Can strong LOR's offset lack of course rigor?

At my school, I have a teacher who works to assist me each week. This is an accommodation for a documented learning disability.

This teacher saw me at my best and worst. When I first came to my school from my previous school for kids with LD’s, I had a low average. It was a hard transition for me. Then, I studied for grade 10 and got straight A’s. Still, because I was in a low course track from grade 9, I couldn’t take honors or AP’s. In grade 11, I took some honors courses, but no AP’s were available to me. This next year (grade 12), I am set to take a few honors and at least one AP.

My school doesn’t offer many AP’s to begin with, and they only do in grades 11 and 12, to my knowledge. But even with this, my transcript looks pretty poor compared to what it could be.

The aforementioned teacher knows all about my circumstances, and that I simply was not able to take more challenging courses until grade 11. Do you think that if she writes an LOR detailing all of this, especially considering that she is there to accommodate my LD’s, she would resonate with AO’s, and that this could potentially neutralize any impact that lack of course rigor has on my app?

If it weren’t for my 9th grade, my class rank (which is also weighted, just my luck) would be much better too. Right now it’s top 25-30%, and on the reach side I’m looking to apply to T20’s and T10 LACs. Maybe they can recalculate my class rank though, idrk.

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Certainly, a recommendation like this is helpful.

In my opinion, though, it helps in the sense of bringing the strength of your application up to the level you have already succeeded at. In your case, that means being a straight A honors student who hasn’t taken any college level coursework yet, but who is ready to take on that challenge next. It mitigates the negative of your earlier poor grades and low rigor, but it doesn’t boost you to the level of someone who has already aced a maximally-rigorous course load. Colleges are still going to prefer actualized outcomes to projected ones.

In your situation, you need target schools that offer you a continued growth path. It’s unclear to me why it’s important or even desirable for you to leapfrog into colleges with single-digit acceptance rates, where you’ll be trying to catch up with ultra-high-performing peers. I don’t think AO’s at such schools are going to see the argument for putting you in that situation, either. Why T20 U’s and T10 LAC’s? What you have accomplished is admirable and impressive, but it’s still a trajectory; looking for schools that will fit and support that trajectory seems like the wisest course to me.

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Part of it is that my school doesn’t offer many AP’s to begin with. I think it’s 4-5 in total (for only grades 11 and 12), and they go in tracks. You need to be a tippy topper in each track to qualify, and this starts in grade 9, when the school chooses your default track for you. Obviously, having previously gone to a school for kids w/ LD’s, I was put in the lowest track.

I get what you mean though. Actual performance > projected performance. But I do wonder if applying EA/ED, getting contextualized LOR’s like the one from the teacher this post is about, and writing phenomenal essays may largely offset this. I have to find some way to prove my capabilities to these schools if I want to get in. Of course, I can’t do that through actual coursework. I have to go about it in explanatory fashion.

I wonder if schools like Princeton, Stanford, Emory, Carnegie Mellon, etc., which all don’t look at freshman year, would give me a shot. To them, I don’t know that my admission would be that risky. I’m still a 4.0 by their evaluations, and with some of those LORs/essays, I may be able to prove my capability. It remains a long shot.

The school choice for ED is a tough decision, too.

Edit: and I know your replies are largely about other targets/matches/safeties, but honestly I already have tons of those down to a T. If I don’t get into a reach, I’ll get into one of these schools and will still be happy. But while I have even the slightest imaginable shot at a T20, I’m going to take it.

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Fair enough, so long as you have matches and safeties that you can be happy with. I think the class rank metric will make it difficult to crack schools who take practically no students outside of the top 10% (even recruited athletes!) but there’s no harm in trying, as long as you can handle some disappointments.

What do you want to major in?

You seem to be a strong and persuasive writer. And you’ve shown a ton of resilience already. I really don’t think the rank of your college will hold you back, no matter where you end up!

