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Articles / Applying to College / Should a Graded-Paper Submission Be an "A" Paper?

Should a Graded-Paper Submission Be an "A" Paper?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 29, 2020
Should a Graded-Paper Submission Be an "A" Paper?


One of the colleges where I applied (Princeton) asked me to submit a graded paper. I sent them a paper I wrote that got an 80 but it is from a really rigorous class where the teacher is a hard grader and it was really well written. I mentioned it to my counselor and she was not happy. She said I should have sent them a paper that got an "A," even though it wasn't as well-written and the teacher was an easier grader. Should I submit this one now? Was I wrong?

Nope, you weren't wrong. "The Dean" can easily imagine those admission folks down in New Jersey staring at a stack of "A" essays with glazed eyes. However, a "really well-written" paper with a lower grade will provide a breath of fresh air for a jaded admission committee. It will also send them a message that suggests that you're not afraid of criticism from a teacher or of making a choice that isn't the obvious one that your counselor wanted you to make.

So this could reflect well on you, and I applaud your decision. I promise you that, if you don't get into Princeton (and the vast majority of qualified candidates will not), it won't be because you didn't send the right paper. Good luck!

About the Ask the Dean column: Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please send it along here.

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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