Chance Me - Ivys and Lower-Level Schools

I would like advice on what my relative chances are. Could you tell my chances for Ivy Leagues first, then my chances for some lower-level schools (not low-level, just lower), like Villanova, Northeastern, UChicago, etc.

First things first, I am a caucasian male. I am a high school junior, and I have not taken the SAT yet, but I plan to in either December or March (I got a 1350 on the PSAT last year).

Classes (All Accelerated Honors, unless otherwise noted):

  • African-Asian History
  • Algebra 2
  • AP Biology
  • Concert Band
  • English
  • German 2 Honors


  • AP Chemistry
  • Concert Band
  • English
  • AP European History
  • German 3 Honors
  • Pre-Calculus


  • Human Anatomy/Infectious Disease
  • Physics 1 AP
  • Concert Band
  • AP English Language
  • German 4 Honors
  • AP US History
  • AP Calculus AB

Plan on taking AP German, AP Calculus BC, and Concert Band, but I’m not sure what else yet

Unweighted GPA: 3.75
Weighted GPA: 4.8362

  • Have never gotten below a 92 in any class


  • Chess Club
  • Varsity Debate Team
  • JV Tennis Team (Hopefully will become Varsity)
  • Percussionist in my school band
  • Learn and perform magic tricks for my family
  • Have two siblings whom I have to watch fairly frequently (I have a stay-at home parent, but they are sometimes out at stores and such)
  • Learning a bit of piano
  • Am about half-fluent in Greek
  • Want to start writing a book or short story soon
  • Couldn’t get a job this summer because of Covid, so I plan on getting a job next summer
  • No volunteer hours (yikes, should I pick some up just to have them, or is it too late? (or is that not the right mindset for volunteering?))

Any help is greatly appreciated, thank you in advance!

One more thing, AP Tests:
Biology, Chemistry, and European History I got 4/5.

What is your budget?

What state are you from?

What are your safeties?

Ivy’s and Chicago are reaches. Your chances at an Ivy might be slightly better if you could explain which one or two are the best fit for you, and why.

I would not call Chicago “lower-level than Ivy’s”. It might be ranked lower than Harvard overall, but if you were to rank all 8 Ivy League schools plus Chicago I think that Chicago would be in the middle of a very elite set of schools.

First of all, thank you for the response, DadTwoGirls.

I wasn’t really thinking about attending an Ivy school, at least for undergrad, I was just wondering how I would stack up applying for one. I do have some good material for app essays, such as breaking my arm and being down a man for almost the entire year in debate team.

Safeties, yikes, I don’t want to go much lower than Villanova. I think I am more than capable of being in a school at Villanova’s level. I am from PA, which is why I am bringing up Villanova (would my residence help me out there?).

As for budget, as low as possible. I don’t want to get up in the $40,000s.

I should also mention that I have frequently been getting emails from UChicago informing me of the school, but I don’t know if that’s an indicator of interest in me.

Everyone needs true safeties, especially if there are budgetary restraints.

Your list is comprised of high reaches and reaches. 'Nova’s acceptance rate is under 28%. Northeastern is under 20%. Both are selective schools and reaches.

Have you run the NPC for the schools on your list? Are you eligible for need based aid? Do they come in at your budget?

U Chicago is notorious for bombarding juniors and seniors with marketing materials. It means NOTHING about your competitiveness as an applicant. NOTHING!

If you are serious about this level of school for a reach, spend the year working on improving your GPA and getting a test score of 1500+. In the meantime, start researching match and safety schools that are affordable and that you are happy to attend.

Everyone seems to get Chicago marketing …

You have a little bit of a unicorn requirement: you don’t want to go too “low” in rankings, you’ve listed a lot of private schools, but you don’t want to pay too much. Most of the higher ranked schools don’t give much if any merit, so how much aid you get will depend almost solely on how much you need (according to their calculations)… You will get a lot more opportunity for merit the further down the rankings you go. So, you also need to look at how your stats stack up against the colleges you’re aiming at, because you are much more likely to get serious money if your stats are above the 75th percentile.

“I don’t want to get up in the $40,000s”

One daughter with similar stats got merit based aid from some schools that got the cost of attendance into the low 40’s. Getting lower than that limited the selection quite a bit. It will depend a lot on where you apply. Some schools came in at full price, which was of course much, much higher than “in the $40,000s”.