Have you considered trying to get into a top prep school for a post grad year? Then you could prove yourself a bit more, and you’d have well-connected counselors whose whole job is getting ambitious students placed at top colleges…

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I think the class rank metric will make it difficult to crack schools who take practically no students outside of the top 10% (even recruited athletes!)

On my last transcript which included freshman, sophomore, and the first semester of junior year, I was in the top 29.7% of my class. Bearing in mind, my class is tiny. There is a range of 50-70 students in it, and many of them are high-achieving city kids. Now, though, my rank is probably higher. I’d imagine ~20%.

Looking at the bigger picture, I’ve done exceptionally well aside from freshman year. My UW GPA w/o freshman yr is a 4.0. Weighted, it’s soon to be a 4.5-4.6 (still w/o freshman). I still haven’t taken many rigorous courses because of grade 9, but nonetheless, without grade 9 I’d estimate that I’d be in the top 5-15% of my class, which would typically be higher were it not for lack of course rigor. Honors courses at my school are also given more weight than at most other schools. They add +1 point to any given unweighted GPA.

What do you want to major in?

Currently looking into English or Poly Sci. My EC’s match both majors.

Have you considered trying to get into a top prep school for a post grad year? Then you could prove yourself a bit more, and you’d have well-connected counselors whose whole job is getting ambitious students placed at top colleges…

I’ve considered it, but I’d honestly rather transfer to a T20 from a match/target/honors college safety after doing well there. I wouldn’t like to let my past win, which I think taking a year of my college life away would be doing.

The very likely eventuality is that I don’t get into a T20. There are friends of mine at school who’ve scored 36’s on their ACT’s, and were by default on track and thus took every AP available to them. If they apply, Princeton, Stanford, and most other schools will almost definitely take them over me, especially since I know of at least one who has an LD. Still, this is ultimately a random process. However unlikely, I want to maximize my chances of getting into a reach–and one of the many dilemmas I’m now in is choosing my ED spot. Princeton’s SCEA acceptance rate is nearly 20%, while Wesleyan’s is 43%, Emory’s 38%, Williams’ 37%, and Boston University’s 50%. It is a very, very, very tough decision.

Princeton, Stanford and emory all look at freshman year grades. the UCs only look at your 10&11 grades.

You’re right about UC’s, but wrong about the other three. Well, actually, Princeton’s freshman year policy is debatable. I still don’t think they look at it, though.

“Less selective schools may just take your GPA/Grades at face value, but, assuming you’re planning on applying to top schools like Princeton and Stanford, you shouldn’t have to worry about freshman year grades, as these schools will go through a more rigorous process of figuring out the story behind your grades” - CollegeVine

“Stanford and the University of California system are perfect examples of appropriately evaluating prospective students. They do not count freshman grades at all in admissions decisions, and instead recalculate applicants’ grade-point averages without them.” - Seattle Times

“Some colleges, like Emory, recalculate grade-point averages for applicants. Their new GPA ignores freshman-year grades — ninth grade is considered a “transition year and a long time ago,” according to Emory officials — and drops grades for classes considered nonessential, like physical education.” - NY Post

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Do you have a standardized test score? That may help make your case. It will be very difficult to get into the schools you are targeting with low class rigor and no test scores. And even for your classmates with perfect ACT scores and good rigor, Princeton is by no means a given

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You writing skills are strong; you are an excellent writer. Based on your writing skills, which are a reflection of your inner thought process, you should do very well in college and in graduate school.

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I just don’t see the Ivies in your future. It’s just too competitive. Top 20% of a class without another major achievement will not be enough.

You do seem like a strong writer with a compelling story and should do well.

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Your GC is the one to note your achievement and the course of your evolution, not your aide. You will almost certainly be asked to prep a document for your GC (and your teacher LoR writers), outlining what you have accomplished in HS / that teacher’s class, particular strengths, etc. When you do the one for your GC, highlight the info above.

