are expected to stay after school a few hours Mondays through Thursdays and they perform at football games and do other volunteering and fundraising projects, so it takes up a great deal of time. I'm worried I won't have enough time for my other classes because I'm taking an AP class right now and am also planning to take 2 or 3 next year. Should I try out? But if I try out and make it, my GPA may suffer because I won't have as much time to study. Is there any other option in this situation? I was also wondering if I can take one year of dance as pass/fail. I can just take one pass/fail course per year because the maximum number of pass/fail courses you can take is two and I would like to take PALS during my senior year as pass/fail. Also, does dance/drill count as leadership? Finally, I want to go to medical school. Would Rice(ranked 17 for 2005) be a good school to go to? I am also considering UT (ranked 46). Which would you recommend, or do you recommend another option?
I think it's generally better to do less activities and put more time into them. The activities you're in sound good, and I wouldn't do more if you think it will affect your grades. However, if you think you would like the dance/drill, then you might consider stopping the other activities to concentrate on the dance/drill team if you can't do all of them at once. With regard to taking dance as pass/fail, I think that is more a question of whether it's something you'll enjoy rather than something that will make any significant difference in your admission chances. I wouldn't say that Dance/Drill is "leadership", but you have a leadership position already in the interact club. Rice is an excellent school. UT is also a good school, but if you can get into Rice you might want to consider some higher ranked schools for your pre-med program. Since you're familiar with the rankings you can see which are these schools. A higher ranked school doesn't mean you'll get a better education, but there's no denying that sometimes the reputation of the school can make a difference to medical school admission officers. Of course, I suggest you also take into account other factors in selecting a school, such as type of campus, student mix, geographic location, sports and activities, etc. You have a very strong record, and I'm sure you'll get into a very fine school.

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Hello Guru, My daughter was nominated for the Governor's School (International Relations) and has an excellent chance of getting in. 100 juniors are chosen from each state. HOWEVER, another opportunity has presented itself. She also has the opportunity and the connections to be a Congressional Page in Washington,DC this summer. 70 juniors are chosen from the US. She is ranked #2 in a class of 403 and hopes to major in International Law at an IVY league college. We are totally confused as we do not know what will benefit her the most when her college application is considered. We are hearing conflicting advice from her teachers. Could you please advise us.
OK, well this is just my opinion. Of the two options, go for the Congressional Page opportunity. I think a reference from a Congressman would go a long way toward getting her in to where she wanted to go. Not a certainty, but a big step.

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I am a high school senior and applied to a very slective state universithy in my home state for early consideration. I just heard from them and they have deferred the decision until March. They said they hoped I maintained a strong interest in the school but also said I could send new SAT scores and my latest grades. They also said I could send additional information on extra curricular activities, but I can't believe that is going to help too much because I already do a lot of important things, like being editor of my high school yearbook. In its letter the school said it had 3500 openings and received 18,500 applications for admission. I think I am a good student: my SAT scores were around 1280 and my school doesn't have GPAs though I figure my grades would give me around 3.5. We do not have honors courses but I have taken several AP courses. Is there any way to figure my chances? I really would love to go to that school.
I think you need to be prepared to go elsewhere, although deferred is not a rejection. Frankly, they're waiting to see how you compare with the last batch of students they get, and they're waiting to see how many admits are actually coming. Honestly, you're chances are greatly reduced in either case. I trust you applied elsewhere and have other options. You're obviously too smart to sit at home and mope.

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Hello, I am a sophomore in high school this year. I attend a public school in southern South Carolina. This school isn't the best of schools. Actually, SC is ranked very low (like 40 something in how good the school systems are here) in the US. I have excellent grades, never having had a "C" on my report card...ever. Currently i have over a 4.0 GPA. Also, I am in the IB program. Even though my school isnt the greatest (by far), will that hurt my chances of getting in a good college?
If you're coming out of a weak school, and you have average grades, you're going to be hurt by that fact. However, if you're in a weak school and are at the top of the food chain grade wise, it's very difficult to know how well you might have done had the courses been harder. For example, if your temperature is 104 degrees, we all know you're sick. But if it's normal, you could still be dying of cancer. OK, so not a pretty picture, but hopefully you get the idea. Do very well. A couple of other things: First, the IB program is a real plus -- it's well-respected and the fact that your high school has it means that they are probably better than you think. Second, you can, later on, take some college level classes even when in high school. This goes a long way at demonstrating to colleges that you have what it takes (especially if you do well). Score well on the SAT/ACT and you're set to get into a very good college.