Have you run the NPC for Villanova? It might give you at least some sense of what is likely. If your parents are divorced or own a small business, farm, or rental properties, the NPCs are likely to be wrong (and too optimistic). Otherwise they are usually pretty good. They were spot on for us, but in many cases not very optimistic. Northeastern is one example where for us the NPC was exactly correct and not encouraging at all.

I am not very familiar with Villanova. However, with an acceptance rate below 30% I do not think that it is a safety for anyone.

We also got a mailing from Chicago, as well as Harvard and Stanford. The point is that they want more applicants in order to reduce their acceptance rate, since they already know how many students they are going to accept. It is just an ad.

Since you are worried about cost and live in PA it seems odd that you are not considering Penn State and Pitt. Both are excellent schools and are not “much lower than Villanova”…if by “lower” you mean USNWR rankings. You are fortunate to live in a state that has two excellent flagships from which to choose.

It’s hard to say, because the real problem isn’t being rejected. It’s having a long list of acceptances to schools you can’t afford. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. The tuition price tag rejects students much more efficiently than grades and SAT scores ever could. The best thing you can do is to make sure you have a list of solid schools you know you can afford, like Pitt and Penn State, etc.

Again, thank you all for the replies, they are all very helpful!

Disregarding price, could somebody tell me if I am on the right track to be accepted into Nova?

Also, if I apply early action, about how much will my chances increase for Nova, or any college for that matter?

I think you’re missing some key points people are trying to make. First, it doesn’t matter if you get accepted if you can’t afford it. Second, you are looking at competitive schools that are reaches for most applicants and think that anything below them in ranking is “settling”. Academically, your gpa is below the average of accepted students at Villanova. Generally, that can be offset to a point with a compelling extracurricular that the university has a need for, not a list of things you have dabbled in or intend to try. Lastly, EA or ED do not have different admission criteria than RD, meaning a less qualified applicant is not granted admission just because they apply early.

Not to be harsh but you need to start looking for schools that fit your academic profile and financial target. Every year this site is filled with students who don’t get in anywhere they “want” to go and/or can’t pay the bill anywhere they get in.

Are you eligible for need-based financial aid?

If you want to attend a private university for under 40K/year, and your Expected Family Contribution is higher than your budget, then you will need significant merit aid. That goal is incompatible with applying to reach schools that either don’t give merit (for example, Ivies) or won’t give large merit awards for your stats (for example, UChicago, Northeastern, Villanova).

As noted above, it is likely that the most competitive schools you could attend for under 40K/year will be Pitt and Penn State. Sure, there are both private and OOS public schools where you could get down to your price point, but they won’t be more competitive than your state flagships.

Temple would be another affordable option, if you want to be in Philly. You’re fine for general admissions there (but apply EA for better merit chances); Honors College would be a reach. (From the Temple website: “For Fall 2020, the average SAT for Honors students was 1448/1600, ACT was 32, and average unweighted high-school GPA is 3.94/4.0.”)

You’d be looking for 30K/year or more in merit, to make a private school affordable - to get that, you’ll need to be well above average for that school, which I suspect means that you would consider it a “lower” school. For OOS publics, there are definitely options that merit would bring into range, but again they wouldn’t be higher-ranked than your in-state publics.

Now, if you qualify for need-based aid and your EFC is under 40K, then that’s a whole different scenario. There probably are full-need-met private colleges that you could get into, and be guaranteed enough aid to attend. These probably aren’t Ivies or UChicago, but there are excellent options if that’s your situation. So, you’ll get better targeted advice here if you clarify which financial category you fall into.

What are your goals, career/major wise?

What are the attributes that you like about Villanova? Is it that you want to be in Philadelphia, or that you would like a Catholic university, or one with a good business program, or one with a good basketball team, or… is it just the perceived prestige factor? Again, if we know more about what exactly you’re looking for, it will be easier to make good suggestions.

Also, breaking your arm is unlikely to be a good essay topic. The essay should show why you would be an asset to a college community. Being a man down in debate could be a good topic, if it allows you to paint a picture of who you are as a person and what you learned from that situation.

That’s sort of the idea. Money is the only measurable fact here. If you take that out, you have nothing but flawed opinionated logic making this decision. Really, success after college is going to be a function of your major, not the college you go to, because you’re there to to obtain marketable job skills. If you obtain that, it literally won’t matter where you went to school. And in the professional world, speaking from experience, people don’t care either.

The most selective colleges tend to have students who are not just smart, but highly self-motivated.

