In 2017, 93% of Faith Lutheran seniors went to a 4-year university. Our college counselors work hard to make sure that students are applying to universities that are the right fit. However, sometimes a university has an acceptance rate of 5%. This begs the question, "How do selective universities choose their students?" The easiest answer to the question is, "It depends".
Faith students visiting Johns Hopkins University
While there is a plethora of information online on the subject, a good read is from a post written by Inside Higher Ed.
Before we go too far down the rabbit hole, let's cover the basics. The number ONE thing all selective colleges want is a high GPA from a college prep school. The number TWO thing they want is a high score on the ACT or the SAT. The number THREE thing they want is a well written essay. Whatever number four is, it can be debated and it is far, far down the priority scale from the BIG THREE. While extracurricular activities are important and service is important, they pale in comparison to the big three. We do not require service hours here at Faith Lutheran because we feel it impresses colleges. We require service hours because we want to teach teenagers that the world does not revolve around THEM.
You are going to hear the counseling staff hammer away at "The Right Fit". But before we dive into that, let's define the term, "selective". For college admissions purposes, "selective" means schools that accept less than 25% of their applicants (Mr. Buikema would say, "Schools that accept less than a third of their applicants."). When a student is realistically looking at selective schools, a high GPA and a high ACT or SAT score is a given.
If you have a 3.85 GPA and a 30 on the ACT, your chances of being admitted to a selective school are extremely small and you are hoping and praying that the school of your choice is more concerned about "institutional fit". For those colleges that look at "institutional fit" first, the two most favored factors are underrepresented minority status and "exceptional talent" (which could mean many things: cross country recruits, flutists, thespians, etc...). If you are thinking that a 4.0 and 30 on the ACT is impressive you are correct. If you think it is impressive to selective schools you would be wrong. If you think it makes you noticed at those schools it doesn't. It makes you elite at over 2,000 universities in the country. However, those are schools that accept OVER 25% of their applicants.
If you are looking at selective schools, a 3.85 GPA and sometimes even a 4.0 and a 30 just do not make the cut. If you are a student or parent asking, "What would a college rather see? An A in a regular class or a B in an Honors or AP class?" you are not realistically trying to get into a selective school.
Having said that, let's go down the rabbit hole of selective admissions. After a high GPA and test score, a school starts to determine their "institutional fit." This may be based on student essays, letters of recommendation, and specific questions of said university. For example, an admissions director at Notre Dame said, "Do not tell me how much you want to go to Notre Dame. Tell me why you need Notre Dame instead of Stanford or NYU." This is where doing your research on a school is so important.
After GPA and test score, the selection process really varies by school. Even the "important thing" can vary year to year at the same school. No one can guarantee you admission into a selective school.
Finally, if you really want to go to a selective school and the first two criteria have been met, more and more schools are offering greater chances to applicants who need zero financial aid. Please hear me correctly. Paying full tuition does not negate a high GPA or a high test score. If a selective school is the "Right Fit" and students have the GPA, test scores, and essay to get in, while no one can promise you admission into a selective school, you can feel confident you are going to get into one of them.
If you are still reading this and still interested in studies and statistics, Dr. Rachel Rubin published a paper about this very topic in Today's Science. Dr. Rubin notes that "institutional “fit” is often determined by the rigor of high school courses and that money remains a tie-breaker. What does "rigor" mean? Whenever a school "recommends" something, recommend means do. Do you have to take four or five years of a foreign language? No, but everyone else is. Do you have to take four years of science? Not always, but everyone else is. Do you have to take the SAT Subject tests if they are only recommended? No, but everyone else is.
University admissions counselors visit Faith Lutheran weekly to meet with students and counselors.
Finally, "So how does Faith Lutheran help me get into selective schools?" Almost everything we do helps you. Academic rigor is a part of every class offered at Faith Lutheran. There are very few "easy A's." Furthermore, while a PE class for example may be "an easy A", the high expectations of the class are another layer of rigor.
As far as ACT and SAT scores go, Mr. Buikema meets every year with the math, science, English, and social studies departments to talk about SAT and ACT scores and they collaborate on how to better equip our students in the various academic areas. Not only do almost all of our academic subjects help student to become better writers, but each August seniors are encouraged to take our College Admissions Boot Camp. The cornerstone experience of this camp involves University Peak working with each student to ensure they leave the boot camp with one finished, polished essay.
There is a lot more to say when it comes to college admissions. As your students are preparing this Spring to visit universities or maybe waiting by their email and mailbox for college acceptances, know that Faith Lutheran is here to help. If you have additional questions please feel free to contact your counselor. We would love to answer your emails or schedule a time to sit down and meet with you.
Mr. John Chilman serves as the High School College Counselor for Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School in Las Vegas, NV. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.