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Articles / Applying to College / Do Colleges Favor Applicants From Less Rigorous High Schools to Boost Entering-Student Stats?

Do Colleges Favor Applicants From Less Rigorous High Schools to Boost Entering-Student Stats?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Feb. 6, 2019
Do Colleges Favor Applicants From Less Rigorous High Schools to Boost Entering-Student Stats?

I am aware that colleges look at high school profiles and are aware of the rigor of each school when making admissions decisions. However, are colleges tempted to take kids from easier school districts who may have higher GPAs, knowing that GPA is one of the “stats" that raises up the college profile in rankings? I live in a strong academic suburb area, and the honors classes seem very challenging. Teachers take pride in making “A" grades very difficult to attain. I think it's great for preparing the kids for challenges, but I do have concerns that it may harm them in the college search process, if schools are zeroed in on SAT and GPA minimums.

That's a reasonable question, yet one that “The Dean" hasn't been asked before. But the answer is “No." Rigorous high schools, both private and public, are typically the “bread and butter" at the more selective colleges. They're often the places with the highest SAT and ACT scores, as well as with the largest chunk of full-pay parents and generous donors. So admission offices won't overlook strong applicants from tough high schools just to bump up their GPA averages by a hair.

Do note, however, that at the hyper-competitive colleges, the majority of successful candidates have tip-top grades even when their schools have an unforgiving grading system. So once your child is a second-semester junior, feel free to talk to the guidance counselor about how her GPA, test scores and extracurricular accomplishments mesh with those of students accepted by her target colleges in recent years. You can also check data on Naviance (or whatever similar program your high school uses) to compare your child's stats with those of admitted — or denied — applicants from past classes. But these figures alone won't tell you which applicants were recruited athletes, first-generation, etc.

Some students justifiably complain that there are negatives to attending a challenging high school where it can be difficult to earn a high GPA and a top rank -- or to qualify for certain AP classes, honor societies, accolades and even scholarships. But at least these students are not penalized by colleges passing them over in favor of candidates from “easier" high schools. In fact, their successes at well-regarded high schools can be an extra tick in the "plus" column at decision time.


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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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