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Should I submit any of my artwork with my application?
f you submit a portfolio, or a video or a cassette of a performance, professors in the departments of fine arts, drama, dance, or music might be called in to evaluate your talent. If you’re especially good, a positive review could strengthen your case an d help to differentiate you. But if you’re not very good, the review will reflect that, too.

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I am currently a rising fourth form (10th grade) student at a respected boarding school in CT. In the fall, I will be enrolled in the highest-level classes offered (including 3 APs and 3 honors). I also play three sports a year, play an instrument, and am on the staff of the school's newspaper. Do you have any suggestions on other activities I should become involved in during the next three years that would impress colleges? I hope to attend an Ivy League.
OK, for starters, we’re going to assume that not only are you taking high level courses, but you’re doing exceptionally well in them. If you’re not, you might want to back off on the pace a bit—like 2 AP classes and 1 honors class—especially since you’re still in the 10th grade. Also, playing many sports or being involved in many activities that you more or less just show up for is not going to help much. Several Guru answers below address that subject.

On to what else you might do: At some point, you might consider some kind of volunteer thing—something where you give of yourself for others, but again, you should really get involved, don’t just pay lip service to it.

I also think highly selective colleges look at experiential stuff, like summer programs in the wild, studying abroad for a couple of months, and what have you. Call the Duke University Talent Identification Program at 919-684-3847 and order a copy of their “Educational Opportunity Guide.” It’s about $15 but worth it. Finally, it is not too early to contact colleges, get on their mailing list, and begin learning about what they want. Make contact with some alumni at the schools that interest you and rally their support of you. Of a ll the things you could do, understanding early in the process what a college wants of prospective students is probably the most important. Sounds like you’re already on your way, though. Good luck.

P.S. Have some backup college choices, too. In the end, you just never know what’s going to happen, and there are a lot of great, non-Ivy League schools out there.

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My daughter has a 3.5 average at Hillsboro High in New Jersey applying to both Syracuse and American Universities. She scored a 1070 (a little light) on the SATs and is involved in many, many activities. What are her chances of getting in?
An impossible question for the Admissions Guru, and besides, our opinion matters not. Our best advice: find out these schools’ requirements and work toward fulfilling those objectives.

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How do you go about becoming a doctor?
Well, it ain’t easy, nor is it cheap. Choose an undergraduate school with a strong reputation for getting its “pre-med” graduates into medical schools. Some have a 85% success rate, others considerable lower. Once in undergraduate school, be prepared to w ork your butt off, passing up many social events in preference to better grades. I think without a 3.5 college GPA, you can forget med school. You’ll be competing against the best and brightest. Then, be prepared to smoke the MCATs, a pre-med school admis sions test (kinda like the SAT, but infinitely harder). Plan to spend summers working within the medical community. You’ll need the contacts for references and you’ll need the personal experience. Finally, prepare yourself for a gruelling medical school a dmissions process. Assuming you get in, don’t expect any home life. You’ll spend hours in class, hours on rounds, hours studying. Like I said, this you gotta want to do to do it. But, as you begin applying to college and later med school, you’ll find that a lot of people do. It’s highly competitive.

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I go to a private Catholic high school in Massachusetts. I will be a junior in the fall and will be taking 2 AP classes. I have always done well in my classes and on standardized tests, but am somewhat anxious as to whether or not I'll be able to get into the college of my choice. I'm not involved in any sports, but am heavily involved in at least 4 academically oriented extracurricular activities. Will not being on any team hurt my chances of getting in? Will my test scores, grades, and rank be enough?
Test scores, grades, and rank are not enough. Highly selective colleges are looking for well-rounded students with diverse interests. Even your extracurricular activities sound as if they are academically oriented. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you need to play a sport. Some of us are not sports minded. Being just a junior, though, gives you two years to develop an interest and pursue it. You may also have great qualifications that you are overlooking, too. Do you play a musical instrument well? Have you traveled extensively? I would suggest meeting with your school’s guidance counselor to explore how you can round out your qualification without sports.

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I have a son that scored 1345 on the SAT. How does this score rank nationally compared to the average score? Would this score put him in the top 5 percent of student scores? Is this a score that colleges would consider for academic scholarship?
I love playing the “where do I rank” game because it is such a limited view of how college admissions really works. But since you asked, here goes: Math: A score of 600 puts your son in the 92nd percentile; 650 in the 97th percentile; and 700 in the 99th percentile. Verbal: A score of 600 puts your son in the 81st percentile; 650 in the 89th percentile; 700 in the 96th percentile; and 750 in the 99th percentile. The requirements for scholarships are as diverse as they are plentiful. But academic excellence never hurts.

