My daughter has set her sights on some fairly selective colleges in urban areas, specifically, NYU, UCLA, USC, and Boston University (my alma mater). We live in a suburb of Seattle in a school district known to have great schools. She is only in her freshman year but we want her to keep her goals in mind as she develops her academic and extracurricular schedule. Her grades are good (over 3.5 GPA) and she is taking a rigorous schedule of all honors classes, but she is not a 3.8+ kid. In addition to good grades, test scores, “most demanding" classes, and interesting extracurricular activities, will her “geographic diversity" give her much of an advantage? Will it help her chances that she is from the opposite coast in the case of NYU and BU? Do UCLA and USC give any weight to the fact that she is from Washington and not California? I want to set realistic expectations for her. Thank you!
GPA and rigor of course load are the most important factors in the college admissions process, unless there are “significant hooks." Being a recruited athlete, a disadvantaged underrepresented minority student or, better yet, Malia Obama 😉 would count as “significant hooks." Hailing from Seattle might give a student a tiny plus at East Coast (or Midwest) schools but doesn't help in nearby CA. Yet this plus alone won't be enough to surmount a GPA deficiency.
If you check out the College Board Web site, you can follow the admitted-student GPA trends at the schools that interest your daughter as she continues through high school. First go here: https://www.collegeboard.org/ . Then type in the name of the college that interests you; next hit the “Applying" tab on the left and, finally, the “Academics & GPA" tab. Keep in mind, however, that the published figures represent the statistics of ALL admitted students … including those with the whopper hooks cited above. So a student who has no hooks will have the best chances if she is at or near the top of the median range (for both GPA and test scores), if not above.
And, speaking of test scores, although admission officials will tell you that grades and course selection are considered first and foremost in the decision process (in fact, didn't “The Dean" just say that, too? 😉 ), the truth is that many applicants have very similar GPA's and course loads, so test scores can often be used as a tie-breaker. Thus, once your daughter gets a little older and has some standardized testing under her belt, you will be better able to gauge whether or not she'll be in the ballpark at the colleges on her current list (if she doesn't revise the list over time).
A student with a 3.5 GPA in “Most Demanding" classes should have plenty of college options, and all of the schools you've named may be among them. But, unfortunately, there are lots of “3.8 kids" out there, the competition will be stiff, and a Seattle zip code probably won't have the oomph to overcome potential shortcomings. But note that Boston University is not as selective as the other places you've named, and because your daughter is a legacy there, her B.U. admission odds should be strong if she stays on her current trajectory and her test scores are in the B.U. ballpark.
Right now, without any test scores to go on, I'd call USC and UCLA “Reach" schools for your daughter (but not “Out of Reach"); I'd call B.U. “Very Realistic" and NYU somewhere in between …. although it's quite irresponsible to make such predictions with almost nothing to go on. And in a couple years, these predictions might change … but, of course, so can a teenager's plans! 😮