High SAT/ACT, Low GPA, Where am I at???

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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: November 2003 Archive: High SAT/ACT, Low GPA, Where am I at???
By Combat_Swimmer (Combat_Swimmer) on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 11:49 pm: Edit

Hi! Here is my situation. I have high test scores, (SAT 1580, ACT 34) but my GPA is only 3.1 (top half, but that's it). My family had to move a lot in high school, and I went to 12 different high schools. I'm not saying it is the only reason for my GPA, but it was a contributing factor. With contradictory test scores and GPA, where does that put me for admissions? I'm not trying to get into the Ivy League or anything, I couldn't afford them even if I was accepted. I am just looking for a good public school that takes their Econ program seriously.

Thanks in advance for your help!

By Metz (Metz) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:00 am: Edit

First of all, you can afford ANY school if you're willing to pay off student loans. Almost any major university is able to cover 100% of a student's needs.

Your grades are going to keep you out of the very top schools. But there are some second and third tier schools that you would have chances at because of your SATs. Some might diagree with me, but with good essays, I think you'd have a shot at schools like NYU and USC (though they would probably be somewhat of reaches). You would have trouble getting into a good public school though, because they usually heavily weight grades in the admissions process (i.e. Berkley, UMich, UVA). But the truth is public schools aren't THAT cheap if you live out of state anyway. Have you thought of just going to your own state university?

By Combat_Swimmer (Combat_Swimmer) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:03 am: Edit

Actually, I am in the military, and I got picked up for an officer accession program that sends me to school for three years (no summers off :( ). They foot the bill, but only up to $10k a year for tuition.

By Combat_Swimmer (Combat_Swimmer) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:05 am: Edit

Also, I plan on continuing in Economics, eventually to my Ph.D. My plan is to kick butt earning my undergrad degree, then apply for U of Chicago for grad school eventually. That being the case, is my Econ undergrad degree that important?

By Arthur (Arthur) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:06 am: Edit


second and third tier schools?

with stats like that, you can comfortably get into tier 1 schools and even look at the top 25. were your schools tough? did you take hard classes?

it's all about how you present yourself in your application. if you had some serious ECs, they will overlook your grades to some extent. write good essays, too, and show interest in the school. you can shoot high.

i'd recommend the university of michigan, by the way, as a public school with a great business program. if your courseload was strong, i think you have a good shot.

By Metz (Metz) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:14 am: Edit

Arthur, you're completely wrong. Ivy League schools traditionally only take 2% of their students from outside the top 25%. Your completely misguided if you think high SAT scores/low grades will get you into an Ivy League school.

UMich may be worth a try, but it will be very hard for you to get into. Someone a while ago posted a link to a web site that had the formula UMich used to use for acceptance. BY FAR the most weight was put on grades. THe odds aren't very good that you'd get in if you weren't even in the top 25%. You can try though.

By Dylan (Dylan) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:37 am: Edit

"Arthur, you're completely wrong. Ivy League schools traditionally only take 2% of their students from outside the top 25%. Your completely misguided if you think high SAT scores/low grades will get you into an Ivy League school."

Top 25 != Ivy League

By Metz (Metz) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:48 am: Edit

First of all, he also said "tier 1," which most would consider Ivy/MIT/Stanford. Second of all, maybe a top 25 school will take 5-6% of it's class that is below the top 25%. Honestly, how many students do you think Georgetown, Northwestern, Berkley, etc. are taking that aren't in the top 25%?

Again, that doesn't mean it's impossible to get in, but the odds are quite a bit against you.

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:58 am: Edit

I would suggest looking at some of the publics that are in the bottom 25 of the US News Rating. I think those are Wisconsin, and perhaps University of Illinois. I am not sure how their ec programs are, but their overall rating is good.

And do realize that many private colleges especially offer good need-based financial aid. With your high test scores, you might get a nice merit package from some tier 2 colleges, public and private. Those are colleges ranked 50-100 from US News.

As you consider colleges, check out their financial aid pages to see what your scholarship/aid chances are. If your scores are far above the college's norm, that adds to your chances.

By Pseudo (Pseudo) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 06:26 pm: Edit

its worth a shot, you have nothing to lose

By Massdad (Massdad) on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 08:47 pm: Edit


If you really are in the military, active duty, not reserves, then you would be a bit older and a nontraditonal student. We on these boards frankly have NO IDEA how a school would treat you - there just aren't enough examples from which to generalize.

What I would do is gather a bit more information. If you called up a few admissions offices of some decent schools, I bet you could talk your way into an informational interview. You need info first.

