January 4th, 2019
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Is there such a thing as being too perfect? That is the question that a New York Times article explored recently when it reported about what teens try to be as they prepare for college.
College choice should be guided by academic rigor, matching your strengths
Everyone seems to believe that to get into very selective schools, a student must have near-perfect test scores and grades, be an athlete and play violin or piano near the professional level.
Because they are the only criteria that are universally standardized, top SAT and ACT scores will carry a lot of weight with admissions committees. A good showing is a score of at least 750 (out of a possible 800) in each category of the SAT and Subject Tests. The magic number is 750, but admissions committees point out that students with perfect scores are routinely turned down, and students with lower test scores are admitted. A 750 in Math II and U.S. History and 720 in Physics is typical of students admitted to top colleges. A 34/36 on the ACT is acceptable.
You must realize that entrance to an elite school is very competitive and that every year seemingly top candidates fail to get in. Should you not get an offer, there are other excellent schools — some of them state schools where you will receive a top-notch education.
While a college may say that their general admission rate is 60 percent you will find that direct admits to computer science and engineering may have admit rates as low as 10 percent. If you do not have copies of recruitment materials from your preferred schools order them from the admissions office and ask for course specific brochures as well. Pay close attention to course descriptions and major requirements.
Sometimes the lengths that parents and teens go to achieve these high standards cause students to reject the rat race and settle for schools with less competitive admissions standards.
The Times detailed the stories of Esther and Colby, who are seniors at Newton North High School near Boston. The pair often joke about how qualified they are to apply to an elite school, doing everything they can to pad their academic resumes with sports, government and theater activities. Still, the pressure is so intense to achieve perfection that nothing they accomplish is ever enough. After all, they remind each other, you are competing against all the other “amazing girls” in the country for the same elite schools.
The community fosters an atmosphere that focuses on admission to an elite college. There are three SAT prep storefronts within a few blocks, the average house goes for $730,000, and there’s even competition for spots in elite preschools. By the time these students get to high school, most of them are on the fast track, taking honors and/or advanced-placement classes. As a matter of fact, I even had a call from a student on the Newtonite, the school newspaper, to see if I wanted to take out advertising space for my college consulting business.
As I have written in the past, it’s important to remember that college rankings and name recognition are not predictors of your ultimate success in life or your career. Contrary to popular opinion, deciding on your college of choice will not be a defining moment in your life.
Most importantly, if the academic programs the University offers are not geared to your strengths, it won’t be a good fit. Decide on your major field of study will be and let that be your guide.Consider the costs for each school carefully as well. Drowning in college debt is an anchor for many students post-graduation. A school’s internship opportunities and summer employment at a top firm may steer you into a job opportunity.
Interestingly enough, the Newtonite’s June edition had a two-page listing of all the seniors and the colleges to which they were admitted. Despite the students "obsessing over who got into Harvard, Yale, Penn or Stanford," Esther decided to forgo the rat race and not spend all of her time feeling guilty while she enjoys her high school days and hangs out with her friends. Academics continue to be important to her, and she knows that getting into a top school will help her get a good job, but she decided she wants to be a theologian, following in her father's footsteps. She says she would rather "feed the homeless" than pursue a "a lucrative profession."
Both Esther and Colby studied hard in order to get into a top school, and both were admitted to the University of Southern California. Esther’s top choices were Amherst, Middlebury, Davidson and Smith, her mother's alma mater. The Times reported that she was eventually admitted to Smith.
I think that this story illustrates the fact that even a “perfect” high school resume is no guarantee that you will be admitted to an elite school. However, a student with excellent academic credentials AND a good grasp of what it will take to further his or her career aspirations will generally find a “perfect” college fit that will enhance their higher-ed experience.
Ultimately, your college educational experience is all about the personal effort you put into it. An outstanding academic record from a lesser-known college will trump a lackluster effort from a top college any day.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
Tags: Colleges SAT Preparation
Colleges, College Consulting, International Students
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