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Articles / Applying to College / Ivy Odds for Student with Strong GPA but Sub-Par SAT's?

Dec. 27, 2015

Ivy Odds for Student with Strong GPA but Sub-Par SAT's?

Question: My daughter applied to several Ivy League schools in addition to her safe schools. She has a 3.97 gpa, several AP classes and honor classes throughout HS. Played tennis and attended the National Leadership conference at Harvard during the Summer of 2014. Her essays were outstanding, according to her teachers. plus great recommendations.

Outside of school, she created a website at the age of 14 for writers and publishers to showcase their books. The only issue is her SAT score which is 1860. Does she have a shot at getting into an Ivy?

The Dean” does not do “chances.” It would be irresponsible to try to assess  admission odds without access to all of the information about the candidate … and about an institution’s priorities … that admission officials have.

What I can tell you, however, is that the vast majority of applicants to every Ivy League college will submit an application that includes an excellent GPA like your daughter’s (in mostly all AP and honors classes) along with varied extracurricular endeavors and outstanding recommendations.

Most applicants, as you probably know, will also submit SAT scores that are well above your daughter’s. So this could make your daughter’s acceptance unlikely. But if she is an under-represented minority student and is the first in the family to attend college and/or comes from a disadvantaged background, then it’s very possible that she will get good news despite her test scores. And sometimes there are other unpredictable factors (such as the institution’s priorities noted above—never revealed to those of us beyond the closed admission-committee doors) that can lead to a favorable outcome even when test results are sub-par.

Your daughter is clearly an accomplished young woman. Her application cannot possibly express all that is special about her. So admission officials will be evaluating her using data … including test results … that doesn’t truly show who she is. Yet perhaps she will get lucky and the admission folks will see beyond her test scores. But, if not, she is sure to have options, and she will probably be happy and engaged wherever she lands, even if it isn’t at an Ivy.  Frankly, “the Dean” is a bit weary of all the Ivy angst that seems to be floating around in the universe. My own son, in fact, was accepted to the one Ivy League school he applied to last year but chose to enroll elsewhere. He is delighted with his choice, and has had a great freshman year thus far, and so I rarely miss the opportunity to remind students and parents that Ivy isn’t everything.

Here’s to a wonderful 2016 to your family, whatever college news it brings.


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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