Regarding schools, you ARE a resident of a state, maybe more than one with military status (I know, I'm a vet...). Any flagship state U. will give you the opportunity to excel enough to get into ANY graduate school. Whether you DO excel is up to you.

BTW, if your military status is only part time military reserve, that's enough for a Bagdad plane ticket, but does not mean squat to an admissions office. But being older still helps.

By Sidestoner (Sidestoner) on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 08:29 pm: Edit

I'm in a similiar situation. My standardized test scores are nothing short of perfect, but I've clashed with a lot of teachers and don't do (any) homework, so my GPA is worse than yours (though it isn't that bad when weighted because I take only difficult classes. I regularly get C's and D's in AP classes and get 5's on AP exams...wait, that's what's happened with every AP class I've had.

By Dadx (Dadx) on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 09:20 pm: Edit

If your twelve schools is even half true, you are a reasonable candidate at any ivy. Get on the stick and get your applications in WHEREVER you have an inclination to study econ or whatever, and let THEM decide. They'll also make it possible for you to afford it.

Do a good job on your apps.

By Massdad (Massdad) on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 09:43 pm: Edit


Let's put YOU on the admissions committee. Would YOU want to accept a student who "clashed with a lot of teachers and don't do any homework"? What do you think your teacher recs say? Not pretty, eh?

It is for kids like you that our higher ed system offers second chances. You need to prove you can play the game. Yes, that's what grades are about, and that's what schools want, by and large. You can prove it by going to a "lesser" school, excelling and transferring. But remember, there are no AP exams, just teachers.

All you've shown to date is that you are smart (and maybe a smart***? with your teachers?) but either a slacker or a rebel. Neither is attractive to the best U's.

Now, who will bite? There are schools that want kids with high SAT scores, so they can raise their stats. They are your best bet. They will not be names that give your parents bragging rights, however.

By Sidestoner (Sidestoner) on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 11:34 pm: Edit

Massdad: "Slacker" or "rebel," huh? To be honest, I was kind of going for the "misunderstood genius" role.

Another question:

How would impressive EC's affect someone like me?

By Drago (Drago) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 12:49 am: Edit

Actually, Massdad, it depends...especially it Sidestoner is given an option to write an essay abotu the reason for high tests/low GPA, some schools might like the "rebel" there. It all depends on one important factor: why?

Also, for someone majoring or looking to become something like a politician, wouldn't that be a good thing? Except for the homework part, if he was going into something with a lot of debate...wouldn't that be a good thing tha the clashes with people?

I clash with teachers a lot, but I do my homework, so my GPA hasn't really suffered...

By Uncchlocalmayor (Uncchlocalmayor) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 03:08 am: Edit

"Metz", shut up. I don't like your condescending attitude toward "Combat Swimmer," but yeah, I'll have to agree, a poor GPA will keep you out of some top schools. Take for instance this kid, I read about him in the Charlotte Observer a few months ago, who got a 1600 on his SAT, applied a year early to UNC-CH and got accepted. But then he started partying and goofing off his senior year in high school and ended up with a handful of C's and D's. He does not attend UNC-CH. A different situation though, so you probably have a better chance than this kid did at some top schools. Ok, so I thought the story was interesting--moving along.

"Combat Swimmer," the best question would be: what schools are you applying to and why?

Maybe we could provide you with better opinions this way.

UNC-CH c/o 2006

By Massdad (Massdad) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 09:55 am: Edit


Of course, with a good "why" it could be overcome. Sidestoner did not indicate any good "why" in his original post, though.

Yes, it's true that some adcoms delight in applicants that test the system. Catch is, they want to see a positive outcome. Lousy grades are not usually viewed that way. And no, politics, or law for that matter, are the worst places for folks who clash with others, especially authority figures. Underground subversive? Maybe, but I would not want to put that on an app!


Impressive EC's? Two problems: You may not get past the first screen; Readers may interpret the list to mean you put your emphasis in the wrong place, and were maybe distracted by the ECs.

Now, with a national award or two, yes you might overcome a negative perception, but it's a tough, risky route.

Look, you made a choice. You blew off the teacher's requirements. Now you need to live with your decision.

BTW. I can identify with your situation. It reminds me of my own HS career. What happened? I went to a 2nd tier state university, then on tu U. California for grad school and U. Chicago for an MBA.

