Elite-College Eligible?

Question: As I hear more and more about the impossibility of elite admissions, I wonder: Does the student who has a near-4.0 unweighted GPA and 1450+ SATs, who takes the hardest available courses, has extensive service involvement and sports involvement (but not stardom), and is editor-in-chief of the newspaper and student council president still stand a chance?

Aside from your great transcript and test scores, you, you’ve used some important buzzwords when it comes to elite-college admission: student council president; newspaper editor-in-chief.

Leadership is a quality that most colleges claim to seek, and the more competitive the college, the loftier those leadership posts need to be. More middling schools, for instance, are happy to welcome chess club treasurers and debate society secretaries. But, when you’re talking about the Ivy League (or its equivalents), then applicants typically need to be holding down the highest of high school jobs, such as those named above, or have other unique qualifications or special skills.

Many a proud parent is perplexed when a child with strong grades and test scores, who plays the cello in the school orchestra, heads the literary club, and starts on the soccer team, gets passed over by a favored university. It’s hard for them to realize that this young stand-out is “competing” with national orchestra members, published novelists (yes, it happens), and even Olympic hopefuls.

However, when it comes to the most hyperselective colleges, no student is ever a sure-thing. Admission committees really do scrutinize all the stacks of material they request, and they consider lots of other factors—family background, geography, extenuating circumstances—as well. It would be nice to think that accurate admission decisions could be made on Web sites and discussion boards and in lunchrooms or homerooms, but even educated evaluations are just that. In your case, like everyone else, you’ll have to wait until April to find out if your top-choice envelope will be thick or thin. Until then, our advice: Get the tee-shirt—just not the tattoo.