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I am a freshman in a small school in the midwest. My grades are usually above a 3.5. I am very active in extra curricular activities. Can I shoot for an ivy league school or should I stay close to home?
You can shoot for whatever you like. As is said over and over here, admission to any school is based on many factors, including the difficulty of the courses you took to get the 3.5. However, most students should apply to a range of colleges, from your dr eam choice to your “safeties.”

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I will be a senior this fall, and I'm narrowing down my options and choices and basically stressing out. Is it realistic to want to pursue a double major? Do admissions officers regard my intention to double major as an aspect of admission? I have originally planned on majoring in journalism/communications, but I also would like to major in dance as well. I know that this is unusual, since the majors don't complement each other, but I believe that I can be disciplined enough to go for it. Do I have to get special permission? Thanks!
Double majors are not unusual. You do, however, have the challenge of finding a college which offers both journalism and dance programs. You will have to have special permission to double major, and the willingness of the college to allow you to do so is often based on your academic performance in both high school and in college. I would think, though, that if you could relate the two degrees together, and make a case for that on your application for admissions, assuming you had the other credentials, it would make you a strong candidate. For example, perhaps your goal is to perform in your youth and then turn your attention to writing about the arts in later years. Makes sense to me.

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How good do you really have to be to get into Duke? My sister got into MIT but not Duke, whereas my friend's brother got into Duke but not MIT. Does this make sense?
Complete sense. Each person had unique qualities that made their applications different. Duke may have been looking for one thing, MIT for something else, that had little to do with grades and SAT scores. Also, keep in mind that each year, schools face a different applicant pool, so schools face different needs, and different applicants to fill those needs from one year to the next.

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There is a rumor going around my school that if you get accepted to Yale you won't get accepted to Harvard, and vice versa. Is it true that these two schools share admissions information?
No way.

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Okay, here's a question for the Guru... You say over and over again that there are a number of colleges and universities besides the Ivy League that offer great educations. Would you name some? And don't you feel that the reputation of the Ivy League could be beneficial to a student in the long term, i.e. employment?
I can’t name names because: 1) it would take up too much space; and 2) I’d leave some place out; and 3) it depends a lot on what you want to major in. But by my count there are more than 350 selective colleges in the U.S.

For example, I know of a small college that has a pre-med program where 90% of its students are accepted to med school. That is an incredible number. If I wanted to go to med school, where do you think I’d apply? But it is not an Ivy League school, nor a very well-known college. It has just mastered the pre-med thing and med schools know and trust this college’s reputation.

As for employment and future earnings, there are many other factors in determining success other than college name. As a group, the people who have earned the grades and done the stuff to get into any big name school are basically high-achieving people. But there are plenty of high-achieving people in other walks of life who don’t need to see Harvard on their diploma to feel a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment in their lives.

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I am a top student. Very high SAT, top of class, honors and AP classes with high grades. I have not, however, taken a foreign language in high school. I have opted for competition marching band, art (I'm good) and computer programming. Will the lack of a foreign language exclude me from the Ivies or other top competitive schools? If so, I am a junior...any suggestions?
It won’t exclude you since most schools only offer “recommendations” on what they’d like you to take in high school. Colleges, though, are smart enough to look at the big picture—the big you—and in your case, the big you looks pretty good. But you’ll be competing against students who have not only done well in one foreign language, but two or three. Suggestions? Here are two if you really want to fill this void: Spend the summer between your junior and senior year in high school in Paris studying art, and while you’re there, learn the language. Or, if that’s too pricey for you, learn a second language on your own. At least then you’ll be able to say on your application, “While I have not taken a foreign language in high school due to other academic priorities, I have independently learned to read and write French fluently.” Hey, I’m impressed.

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I am a junior in high school with decent grades and scores, but nothing outstanding (3.8 GPA, 1500 SAT). My question is this: I am planning on exploring an engineering discipline. So will "top engineering schools" overlook my less than outstanding scores and pay more attention to my outside engineering projects? I have completed projects not usually attempted by high school or college students: Electromagnetic "Rail Gun," "Ion-Cannon," and several other interesting, unusual projects. Also, I am currently instructing a semester-long course on Introductory Computer Programming at my high school.
I don’t know man. Looks like junior college for you. But seriously, you’re doing great in school--but you’re doing a lousy job of assessing your credentials, and that’s going to hurt you because you’re going to aim too low. The bottom line: you’re a top student and you’re going to be a serious contender for admissions at any school, engineering or otherwise.