So the good news is that the "system" gives you many second chances, but you need to take advantage of opportunities to prove yourself. See, the applicant pool is full of kids with records like yours - stellar test scores, even on the APs, glowing ECs, and mediocre grades. Why would they take you over the same record with stellar grades? They won't. "Misunerstood genius" needs 3rd party validation. If you had, say a Nobel prize winner from a local U go to bat for you, you could succeed (mild exaggeration here...) Short of that, no.

By The_Slc_Bug (The_Slc_Bug) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 10:05 am: Edit

Massdad, "the first screen?" How many screens do you generally get?

By Rokko91 (Rokko91) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 10:46 am: Edit

Hey has anyone been reading the paper lately about Berkeley admitting kids with SATs under 1000 and rejecting many quality applicants? Anything is possible!

By Massdad (Massdad) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 12:10 pm: Edit

The Slc Bug,

I'm not an admissions professional, so I can only speculate, but:

Imagine you are on the adcom. You walk into your office and see your desk buried in admissions folder. Each one has key data, SAT total, GPA, class rank on the tab (this part is factual).

The temptation to do an initial sort is irrestable. I suspect some schools actually have the administrative staff do a first screen before the adcom even sees it, especially state universities.

So, this screening is both human nature in action, and formal practice at some places. Read any of the many "inside story" admissions books. You'll get a flavor.

By The_Slc_Bug (The_Slc_Bug) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 12:16 pm: Edit

I'm just curious because I'm a Spring transfer applicant. I'd imagine that we are fewer, and that they might have more time to review us (at a big university, I also would imagine they have a different adcom for transfers and freshman, but I could be wrong). And, for example, the SAT or ACT score means a lot less. It's a different process, because there isn't really as much of a "set data"-- people who would normally be rejected as freshman based on scores and high school grades will get in as transfer students. I don't think an administrative assistant could really judge. Did the books say anything about transfers?

By Massdad (Massdad) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 02:05 pm: Edit

The SLC,

Transfer students are a whole different ball game, largely because you will be judged on your college record to date. The number of higher ed institutions is much smaller than High Schools, so adcoms can get their hands around what you've done much more readily. And, given the smaller numbers, it can be more personal.

Your comment regarding being rejected for Frosh admissions and accepted later is true only if you improve your record at your first higher ed institution. This is one of the positive parts of our complicated higher ed system - it give second (and third and fourth) chances. It is up to you students to take create these chances and take advantage of the opportunity you have.

By The_Slc_Bug (The_Slc_Bug) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 02:10 pm: Edit

Yes. I was an average student in high school who did not take much initiative to challenge myself or excel, mostly because of a huge event in my family that really stopped any care I had for school altogether. At college, I have excelled-- 4.0. I'm petrified, but I guess there's nothing I can do-- my app is already in and I'm awaiting the outcome. Thanks for reassuring me that transfer applicants get more personal read-through time.

By Sidestoner (Sidestoner) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 06:29 pm: Edit

Massdad, RE:EC's:

Yes I do have very impressive EC's. I have won national awards in both "academic" and "non-academic" pursuits. All of my EC's, including drama, debate, football, track, lacrosse, tennis, and golf are very time-consuming and my success in these areas show a willingness to work hard (and not just "cruise" one my abilities.

As a side note: I have done a few hundred hours of community service, but that has more to do with a few MIP's and curfew violations.

By Massdad (Massdad) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 08:55 pm: Edit


So, impressive ECs show the adcom that you don't have the discipline to focus on the top priority of high school - grades. That's how I'd read it: you have the ability, you have the time, you just don't have the discipline. You'd rather have fun than do the work, eh? I'm sorry, time consuming ECs will not prove any willingness to work hard. They show a willingness to PLAY hard.

Why should they accept you over the kid who does have the ability and discipline?

Go ahead and reach for the top. Who knows, you may even get your app read on an extra good day. But for your own protection, pick some good safeties to apply to. And, please do not be too proud in picking the safeties. I think you're going to need them. I realize you are a bit cocky because of your excellent test scores. Fine. Self confidence is a good thing. But, if you think the adcoms at the elite U's are kidding when they say HS record (classes and grades) are the most important thing in an application, you are in for a surprise. They are not kidding.

Kids with talent are "a dime a dozen" Kids with talent who know to apply it are what they want. You know where you are.

By Metz (Metz) on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 09:05 pm: Edit

In "A is for Admission," written by a Dartmouth adcom, she very clearly explains the importance of Academics/ECs. She explains that SATs are VERY important BUT ONLY with good grades. She says that about 80% of an admissions decision is based on SAT scores + grades. EC's are the last factor they look at.

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