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Articles / Applying to College / Will Holistic Admission Process Help Student With Subpar GPA, Test Scores?

Aug. 14, 2019

Will Holistic Admission Process Help Student With Subpar GPA, Test Scores?

Will Holistic Admission Process Help Student With Subpar GPA, Test Scores?
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I am applying to NYU and it's my first choice. My grades and SATs are lower than the average there (for example, I have a 3.2 GPA) but when I went to an information session, they said they do holistic admissions. I have a really strong resume with a lot of extracurriculars and I have a few unique talents (I have performed magic to over 3,000 people, for example). Will the fact that they do holistic admissions give me a better chance? My parents think it won't allow me to overcome my low stats but I think that's exactly what holistic admissions means, isn't it?

“Holistic Admissions" does indeed mean that admission officials look at the entire candidate and not just at grades and test scores. But even so, those grades and test scores (where required) do play a starring role, and it can take a lot to overcome numbers that fall below a school's medians. Typically, admission folks are quickest to overlook subpar GPAs and SATs when the applicant offers something specific that they they're seeking. Most often this means that the student is a recruited athlete or a member of an underrepresented minority group. Sometimes, too, the offspring of VIPs will get special treatment under the “holistic" rubric. And yes, students with unique talents beyond athletics will get a closer look as well, but those talents usually have to be significant in order to surmount so-so statistics.


Your experience with magic may indeed earn you extra consideration, but it's hard to estimate how much without knowing more. For instance, was your audience of 3,000 at a Kiwanis convention in Kokomo or the warm-up act at the Academy Awards? As impressive as your skills may be, they might not land high on the list of traits that colleges are seeking. It's also hard to estimate where you stand at NYU without knowing your SATs and your school curriculum. A 3.2 GPA that's unweighted and in an AP-laden schedule is very different from one that's weighted and based on less demanding courses. And, according to the College Board, only nine percent of accepted NYU candidates had a GPA between 3.0 and 3.24.

Bottom line: If NYU is your dream, a potential strategy would be to apply there via Early Decision and then, if you're not admitted, aim for ED II at another, somewhat less selective college you like a lot that offers it or for Regular Decision at any school where your grades and tests put you in the upper range. Better yet, invest in a “Stats Evaluation" from a site like College Karma, which offers it for $150. After you place your order, you'll promptly receive a questionnaire to complete and return. An admissions expert will then assess your acceptance odds at NYU and at all other colleges that you listed on the form. The Stats Eval will also offer suggestions on how to improve those odds (where possible) as well as recommendations of more colleges to consider that meet your profile and preferences. This Stats Eval will be an effective way to determine whether you should take a shot at NYU or focus your attention instead on different, more realistic options.

Even with a holistic process in place, “The Dean" suspects that NYU will be a big “Reach" for you, but perhaps not entirely “Out of Reach." So if ever there was a time to work magic, this might be it!

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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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