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I am a junior at a private high school. I take all honors classes and take all the AP courses my school offers which is two. I have a 4.0 GPA. I play a sport every season, am in the drama club, NHS and peace club, will be doing student council this year, and do a lot of service for my school and my community. Lately, I have been worried that my efforts are not as good as people in other schools. I want to attend an Ivy League school and I fear that I might not have a chance against the thousands of other people that will apply to my dream school. If I am doing everything I can- everything my school offers- do you think I have a chance of getting in, and most importantly, with scholarships?

It sounds like you are clearly demonstrating that you can take advantage of all a school has to offer while staying on top of your grades, and that can only bode well for you when admission time rolls around. As far as worrying about your competition when it comes to other applicants to Ivy League schools, that's a lot of energy to waste--instead of thinking about what everyone else is doing, concentrate on doing what you do best in order to make yourself stand out. Schools aren’t interested only in high grades and test scores, but also in the students who they think will become a valuable and active part of the university community.

 

Rather than spreading yourself too thin trying to do a little bit of everything, decide which activities are the most important to you, and focus on those. Colleges would prefer that you devote more meaningful time to a smaller number of activities than trying to do a lot of activities but not devoting much time to any of them.  

 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one "school of your dreams"--don't get bogged down thinking about a school's ranking.  In addition to academics, you should also consider some more personal and subjective factors, such as size, student mix, location (e.g., urban, suburban or rural) and campus life.

 

It’s impossible for me to tell you whether or not you’ll be able to obtain scholarships, but this is a good time to start exploring your options. Some scholarships are need-based, and some are merit-based. I suggest checking with the financial aid offices of the colleges in which you have an interest, as well as with your school’s guidance office. There are many publications and web sites that can help you find scholarship opportunities. Don’t forget to check out merit scholarships that may be available from your community or state, as well as local clubs, businesses and organizations.

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I've been looking around at some schools such as Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt. Could you perhaps help me with sorting out the differences between these school's requirements against Ivy League schools?

If you're talking about minimum or median GPA's or test scores that you'll need to gain acceptance to these top-tier schools, you'll have to investigate each school individually. You can see how you might fit into a school's applicant pool by checking each school's website and seeing how the class of incoming freshman the previous year has scored. For example, Vanderbit reports that the middle range of students scored between a 1290-1420 on the old SAT test (to convert to new scores for comparison, divide the old SAT scores by 2 and then multiply by 3 since there are now 3 sections). 

Of course, the difficulty of your courses (for example, the number of AP and honors courses), extracurricular and community activities, essays and recommendations are all factors that can make a difference in whether you gain acceptance.

Schools such as Johns Hopkins are often as competitive in their admissions as the Ivy League schools. I encourage you to apply to a number of schools, including at least one or two "safety" schools, and to take into account factors other than purely academics, such as type of campus (e.g., urban, rural or suburban), student mix, location and campus life.

Good luck!

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I was wondering if a private school that is know to send people off to the University of my dreams would be better than my current well ranked public high school. My current school doesn't have a good track record for sending people off to Ivy League schools, generally sending one person off to Harvard a year and maybe one or two more to the other Ivy League schools. I know I could still keep in touch with my friends since this is a small area. The resources at one of these private schools are amazing (extra curriculars, rigorous academics, incredible libraries, etc.) I am a junior. I do community service with the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and play tennis, soccer and baseball. I have a 4.0 GPA and am in all curriculum one and honors courses (the highest courses in the school). I am also part of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. Would just keeping this up be enough to get into one of my favorite universities? Or would a private school with a superior track record be a better choice? Do private schools with rigorous academics generally look better on applications?

First of all, congratulations on all of your accomplishments. You should be very proud of yourself.

Your question is a tough one, particularly when you’re this far along in high school. To be honest, a student with your accolades will wow any admissions committee. While attending a more competitive private school may help you a tiny bit, you’d be entering that school very late in the game. Consequently, attending a high-caliber private school may not make much difference at all (especially not for the thousands of dollars it will cost to transfer to the private school). Some of your grades might not transfer (or they might not receive as many grade points as you receive now), and you’ll end up throwing yourself into a bunch of new activities, which will ultimately not impress colleges that much since you will have only been involved in them for a few months at the time of application. So transferring may help you in the reputation department, but it could weaken your application in other areas—i.e.—class rank, GPA, extracurriculars. You’ll be thrown into the mix at a new school where your fellow students are more acclimated while you’re forced to make a sudden transition at the same time you’re applying to college.

