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Articles / Applying to College / How Do College Admission Officials View "Elite" High School Applicants?

How Do College Admission Officials View "Elite" High School Applicants?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 1, 2016

Question: When you look at a students application, does a elite high school make a difference.

Admission officials endeavor to learn enough about every applicant's high school to understand the level of rigor—and competition—that the applicant has faced. When a student has attended an “elite" school … which is presumably a challenging school as well … the admission folks will evaluate him or her in the context of this demanding environment. They certainly realize that A's are handed out liberally at some high schools but can be hard to earn at others. Admission officials also know that a strong—even if not stellar—student at a top high school is more likely to make a smooth transition to college work than a student who has sailed through an easier high school.


But … students at elite high schools who are applying to the most sought-after colleges also have to realize two things that could significantly affect their outcomes:

  1. Plenty of students from elite high schools will have A's in the Most Demanding courses despite the rigor. So students with B's or C's will still face “competitors" who have higher GPA's from comparable schools.
  1. At the elite high schools, both private and public, large numbers of seniors often apply to the same short list of colleges (i.e., the Ivies and their ilk plus the most selective liberal arts colleges). So, although admission officials may insist that applicants are never “competing" with their classmates, the truth is that colleges are likely to limit the number of students they accept from one high school in order to diversify their freshman class.

The bottom line is that college admission officials will view each candidate in the context of where he or she attended high school, and there is no sure-thing route to a first-choice college.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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