When Straight As Are Not Enough: The New Normal for College Admissions

Posted on

July 21, 2017


Greg Kaplan


The College Board released their ten-year report on trends in college admissions.  The report found that 47% of college-bound high school students now graduate with an ‘A-’ or higher grade point average.  This is up from 38% ten years ago.  What does this mean for your child applying to college?  Perfect grades are not enough.  Half of your child’s peers will have the same great grades

It is hard to say what is causing this trend.  Students are enrolling in more AP, honors and IB classes that boost students’ GPAs.  Parents and students alike are becoming more proactive to earn the best grades possible given the intense competition to earn admission to highly selective colleges.   Regardless of what is causing the upward grade trend, your entire family is on notice.  To stand out, consider the following:

1.     Focus on the SAT/ACT.  While GPAs are going up, entrance exam scores are going down.  Over the same ten-year period, SAT scores decreased from a national average of 1,026 (out of 1600) to 1,002.  Given the convergence of grades at the top, admissions officers must rely on entrance exams scores to make the first round of cuts to large and competitive applicant pools.  Therefore, the stronger your child’s SAT or ACT scores, the better odds of admission.  Research online to determine what scores are necessary to be competitive at your child’s dream colleges.

2.     Take the SAT II Subject Tests.  There are SAT I (reasoning) and SAT II subject tests.  The SAT II subject tests cover high school classes like biology, chemistry, foreign languages, world and US history, literature, and math.  Obtaining a competitive score on these tests can provide context in a world where everyone seems to be earning ‘As’.  These tests are based off high school curriculum and many AP, IB, and honors classes prepare students to take these tests.    

3.     Find opportunities to demonstrate commitment and excellence with academic passions.  An aspiring doctor can prove her commitment to medicine by volunteering at a hospital.  A student interested in engineering could avail himself of his high school’s robotics club.  Whatever your child is interested in pursuing, look for opportunities to excel in a related activity.  Involvement demonstrates interest and passion, and will help your child stand out from other applicants who have a strong grade in the most relevant high school field, but have not pursued their passion outside the classroom.

4.     Find advanced classes off campus.  Look to community colleges or local four-year universities to explore academic interests.  Admissions officers seek students who have challenged themselves in high school.  Taking an advanced class or one in a field not offered in high school demonstrates your child’s passion for that field and ability to handle advanced material.

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