My suggestion is to continue at your current school, keep up your grades, and stay involved in extracurricular and community activities. If you do this, you'll have a good shot at some very good schools. When you attend college, you’ll almost certainly end up at a place with libraries, extracurriculars, and courses as good or better than those offered at the private high school you’re interested in.

Finally, it’s important to keep an open mind about where you apply to and are admitted to college. Each year, thousands of qualified applicants—many attending top-notch public and private schools—are denied admission to the colleges of their choice simply because there are more qualified students than there are available spaces. Such rejection should not be construed as a judgment on one’s intellect or one’s ability to succeed in college or life. Many people end up attending schools they once considered undesirable only to discover that school was the perfect fit for them. After all, you can receive an excellent education at dozens of different schools, so long as you’re willing to take advantage of the opportunities you’re presented with.

It sounds like you have an excellent record, and should have a good shot at getting into an excellent school. The Ivy League schools are very competitive, so I can't really say how good your chances are. But, as I said, you seem to have the credentials to get into several excellent schools. Good luck!

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My son applied to some very difficult universities to get into. What should we do if he is not accepted into any of them? What are his choices after possibly being declined? His two top choices are the most difficult to get into. Academically, he has the grades, but his SAT scores were very median.
Well, it's tough to tell at this point. But be encouraged: If your son doesn't get into his preferred colleges, you will be able to apply to other colleges for late admission if necessary, especially since his grades are excellent. Remember that there are very many good colleges and both public and private universities out there. Sometimes slightly less selective universities turn out to carry a wonderful college experience (for example, professors at teaching-based universities, rather than research-based universities, can potentially tend to be more available to their students). Most of all, I would encourage you to have a creative attitude--read, beyond the Ivy League names--when you and your son think about his upcoming college education. You have many options if these schools don't work out. Don't fret. Try browsing our Featured Colleges and Universities as a start. You could also look at a sampling of wonderful public or private universities by checking out Kiplinger's 100 Best Values in Public and Private Universities. Hopefully that eases your mind if your son is not initially accepted into his top-choice schools.

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My last summer as a high student is coming to an end, and I get so nervous whenever I think about senior year. It's really my last chance to show colleges that I'm the student that they're looking for. But as nice as that sounds, I feel it is almost impossible now. So far, I've had good grades in English and History, average in Science, and pathetic in Math and Foreign Language. I tried to retake some classes over the summer, too, but they were canceled due to budget cuts in California. My unweighted GPA is unimpressive- around 3.0. On the SAT Reasoning, I received only an 1800. I am involved in many extracurricular activities, and I've accumulated a lot of volunteer service hours. I want to go to a school in the UC system but when I did some research, I realized that my grades and test scores are below average compared to the thousands of other competitive students that apply there. If I get all A's and B's in my classes this year, continue with all of my extracurricular activities, and raise my test scores, will it be enough for me to have a spot in a university? Even if I do everything I just said, I'm so afraid my attempts will go unnoticed because applications are due at the end of November. I'm just so terrified that all the mail I'll receive in the spring will be rejection letters.
First of all, thanks for this question!  Your question shows your commitment to excellence and your sense of self-effort.  And by no means is a 3.0 GPA bad at all.  In fact, that's pretty good.

Next, I encourage you to apply that same effort to achieving your educational and admission goals.  From your e-mail, I can tell you are able to visualize a goal in your mind (getting into a UC college) as well as the route to get there (maintaining your grades, staying involved in activities, raising your test scores).  Keep your "mental eyes" on those goals.  Yes, it's easy to imagine the worst, but remember that the worst rarely happens.  Next, find some support to help you reach your goals of raising your scores and grades, etc.  Seek out your high school advisor and ask him or her for help.  Make the most of your friends' support--maybe they'll help you study and flourish in your extracurriculars.  If you have supportive parents, they'll also probably jump at the change to help you stick to your goals.  Take the SAT again if you think you'll do better, even if the scores don't come in right away.  Colleges will sometimes accept students later than usual if they see improvement in an applicant.

Also, when you start actually applying to colleges, make sure you also emphasize what makes you unique...your best assets.  It sounds like you've been doing a lot of volunteering.  That's great!  Talk about that in your application and your essay.  Tell your own story.  Also, why do you want to attend a UC college?  Tell each school why.  Admissions officers love to hear from students who really care about the school and are able to express why they want to be there.

Finally, take a deep breath and relax a little bit.  I think you have a more-than-reasonable chance of getting into a good university.  It sounds like you're taking all the right steps.  I hope this is a good starting point for you at the beginning of your senior year!  Please feel free to send me an e-mail again and let me know how everything goes.  Best of luck.

