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Why Top Colleges are Looking Beyond Grades in College Acceptance
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Why Top Colleges are Looking Beyond Grades in College Acceptance

With college application deadlines just around the corner, it always helps to take a step back and find out what universities are really looking for. Gone are the days of assuming a 4.0 GPA or an impressive SAT score will land your teen acceptance to the college of their (or your) dreams. With more applicants each year, top universities expect the vast majority of incoming students to have near-perfect GPA’s and test scores. Among a sea of flawless academic applicants, how can your teen stand out in the college admission process?

To start, universities look for students who demonstrate high-quality characteristics. Read this story from the former director of international admissions at Dartmouth College, about a student who submitted a letter of recommendation from his school’s custodian. The custodian wrote about the small acts of kindness the student showed every day, from cleaning up after other students to learning individual names of the janitorial staff. The student was accepted unanimously by the Dartmouth admissions board. Simple stories of kindness show a unique depth of character in the admissions process flooded with high test scores and class rankings.

Worried about that “B” you got on AP Bio? Don’t stress! Oftentimes the quality of coursework matters far more than a grade. Many universities are now incorporating a ¨post-secondary success¨ measure in their admissions scoring. What are they looking for? Evidence that you’ve pushed yourself academically and you’re ready to take on the rigor of college-level courses. By this standard, it may be more important to take those difficult AP classes and receive lower grades than a straight-A report card with easier classes.

Don’t overlook the importance of your teen getting outside their comfort zone. Pushing themselves beyond their limits can make them a better leader and more adaptable to change while inspiring creativity. As more universities take a holistic approach to admissions, they search for students who possess the ability to succeed in situations that may at first be uncomfortable. Encourage your teen to write their personal essay about the time they made a new friend despite language barriers, reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or took initiative and created a fundraiser for Peruvian women’s education. By sharing stories of moments they were able to go beyond their comfort zone, they’ll show universities they have the risk-taking skills necessary to be successful when they get to campus

Next time your teen stresses about an exam, remind them that extracurriculars and non-academic skills can matter just as much to universities as a test grade. Help them direct their time to the activities they’re passionate about, and the college acceptance will follow.


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About the Author

Kennedy Petersen

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kennedy has always loved traveling. Her professional background in publishing and photography have led her to discover the power in storytelling, and how it can facilitate a more empathetic understanding of the world around us. Currently studying English at UC Berkeley, Kennedy is thrilled to join Rustic's Creative Team this summer. During study breaks, she's usually found hiking, listening to podcasts, or training for her next half-marathon.