Look at these sequential sentences:

"-Learning a bit of piano

  • Am about half-fluent in Greek
    -Want to start writing a book or short story soon
  • Couldn’t get a job this summer because of Covid, so I plan on getting a job next summer"

A self-motivated student might have used this summer of unemployment to really get immersed in any of those things- not just muse about them. Just based on this bit of your post my guess is that you would loathe just about everything about UChicago except the sweatshirt.

“- Have two siblings whom I have to watch fairly frequently (I have a stay-at home parent, but they are sometimes out at stores and such)”

This brings out an unseemly streak of sarcasm in me that want to know if you also have to unload the dishwasher sometimes. Unless your obligations are such that they materially interfere with your ability to do ECs, doing normal things that help the family is not going to get you points anywhere.

You see VillaNova as being as ‘low’ as you want to go- but you are not certain to even get in, never mind afford it. Projecting from your 1350 PSAT your SAT should be just about the 50% for admitted students, and your GPA looks like it is in the same range, which for a lot of posters qualifies it as a match. Note that a match just means that you are in the right neighborhood- not that you are sure to get a place: last year, 75% of VN applicants were rejected. Then you look at the money part: COA at VN is almost $70K/year. Last year 63 VN students got an average of $18K in merit aid. Even if you got that much your cost would be $50K/year. And you can bet that the merit aid goes to the students at the top of the stats pile, not in the middle.

After that cold shower, here is a positive: it is really good that you are looking at this now! The reality of the admissions process is sobering, and many, many students discover a mis-match between their expectations and the hard reality. Do some thinking about your priorities for your college education (look again at @aquapt’s questions for a start), and there a lot of posters that will be happy to help you craft a solid list of reaches, matches and safeties that will give you good, affordable choices in the spring.

OP it IS positive that you’re thinking of this now. Just remember that it’s OK to not fit into the U Chicago or Ivy mold. But that’s why it’s critical that you go to a school where your expectations and theirs line up. Find someplace where you can be true to yourself rather than trying to cram yourself into some mold.

@Doriyah Like many students who come on CC, you have a vision of schools as being set is some absolute hierarchy, with every college having an objective “rank” in their hierarchy. The view is furthered by the dozen or so “College Ranking” websites, and by the millions who believe that everything in the universe can be ranked in such a manner.

However, in reality, the only way that you should rank you college choices is by how well a college fits you.

To see if a college is a good fit, you must ignore rankings of any type. They will do little but confuse you. Look at the student body, including the spread of GPA scores, but, no less important, attitudes, background, activities. Are the into sports? Are they preppy or geeky., etc. Look at the location and the surroundings, Look at climate and geography. Look at things like Greek life, student activities and sports. Look at opportunities like international programs and internships. Look at the majors that are available. Look at the size of the student body. Look at cost.

This are the things which will determine whether you will succeed, not the USNews rank.

There are, literally, hundreds of excellent colleges out there, and a few dozen of them will be really good matches for you. Don’t limit yourself by focusing on the ranking of a college.

You claim that you don’t want to go “lower” that Villanova.

Are you claiming that Ohio State is “too low” for you? Perhaps Penn State, Purdue, Pitt, Rutgers, U Washington, UConn, UMD College Park, UMass Amherst, UMN, Fordham, VTech, MSU, SUNY Stony Brook, and hundreds more? All of them are ranked “lower” than Villanova by USNews. Niche ranks Tulane, Bates, UIUC, UC Davis and many of the top Liberal Arts Colleges, like Macalaster, Bates, Pitzer, and Vassar lower than it does Villanova (in general their ranking is one of the worst of the entire silly lot).

There are amazing colleges and universities which are all “ranked lower” than Villanova, from U Vermont to Texas Tech, From U Colorado to Miami, Ohio. There are Liberal Arts colleges Like Reed, Holy Cross, Oberlin, Bucknell, Lafayette, Trinity, Lawrence, and many, many more.

Do you know the “right hand” rule when you are going out to a restaurant? That is when you cover the price with your right hand, and decide what you want to eat, based on the description. Rather than price, cover the rankings of colleges, and select for your list, based on the characteristics which will ensure your success.

Wow, you all are great for writing such long responses, I am truly appreciative of the thought you put into them.

As I am new to the cult that we call “college applications,” I am thankful for all of the insight you offered me. It really did show me the intricacies of the application process, and I am indeed glad that I chose to make this post.

Once again, thank you!

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