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Hey. I'm an incoming junior at an IB school in California, and I currently have a 4.00 unweighted GPA, 4.44 weighted (ranked 2 of 587), a 2110 on the SAT I, and a 730 on the World History Subject Test. I'm taking all AP courses and I am a candidate for the IB diploma. I was accepted to a biotechnology internship offered at a local college my freshman year, and I am currently going to start attending a Sharp Hospital Medical Internship throughout the school year. I am treasurer of the Science and Engineering Club (I got 2nd at the district science fair), treasurer of my Junior Optimist Octagon Club at my school, class secretary, and I am founding a National Honors Society at my school. I plan to be president or vice-president of these clubs by my senior year. In addition, I'm in Model United Nations, Earth Service Corps, and a drug-usage prevention program at my school for young kids. I'm News Editor of my school newspaper (slated to be Editor-in-Chief my senior year) and I was voted Outstanding Rookie of my school's show choir. I'm going to join my local college's debate team in the fall, and I've taken many courses at the college. Also, every winter I help out at a program that helps families in poverty give Christmas presents to their kid. If I'm planning to apply UC Berkeley, Stanford, or Ivy League schools, what do you think else I should do or should continue doing? Any advice?
Yes, my only piece of advice is this: Take a day off! Seriously, give yourself a little bit of time to still be a kid. You don't want to burn out before you turn 18!

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I'm currently a junior at a very rigorous public high school in Missouri. Currently, I have a 3.5 GPA, but I've taken all honors/AP English, history, and science courses throughout high school. I'm president of my school's charity ceramics club, on the city-wide board of the national JSU (Jewish Student Union) organization, a founder of another charity art club, a member of my school's GSA (which I've gone to my state's capital to lobby for), and a committed dancer. I'm a photographer for both my school newspaper and yearbook, and I am the program director of photography at the YMCA camp that I work at full-time over the summer. I know that colleges look for students who are committed to specific things that they really love, which I can honestly say I am. My concern is that I really don't have much of any community service, other than doing odd jobs through my temple's youth group and volunteering as a camp counselor for my school's 6th grade camp. My grades aren't as strong as they should be, and I'm wondering if those two negative components will greatly affect my chances of getting into a good, competitive school (such as NYU, BU, Northwestern, etc)? I haven't taken the ACT yet (I will in December), but without those scores yet, do you think I should aim at some less competitive schools instead of getting majorly let down if I don't get into a lot of my top choices? And do you recommend starting some community service now (there are organizations I really do care about, i just haven't had the chance to volunteer), or would it just look to colleges like I was shoving it in at the last minute?
Your extracurriculars sound very strong to me. You can certainly count your involvement in camp and in your temple's youth group as community service, as well as your involvement on the citywide board of the JSU. Anything that takes place in your community counts as community service...not just volunteering at the hospital or working at a soup kitchen. So there you go! Don't worry about "shoving more things in," as you say...unless you still want the chance to try something for yourself. Go ahead and apply for the schools you mentioned to me (why not?), but also apply to some mid-range and safety schools as well. I think you'll be fine.

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My daughter has 3.1 GPA and has been declined admissions at all colleges she applied. Is there somebody who can help us with her getting admission in a reputable college?
I would suggest that you expand your definition of "reputable." Most public universities and state schools are a bit less selective, meaning that they accept slightly lower GPAs but still provide a great quality of education -- sometimes even a better or more satisfying education than schools that appear more "elite." For example, professors can often be more available to help individual students than they are at some other schools.

And your daughter has a good GPA, so I still think she'd be a shoe-in to some really good schools assuming her test scores are passable. If she's okay with staying in-state, that would also save a lot of money. Talk these options over with her and see what you both think. Good luck.

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Dear Guru, I'm facing a complicated set of circumstances, and I'd like your advice on what types of colleges I should focus on researching and applying to. My GPA and SAT scores (both are near perfect) are on par with those of most students admitted to the sort of nerd heaven schools I dream of going to (MIT, Caltech, Harvey Mudd). However, some health problems have sucked up much of my life over the last 2 years of high school (I'm entering senior year) and consequently, I didn't have the time or energy to be involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. I'm very involved in my school's speech and debate team, have held multiple leadership positions on it, and have done rather well competitively. However, this is the only activity I've really been able to do (aside from visiting the doctor and groaning in bed), and so I doubt most schools with the nerd glamour and students who'd want to watch ASCII Star Wars with me would admit me. What do I do?
I have to tell you, I was really appreciative of your honesty and humor when I read your question. I think that something that will go far for you, no matter what your circumstances are, are the sincere and self-deprecating way you illustrate your life - the fact that you were able to do it for me in less than 500 words was pretty impressive.

