Frequently Asked Questions About College Admissions
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine Livestream. You can watch the full Livestream for more info.
- Grades, GPA and Test Scores
- College Application Materials and Deadlines
- Financial Aid and Scholarships
Grades, GPA, and Test Scores
What type of GPAs do Ivy League and top schools take into consideration? Do they use weighted or unweighted?
Ivy League and Top Schools focus on a GPA that includes rigor. Whether your weighted or unweighted GPA is reviewed depends on the courses that you’re taking. If you are taking mostly regular college prep courses, they focus really heavily on your unweighted GPA. As you start to get into more advanced courses (AP and IB classes, honors classes, advanced classes) then they start to look a little bit more at your weighted GPA.
What’s a competitive unweighted GPA?
It depends on the college that you’re looking at. If you are striving for the Ivy League Universities a competitive unweighted GPA is around a 3.9, 3.8 minimum. If you are looking at other selective colleges, a great GPA is anything around a 3.75 or higher. For most State Schools and Top Tier public universities, a great GPA can be around 3.5-3.6. What is seen as competitive varies from college to college.
Do colleges take into account the fact that an ‘A’ at one school may not be the same as an ‘A’ in another school?
The honest answer is that they try to, but their ability to do so is constrained to some extent by their knowledge of your high school. If the college gets a ton of applications from your high school and your school sends multiple students to that college every year, then they are more likely to understand what an ‘A’ means for you. Conversely, if you’re one of the few kids from your high school who applied to that college, then they will not have as much context.
To address this, make sure that your school guidance counselor highlights the rigor of your school’s coursework in their letter of recommendation and in the school profile they send to colleges.
What is considered a good SAT or ACT score to submit? What kind of scores would you choose not to submit?
Be sure to use colleges’ statistics of their accepted students to determine whether to submit your test scores. A general rule of thumb is to look at the statistics for a particular school because it varies from college to college. If your score is above the 50th percentile for accepted students, you should almost always submit. If your score is below the 25th percentile, it may be better not to submit.
If your score is between the 25th and 50th percentile, submitting the score will depend on your application’s profile outside of your test scores. If you have an exceptional profile, in either extracurriculars or academics, or you’re part of a target recruitment demographic for the college you can submit your scores; otherwise it may be better not to submit.
College Application Materials and Deadlines
How important is the Essay?
The importance of the Essay varies from college to college, but the essay is often really important because it is sometimes used as the tiebreaker for colleges to choose between two applicants who are both equally qualified on paper. This is a very common situation at Ivy Leagues and similar top schools.
Who should I ask for a recommendation letter from as an engineering major?
Choosing who will write your LORs is an important factor in the application process. As an engineering major, your ideal strategy is to get a letter from either a math or physics teacher – ideally from your junior year, but maybe your sophomore year if necessary.
Your other recommendation letter should come from a humanities teacher; this includes an English, history, or even an economics teacher. That juxtaposition will help you stand out a little bit more to colleges and highlight your strengths in multiple areas.
Keep in mind that most colleges like to treat the recommendation letter as more of a checkbox rather than as a huge factor in your favor. A good recommendation letter feels personalized, so make sure to choose a teacher who knows you well.
If I apply Early Decision (ED) does it matter if I’m submitting my application early or a few days before the deadline?
No, there’s no difference for ED applicants submitting it in early September versus a few days before the deadline. The same can be said for Regular Decision applicants.
However, sometimes there is a difference when colleges have what’s called rolling admissions. That is when colleges will almost constantly read applications and give back admissions decisions.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Is there a place to find scholarships and financial aid specifically for Underrepresented Minority (URM) applicants?
For the most part, financial aid is usually not specific to URM applicants. It’s mostly oriented around financial need. So if your family has financial need, there are plenty of financial aid opportunities available.
That being said, there are scholarships for URM students at pretty much every college in America! The biggest source of money for URM students will come from looking at individual colleges scholarship pages, specifically which scholarships are open to incoming freshmen. There are also some big, nationwide scholarships that you can apply for, but those are very competitive.
How reliable are the net price calculators on college websites? What is the likelihood that I will receive the scholarships shown?
A scholarship shown on a college website does not say anything about your chances of admission, as admission varies from college to college. However, keep in mind that if a college is need-aware and you require substantial financial aid, this is going to hurt your chances of admission.
Net price calculators, unless you or your parents are filling them in with perfect information, tend to be a bit inaccurate. They’re a good estimating tool that will give you directionally accurate results, but you’re certainly not getting exact or perfect results.