How To Improve Your Chances of Going to a Top University
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.
What You Can Do Now To Increase Your Chances
What Should You Do If You Have a Dip in Your Grades?
If you have an academic challenge or dip in your grades, there are a couple of things that you can do to increase your chances at top universities. One tactic is to write about that occurrence in your Common Application, specifically in areas like the additional information section. Doing this can provide colleges with the context they need to understand your transcript and the academic challenges you faced better.
Beyond that, you can focus on developing the rest of your application. If you haven’t done so yet, you can take standardized tests and score well on them. While many colleges are test optional these days, meaning that they put a lot of weight on your grades, test scores can still be valuable in the admissions process. If you have an academic challenge, whether that’s weaker grades during your freshman year or some sort of dip in your grades, that’s where standardized tests become really valuable. If you can take an SAT or ACT test and score well on that exam, then that can demonstrate to colleges that despite the dip in your grades, you are still a strong candidate for admission.
What Should You Do If You Have Low Extracurricular Involvement?
If you have low extracurricular involvement and are applying to top schools, try to be strategic to help you strengthen your application. In your activity list, talk more about why you enjoy your current activities and why they are meaningful to you. This can showcase more depth of character and that you are true to your values despite less extracurricular involvement. Keep in mind that this can be difficult to do because of the limited character count within the activity section, so taking your time to revise and polish your activity descriptions will be important.
What Is the Minimum GPA Needed in All Honors Courses?
For students taking all honors courses, with no Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, GPA is an important factor for admission to top universities. If you’re taking all honors courses, try to keep your grades within the range of A and A-minus grades, with one or two B or B-plus grades at the most. Highly selective schools will be looking for course rigor within student transcripts, so if you do not have more challenging courses like APs and IBs in your transcript, aim to keep your grades in honors classes as high as possible.
Additionally, the number of rigorous courses available to you will depend on your high school and colleges will be looking at your application within this context. A transcript with all honors courses from a student whose high school only offered three AP courses will be considered differently than the same transcript from a student whose high school offered all 38 AP courses.
Should You Apply With the Intent to Switch Majors?
Should You Apply to a Less Selective Major?
Often, students consider applying to highly selective colleges with a less popular major with the intent of improving their chance of admission. For example, a student interested in engineering at Carnegie Mellon University may instead consider applying as a physics major in hopes of improving their chances of acceptance.
When considering this strategy, keep in mind that your eventual ability to switch to your intended major will vary from college to college. For Carnegie Mellon, it’s very hard to switch to engineering or computer science, so applying as a physics major just to get accepted and then intending to switch to an engineering major would be difficult. Similarly, at the University of Pennsylvania, switching from a less competitive major, such as English, to the Wharton School is also extremely hard.
At schools like these, it’s very hard to switch to more competitive programs after you get to campus. If you are applying to a college that makes it hard to switch into a competitive program or major, then consider applying directly to that major.
Alternatively, if you are applying to a college that has a more flexible approach to switching majors, such as Harvard University, then you could apply under whichever major best matches up with your extracurricular activities and the courses in which you’ve received the strongest grades.
Unfortunately, there’s not a great aggregated guide as to whether colleges are flexible with major transfers or are stricter. This is something that students need to research on a college-by-college basis.
What If You Are Interested in Multiple Majors?
If you have multiple majors that you’re interested in, you may consider submitting your application as undecided or undeclared. When doing this, it is important to reflect on the strength of your resume.
If your resume is more appealing for a particular major, then consider applying to that major. For example, if you have many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities on your resume, but you are considering both STEM and business majors, applying as a STEM major would make more sense.
Alternatively, if your resume contains activities from a variety of different disciplines, then you might consider applying as an undecided or undeclared student.
What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?
While acceptance rates to top schools are incredibly low, your personal chances of acceptance may be higher or lower. If your academic profile is weak, top schools may not look at the rest of your application at all. On the flip side, if your grades and test scores are strong, and you have outstanding extracurriculars, you may have a better shot of getting in.
To understand your chances at top schools better, we recommend using our free admissions calculator. Using your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance, and give you tips on improving your profile.
You can also search for best-fit schools based on your chances and other factors like size, location, majors, and more. This tool will make it a lot easier to create a strategy for your college application process.