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Articles / Applying to College / From Disadvantaged Background to Elite University

Nov. 9, 2002

From Disadvantaged Background to Elite University

Question: I come from a low-income Latino family and am currently a freshman in the honors program at the Ohio State University. I graduated from high school with a 3.92 (weighted) GPA and an SAT of 1220. Only about 5% of the graduating students from my high school go on to college. What are my odds of transferring to colleges like Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, or any university of this caliber?

It sounds as if you have compiled an impressive recordâ€"perhaps even against the oddsâ€"and it’s likely that you will have a strong shot at transferring to one of the universities you named. If you are applying to enter as a transfer student in September, admission officials will look closely at your first-semester Ohio State grades as well as at your high school record. They will want to see how your high school strengths translate to a college environment. If your grades are good (B’s and above) you should likewise have a good shot at affirmative decisions.


You do not say, however, whether you applied to these universities before, when you were still in high school. If you did, and you were not admitted, then it’s a different story. In that case, you should plan to start the transfer process a year from nowâ€"in other words, to transfer at the start of your junior year rather than at the start of your sophomore yearâ€"so that admission officials will see three full semesters of college-level work. If you tried to apply sooner, they would be likely to “reject” you again for the same reasons that they did not take you straight from high school.

Assuming that this is the first time that you are approaching Northwestern, Chicago, and Michigan, etc., you should immediately contact their admission offices by phone or e-mail. Ask for the name of the official who is responsible for minority recruitment. Each office should have one (if not, ask for the transfer official) then tell him or her exactly what you’ve told us. Emphasize your high school record, your good SATs, and, above all, the fact that such a tiny percentage of your high school classmates went on to college. If your parents did not attend college, be sure to mention that, too. Ask this official if he or she thinks you are in the ballpark by applying. Chances are, you will be encouraged, and this individual will stay in contact with you as you go through the process and keep an eye out for your application later on.

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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