What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Students Wish They Knew When Applying to College

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Elias Miller and Moriah Adeghe in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered:



In this article, we will be sharing some advice to future college students from college graduates Moriah Adeghe and Elias Miller. We’ve summed up what Elias and Moriah wish they knew when they were applying to college and shared their tips on the entire college process, including topics such as financial aid and scholarships, building a balanced college list, and finding a school where you will be happy. 


The Holistic Aspect of College Admissions


Colleges Are Considering Many Factors


When applying to college, many students are often confused by the holistic aspect of college admissions. While you may have heard guidance counselors or advisors discuss holistic review, or how admissions decisions are often about more than just grades, there are a variety of factors that can be included in college applications. 


For example, this became more clear to both Moriah and Elias when they began meeting other college students during their freshman years. Moriah noted that when she started at Cornell in the fall, she quickly realized her peers, who had all been admitted to Cornell, had a wide range of extracurriculars, grades, GPAs, and SAT or ACT scores. That experience demonstrated that the admissions process at Cornell was truly holistic in the sense that admitted students were coming from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences but were all ultimately Cornell students. 


As college applicants, it is important to really internalize how holistic the admissions process actually is and to understand that even if your application feels lacking in one area, there are other ways you can make up for that to make yourself more appealing to colleges.


Be Realistic When It Comes to Academics


While it is important to consider your application holistically, there are ultimately some thresholds for admission to specific colleges, particularly based on test scores and grades. To best understand a college’s academic profile, it can help to research the 25th and 75th percentiles of SAT and ACT scores as well as the average GPAs for the particular colleges that you are interested in. You may find there is a larger academic range for a school you are considering than you initially thought.


If you fall well below a college’s GPA or testing threshold, the reality is you may have little to no chance at acceptance to that school. That being said, there are still sometimes chances for students who are far below a school’s academic threshold, as colleges may consider other aspects of their background or extenuating circumstances. 


Financial Aid and Merit Scholarships


When it comes to financial aid, this process can often be very confusing for students when they are applying to college. Many students have no idea how it really works, who should apply, or even how and when to apply. Additionally, merit scholarships can be equally confusing, as this adds an extra layer of information you need to consider, like the fact that most highly selective schools don’t give them out but less selective schools often do.


One piece of information often learned too late about financial aid is that students can try to negotiate their aid packages. As an example, when Elias was admitted to schools, he wasn’t aware that he could negotiate for more financial aid and scholarships. Luckily, he instinctually did this and ended up calling each of his college options multiple times to ask for additional aid. Ultimately, he was able to secure a large financial aid and scholarship package from one of the schools, but he was fortunate that he had attempted to negotiate proactively.


As you apply to college, it is important to inform yourself on the different components of the financial and scholarship application process so that you are able to maximize your aid and reduce the overall cost of college.


The Importance of Building a Balanced School List


One of the most important steps in the college application process is to create a college list, but building a thorough and balanced list can be challenging. Students applying to college often have no idea how to balance a school list when they begin the process and do not think about their schools in terms of safety, target, and reach.


If students have college lists with too many reach or target schools and not enough safety options in their list, this often presents the risk of not leaving enough options for students when making their college decisions. This is especially important when you consider the “human factor” of college admissions, since admissions decisions can be unpredictable and often hinge on the admissions officer reading your application.


Applying to colleges without a balanced list is not advisable and can put you in a difficult situation without a viable college option. It is important to spend time researching a range of colleges and creating a list with options you are excited about that vary in selectivity.


Find a School Where You Will Be Happy


One of the most important factors in a college decision is finding a school where you will be happy. You will most likely spend a fair amount of time at the school you decide to enroll in, so it should be a place where you feel you will be supported and fulfilled. 


For example, when Elias was admitted to Tufts’ NEC music program, he ignored the fact that he had felt uncomfortable during the two visits to the school and that he was dreading becoming a Tufts student. Instead, he decided to go to Tufts because of the prestige of the school’s music program. Once he started school, he encountered multiple issues within the music department and was ultimately unhappy to the point that he decided to transfer. 


To avoid an outcome like this, it is important to think beyond the prestige or rank of a particular school. No matter how selective or “elite” a school is, it is not the right school for you if you won’t be happy and comfortable there.