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Assessing Your Chances at Getting In 

There’s no magic eight ball when it comes to the college admissions game.  Your guidance counselor cannot predict your chances with certainty.  No matter how proud your parents are, they cannot guarantee you’ll be accepted into your dream school.  Even admissions officers don’t necessarily know how the chips will fall as they begin to sift through applications.  Indeed, it’s an imperfect science.  However, just because an acceptance letter can never be assured, that doesn’t mean you can’t gauge your chances and come up with an application strategy.

To begin with, all colleges and universities publish at least some of their admissions data.  This means that often you can investigate the percentage of overall applicants they accept, the figures for early action/admission and even the number of students they place on their wait list.  Moreover, you can also research the average GPA, class rank and standardized test scores of students who have been admitted.  If your own numbers fall within the middle, then you can deduce that probably have a decent shot of getting in.

Data points are also quite useful when it comes to assessing your chances at certain particular state schools.  Many state universities are deluged with applications and use quantitative minimums to determine their incoming class.  This is especially true for in-state applicants (whom they accept in higher numbers).  In many cases, if in-state students meet specific GPA and SAT/ACT requirements, they are automatically accepted.

On the other hand, generally speaking, private institutions pride themselves on taking the time to try to gain a sense of each applicant.  While students tend to appreciate this effort, it also indicates that qualitative facets are heavily weighed.  And that makes assessing your chances a bit more challenging.  In these cases, your personal narrative becomes more important.  What your teachers highlight in their recommendations, the way you color your personal statement, how you come across in your interview, the types of activities in which you participate – all these factors are weighed.

Therefore, when attempting to assess your chances, you can also try and determine the vibe/flavor of a school.  For instance, a military institution will certainly value students who demonstrate leadership ability.  Are you someone who is the president of the environmental club, the captain of the basketball or on student council?  If so, you’re more likely to catch their eye.  Similarly, colleges with a religious affiliation might be more inclined to choose applicants who demonstrate a value system close to their own.  And so on (you get the gist).   

Many colleges and universities also place importance on diversity, whether it’s geographic or ethnic (or both).  After all, they want their students to be exposed to different cultures and viewpoints.  So, for example, if a school in Vermont rarely yields applications from students in Alaska, it might be really excited by the prospect of a qualified Alaskan candidate who demonstrates a strong interest in attending college in Vermont. Conversely, if a school sees many applicants from a particular geographic area or school, competition may be a bit stiffer. 

You can also turn to your own high school when calculating your odds.  Ask your guidance counselor where recent graduates have enrolled.  He/she will likely be able to pinpoint students with similar backgrounds, transcripts and interests and let you know where they applied and whether they were accepted or rejected.

Look, the college admissions process can be trying at times.  The bottom line is that most schools receive applications from a number of successful, talented students.  And unfortunately, they just can’t accept every qualified candidate.  Therefore, the best you can hope for is that you smartly position yourself by applying to colleges where you meet the criteria and where you might stand out.

To learn more about assessing your chance of admission, we recommend reading our article about reach, match and safety schools.  



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Don Munce