So, my advice? You've had health problems; you can certainly mention that briefly on your application if you'd like. It sounds like you still were able to participate in and rise to the top in speech and debate, which, again, is impressive. Colleges not only like to see students involved in a billion things - they appreciate students who are really focused and dedicated to one activity too, which is what you have been doing.

You might also want to think about, for your personal essay, writing an extended version of your "nerd heaven dreams" and also interweave that with describing the battle of weapons and wit you have employed to cope with your health struggles. If you write with the same pluck with which you wrote to me, that will definitely stand out as an excellent essay.

Bottom line? Go ahead and apply for your dream schools, along with a couple of other safety schools. You have nothing to lose, and to me it sounds like you still have a fair shot. If you have a vision for what you want to accomplish at one of those schools, go ahead and expound on that too! I would encourage you that colleges know that you can't help your own health problems. They'll take that into account when making admissions decisions. And who knows? Maybe some of the admissions officers have a soft spot in their heart for ASCII Star Wars too.

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I recently finished my sophomore year of high school and I am going into my junior year. I've gotten straight A's in all honors classes so far. I'm signed up to take three AP classes next year, but other students in my school have taken these already or are taking four or five AP classes next year. Should I take another AP course? I don't want to get in over my head, and I'm worried that adding an AP class will be too much to handle. I really want to get into a good school. What should I do?
Your apprehension is valid, as too many rigorous AP classes can end up backfiring on your academic record. Remember that you're not necessarily competing directly with the students at your school for college admissions. These students taking heavy AP course loads will probably go to a wide variety of schools that fit their individual academic goals. The best advice for you is to maintain a challenging course load, but one in which you can still maintain at least a B average. It sounds like you are an A student, so perhaps aim a bit higher and keep your courses at a level that allows you to earn high scores. Don't forget: Other parts of your application are just as important. Balancing strong extracurricular activities and test scores with high grades is the best way to achieve college acceptances to the schools you choose. If you already feel worried that another AP course might overload your schedule, you should probably listen to that instinct and choose wisely. After you complete junior year, you may find that you are ready for more AP classes. Ease into it, and trust your instincts. Since this is your first semester to take AP courses, don't worry about adding more to your schedule. Focus on excelling at the classes you've taken on. Good luck!

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Will attending a private high school positively affect my acceptance at an Ivy League School?
There are some private schools (and public schools as well) that may have a better academic “reputation” or “ranking” and could be a positive factor for college admissions committees to consider. So, for example, it’s possible that attending a high school known for having a more rigorous curriculum and/or more academically talented students may help you somewhat.

However, I don’t believe this would be a significant factor for most colleges. Further, you ask about attending a private school, but I can’t tell you whether the particular school you have in mind is one that would be distinguished enough to make a difference. For example, while some private high schools are competitive to attend, requiring students to meet minimum grades and test scores, others are not. So, whether to attend a private or public high school is a personal decision that needs to take into account the quality of the public schools and the private schools you’re considering, social and personal factors, and, of course, the financial means of you and your family.

There are many very fine public high schools out there, including “magnet” schools, and while there are also many fine private schools, I don’t think I’d base my decision to attend a private school solely on thinking you’ll have an edge in getting into an Ivy League college. Keep in mind that no matter where you go to high school it will be very competitive to get into an Ivy League school. Also keep in mind that there are many fine schools out there other than the Ivy League schools, so I would urge you not to get too hung up on attending only one of the Ivies.

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I am about to be a sophomore in high school. I take all honors classes and at my school band can count toward our GPA. I have mostly A's and B's. Do you think that if I keep up these grades up the following years I could get into an Ivy League school? Also, I play field hockey, basketball, and track and during the summer I work at a peer leadership program that trains and supports middle and high school-aged girls to lead their peers to become healthier and more powerful. Do you think I need to work a lot harder, or do you think all hope is lost?
You sound like a strong student with good extracurricular activities. However, we can't predict anyone's chances of getting in to any particular school.. You really have to look at each college and determine whether your profile meets that of the average incoming student. (This can usually be found on the school's admissions page online, and includes average GPAs and test scores of incoming freshmen.) Many Ivy League applicants will have 4.0 GPAs, many AP credits, and even some college credits under their belt. But, this isn't always the case. My best advice is for you to keep working on improvement and to research your school of choice to see what it takes to get in. Also, don't discount non-Ivy League schools. Many universities offer a great education, and you should pick a school based on what it has to offer, location, cost, your particular career goals, and other factors more specific to your situation. The prestige of a university doesn't always mean it's a good fit for you. Good luck!