Fwiw, your situation is not as unique as it might feel. Lots of kids transfer schools and don’t get put in the ‘elite’ sections, whether there is an LD dx or not (been there, done that), and are then out of luck in schools with a track system. Your GC can note that how exceptional your rise has been, how your academic performance is stronger than your class rank indicates, that your course rigor was the “most rigorous” for you as a transfer student, etc. Coming from the GC- who sees the class as a whole- it carries more weight than it would from your aide. Also, fwiw, UW GPA >> WGPA. Similarly, imo letters from classroom teachers are going to be better for you than from your aide. You indicate that you have excelled in the classroom, and that is more important from the pov of a university.

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We don’t know the type and extent of your LD, nor do we need to, but if you have/require an aide in high school, this is probably something that needs to be taken into consideration when applying to schools. Not all schools are created equal when it comes to offering accommodations. I am aware of some situations where a college requires a student to be reevaluated before being granted accommodations as well as situations where post-secondary requests have been denied.

I agree with those who say you have great writing skills and have come a long way. I also agree with @aquapt in wondering how you will handle the pressure of keeping pace with ultra-high achieving peers at extremely selective colleges.

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The successful applicants at the tippy top schools are AND students. They have top grades AND high rigor AND outstanding LOR’s AND interesting EC’s AND…

It is okay to put in an application or two (RD), but I would not limit other early programs to participate in a SCEA program. Your odds IMO are very low.

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Are you applying test optional? A strong Test score along with an upward trend in grades with the LD and teacher recommendation will add strength to your application

However I don’t see a realistic chance at top 20 Uni or top 10 LAC.
First your GC recommendation will show you on a less rigorous track than your peers
Class rank with the less rigorous schedule will hurt your chances
Remember you are competing with students with the same or better GPA taking the most rigorous courses available, high test scores and stellar EC to schools with single digit acceptance rates
Apply yes but you need to no it is a lotto ticket.

Colleges recalculate your GPA While there is no universal standard, Honor courses are usually given .5 and AP/IB/DE/AICE etc or given the 1 point you got for honors. for schools that use weighted GPA’s

You should recalculate your GPA only adding .5 for honors to give you a true picture of your GPA
Also recalculate with only core courses English/Math/SS/Science and FL

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Writing from my main account now, in keeping with ToS

I do not have a standardized test score to submit. I took four or five SAT practice tests and my results were very inconsistent. The highest I received was a 1460, the lowest 1320. And these were reported only about a week apart.

This was just too inconsistent for me to be confident in. I also changed residences during the pandemic, and my new area didn’t offer testing almost anywhere. Then, schools went test-optional to entice me even further. I could potentially list these as reasons I didn’t take the SAT, but I understand that its absence is not good, in my case.

First your GC recommendation will show you on a less rigorous track than your peers

This is true, but not by choice. I was placed in the low track because of my previous school, but by earning top grades still took the hardest courses available to me. I am still on this continual upward trend in course rigor.

If only my school would recalculate class rank to accommodate me by omitting freshman year and having it be unweighted. Then, I’d certainly be in the top ~10%.

How many students does your high school normally send to the top level colleges? >10 , 5, 1, <1?

I required the aide for the first three years of high school, but next year (senior) I will not be meeting with them anymore, because my school wished to “allocate its resources to those in greater need.”

Essentially, my grades got high, and when they did, my school didn’t want to use its resources on me. Fair enough.

In college, I foresee myself doing very well amongst my peers. Proving this from my end is harder than seeing it in myself, though. I recently reviewed some of the work my cousins are doing at UChicago and Duke. Difficult, but nothing I wouldn’t be capable of doing, even at this point.

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A 1460 is an excellent score. Your application would be stronger by including that as that could confirm that while you don’t have the most rigor you do have the capability. I would take a real SAT as that kind of score will help your case.
Without a score, I think the schools you are targeting are very much longshots.

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How many students does your high school normally send to the top level colleges? >10 , 5, 1, <1?

I would say 10 in a class of around 60-70, easily. It is a rather elite prep school in NYC. Not quite Collegiate, Dalton or Horace Mann level, but very respectable nevertheless.