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Articles / Applying to College / Elite-College Eligible?

Elite-College Eligible?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 31, 2002

Question: As I hear more and more about the impossibility of elite admissions, I wonder: Does the student who has a near-4.0 unweighted GPA and 1450+ SATs, who takes the hardest available courses, has extensive service involvement and sports involvement (but not stardom), and is editor-in-chief of the newspaper and student council president still stand a chance?


Aside from your great transcript and test scores, you, you’ve used some important buzzwords when it comes to elite-college admission: student council president; newspaper editor-in-chief.


Leadership is a quality that most colleges claim to seek, and the more competitive the college, the loftier those leadership posts need to be. More middling schools, for instance, are happy to welcome chess club treasurers and debate society secretaries. But, when you’re talking about the Ivy League (or its equivalents), then applicants typically need to be holding down the highest of high school jobs, such as those named above, or have other unique qualifications or special skills.

Many a proud parent is perplexed when a child with strong grades and test scores, who plays the cello in the school orchestra, heads the literary club, and starts on the soccer team, gets passed over by a favored university. It’s hard for them to realize that this young stand-out is “competing” with national orchestra members, published novelists (yes, it happens), and even Olympic hopefuls.

However, when it comes to the most hyperselective colleges, no student is ever a sure-thing. Admission committees really do scrutinize all the stacks of material they request, and they consider lots of other factorsâ€"family background, geography, extenuating circumstancesâ€"as well. It would be nice to think that accurate admission decisions could be made on Web sites and discussion boards and in lunchrooms or homerooms, but even educated evaluations are just that. In your case, like everyone else, you’ll have to wait until April to find out if your top-choice envelope will be thick or thin. Until then, our advice: Get the tee-shirtâ€"just not the tattoo.

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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