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Hi Guru. My biggest goal in life is to get accepted into Johns Hopkins University, complete my 4 undergrad years, and then transfer into JHU Medical School to study neurosurgery. I am currently a sophomore at a high school in Loudoun County VA. My GPA from last year was 4.11 cumulative (I took high school classes in middle school) and I played soccer as well as saxophone in the school's concert band. This year I am in the school's Key Club (a volunteer organization), HOSA (a club for students who are looking into health professions), I now play saxophone for the jazz band, and I am trying out for varsity soccer in the spring. My GPA so far this year is around a 4.4 and I get my PSAT results in December. I am Hispanic and speak both English and Spanish fluently. Do you think I have a chance of making it into a school as prestigious as Hopkins?
You have an impressive, specific goal, and it sounds like you're working very hard toward it. While I can't give you any indication of your likelihood of being admitted, I can tell that you're a well-rounded student with an exciting career ahead. Schools look at a variety of factors like grades to extracurriculars, test scores, essays, and recommendation letters. Your admission decision will depend on many things, including the competitive level of your application pool. The best thing you can do is keep working toward the goal, keep your grades high, and continue taking an active role in your community activities and clubs. Consider applying to a variety of schools, too. I know Johns Hopkins is your dream school, but it won't hurt to apply to a few others on your list as well when the time comes. Good luck!

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We are trying to decide where to send our daughter to high school. She has attended a Catholic school for the past eight years. We cannot decide if we should put her in a private college preparatory high school, a Catholic high school, or a local public school. The public school is ranked in the mid 400's. The public school has an enrollment of about 700 students in each grade, as opposed to only 150 in the private and Catholic school. Her GPA for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade years is a 97.6. She is taking honors classes and is extremely motivated. She is also very involved in a club sport. We want to help her make the best decision. She would love to attend a top rated school. What school will be the best fit?
This is a great question, but the best answer is to consider many factors and to visit the schools for a better sense of what they offer. You should choose the school where your daughter is most likely to excel in all areas rather than the school you feel would look the best to colleges. Top schools look for students with high performance in many areas aside from academic coursework. You know your daughter best, so consider what school will help her become the most active in her community and organizations specific to her interests. What school will challenge her academically while also nurturing her confidence and social skills? Many make the mistake of believing that college committees only look for high grades from rigorous curriculum, but colleges look for much more in an applicant. Your daughter will be best served in a school that combines a challenging curriculum with lots of extracurricular opportunities, as well as a dedicated faculty that will know her personally and be able to write strong recommendations. If you think continuing a Catholic education would best serve her, take that route. However, if you feel she is ready for more challenges academically, consider a prep school. Alternatively, a public school might offer exposure and experience that will prepare her for university life. I would advise you to visit the schools with your daughter to experience them first hand and find the best fit. Good luck to you and your daughter!

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I am currently a junior in high school at the most difficult high school in my state. My non-weighted GPA at the end of this year was a 3.9. However, a lot of things happened this year and I ended up getting two C's and two B's. I am worried that if colleges see the huge drop in grades they will see it as a lack of motivation or slacking. If I earn all A's for my second semester, will it help me recover? I have three honors classes and two AP classes this year. I also doubled up on science classes. I really want to get into Berkeley or UCLA, but I am worried I can't get in now. I am taking the SAT in two weeks, and my PSAT scores were high. Is there anything I can do to increase my chances of getting into a top college despite my first semester GPA? Also what other colleges would you recommend? I want to go into chemical engineering but unfortunately most of my science grades were B's.
You sound like a great student who genuinely cares about your future. Do not worry about the slip in grades. Instead, do everything you can moving forward to make the application the best it can be. A short-term slip in grades will not make or break your application because schools look at a large variety of factors when making admission decisions. They will review your grades, test scores, application essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters. Top schools like Berkeley are looking for students who stand out from the crowd. You can strengthen your chances by getting involved in clubs and organizations and by taking on leadership roles. Do you have other components to your resume besides strong grades and AP courses? Are there clubs or organizations related to your desired field of study that you can join? What about volunteer work? Also, building strong relationships with science teachers who can write strong recommendations for you is crucial. Get to know your teachers, and make sure they are aware of your active involvement in school and the community. All of these factors count, especially for a top notch school. To find more top schools for chemical engineering, check out the US News website which constantly ranks schools based on different factors. Good luck!

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How do I get into the best schools? The MyCollegeGuide Guru answers your questions.