Chance Me: Top LACs and Ivies with a lowish GPA

What are my chances for ED at Bowdoin, and RD at Williams, Colby, Washington Lee, Pomona, and Dartmouth?

White female from a midwest state, I attend a large and very competitive public high school. I am interested in environmental science and public relations.

UW GPA: 3.8, W GPA: 4.16, 10 AP classes + 2 dual enrollment courses (max offered)
ACT: 35

Main Extracurriculars

  • Elected Speaker for a very large Christian event (I was also the co-director and social media chair for this event. I managed a leadership team of 20 other high schoolers who met weekly for six months to plan the event)
  • Editor for an established international academic journal for high schoolers, possibly editor in chief next year(10-12)
  • 2x varsity cheerleading captain, placed nationally (9-12)
  • Head of 3 successful social media accounts for my other extracurriculars (cheer, the event, and the academic journal)
  • Policy Debate, numerous first-place awards (9-12)
  • Founded a mentorship program for underprivileged children at a mental health practice I work at, meets weekly (9-12)
  • 200+ total hours volunteering (mental health and environmental orgs)
  • Backpacked 300+ miles over three summer trips. Did this through an environmental program (9-12)
  • Band (5-12), performed with a high school ensemble in Paris for a music festival
  • 2 school clubs w/ officer positions (mental health and religion)
  • Not sure if this counts, but I have taken numerous Coursera online courses in subjects I’m interested in (evolutionary biology, environmental science, international relations, etc). I have certificates for all these classes


  • Leadership award given to me by my cheerleading coaches
  • All American cheerleader
  • Pin it forward award from the United Cheerleaders Association (given to one girl per team per year)
  • Debate Awards (1st place speaker, tournament champion, etc, school does not do nationals or anything like that)


  • Cheerleading Coach
  • Receptionist and Accountant for local mental health practice, 15 hours per week (10-12)
    My major concern is that my GPA is not high enough, but I do have extenuating circumstances that explain it to some degree. Also, my GPA has risen significantly over my high school career (I started with a 3.3 my first semester freshman year). I am also concerned that I don’t have enough awards. Do I have a chance at these schools, or will my GPA count me out? What else can I do as a rising senior to improve my chances?
    Please be harsh as you’d like!

These schools are ridiculously hard to get into for anyone. I know a girl with a similar list last year with 36 ACT, straight A’s, and good ECs who was turned down by Williams and Pomona but got into Colby. Besides your list, she was turned down by Amherst, 3 Ivies + Stanford but got into Middlebury, Wesleyan, Occidental, Rice, Wash U, Lehigh, Tufts, and BC

Give your dream school(s) a shot, but make sure that you also have likely admits and solid matches.


If you’re interested in environmental studies, I’d also consider Middlebury.


If Bowdoin College is the school of your dreams, then apply ED if affordability is not a concern. Otherwise, try to apply non-binding EA to a few schools while expanding your list of target schools to at least 10 from your current 6.

Based on the information shared in this thread, you appear to be a strong candidate for admission to all of your targeted schools.

Do you plan to continue cheerleading during college ?

Cheerleading, debate, editor, Christian, strong numbers, & environmental science.
University of Washington, University of Colorado-Boulder, & Univ. of Wisconsin.
Middlebury College & the University of Vermont.

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I would love to hear opinions on whether or not applying ED significantly helps, and thank you for your suggestion about doing nonbinding EA instead! I am from a middle-class family (about 70k a year combined between divorced parents), so affordability is very important and applying ED is a huge risk. On another note, I would LOVE to continue cheering in college, but unfortunately, most of the LACs don’t seem to have cheer teams. Ultimately the school itself comes first, but if I could continue cheering that would be great!

I will definitely add the schools that have been recommended to me so far. I am trying to find more target and safety schools that sort of fit what I want, so thank you for your recs! And if anyone else has other ideas, I am looking for small, outdoorsy schools with academically focused students. I am kind of nerdy and I definitely don’t want to end up at a huge party school. I am open to large schools with residential colleges/honors colleges though! This is my full list of schools as of now:

Reach Schools
Bowdoin, Williams, Colby, Washington and Lee, Pomona, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, Middlebury
University of Richmond, Rhodes College
Kansas State (in-state school, good scholarships), Arizona State (I like the honors college and cheer team)

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Based on your need for significant financial aid, I think that you should not apply ED to any school.

Based on your numbers, there are several schools which will give you a full tuition scholarship. These are large state flagship universities most of which are in the South. Some offer “rolling admissions” = apply early & get a non-binding early decision.

While the University of Alabama Honors College or the University of South Carolina Honors College & others may not be your ideal match schools, there is a great deal of comfort & confidence building in having acceptances with full tuition scholarships in hand by early Fall. Plus, some offer the chance for scholarship awards which include more than full tuition.

University of North Carolina & Duke University offer substantial scholarships (Robertson & Morehead-Cain) which cover much more than just tuition & give exposure to the career/career path of your choice.

Other posters may offer suggestions to you for other major scholarship opportunities if you ask & share that you are open to honors colleges. Also important to google “rolling admissions schools”.


First of all, your record sounds very good to me, especially when you say that your GPA was brought down by your first semester of 9th grade (high school is an adjustment for most kids). In approximately what percentile of your class would you be, with that weighted GPA of 4.16? If it’s 10th percentile or higher, I’d say that academically, you have a chance anywhere, but the chance would be small at the most selective schools.

You’re going to need a fin aid package that fully meets your needs. Divorced parents means two households to support, on 70K/yr combined. That income may be middle class in the mid-west, but it’s not middle class in many areas of the country, these days. I don’t know how your parents could possibly pay for college for you, and still have enough to pay for the basics of running two households.

See your guidance counselor and ask if there’s any way that you can qualify for an application fee waiver. Does your family have an extra $700 to pay for ten applications? $1400 for 20 applications?

You need to seriously consider which schools are going to offer you the best aid. At most of the Ivies, you’d be given a full ride, unless your parents had substantial assets. Have a very frank conversation with each parent, show them the FAFSA and the CSS, and ask them to reveal assets and income that they would have to reveal on these forms, now, so that you can plan.

If you choose an ED or a restrictive EA school, make sure that it’s need-blind, and meets need fully with no loans in the package. Make sure that you include match and safety schools that you would be happy to go to, that are known to give MAJOR amounts of fin and merit aid in their packages, because you’re going to need it.

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“about 70k a year combined between divorced parents”

Affordability might be an issue. Alternately, you might have a low enough total income to qualify for full need based aid from the schools that offer it.

What sort of in-state options do you have? Do you have a solid safety that is known to be affordable? Do you know what your budget is?

I am from Kansas, so K-state and KU are my only real in-state options. Both have great merit scholarships and I would basically go for free, but obviously, the schools are not that great. I am hoping to qualify for some significant need-based aid at more prestigious schools, but if I do not receive this aid I most likely would not go. I do have a significant college fund that my grandparents started, so my budget for 4 years is around 70,000 + whatever money I can earn through outside scholarships.

My school does not rank students at all, but if I were to estimate I would put myself in at least the top 10%. I work about 15 hours a week and I have $900 in savings to spend on applications, however if i can get those fees waived I will. My parents do not have significant assets (or any assets really), but I do have a college fund started through my grandparents with about 70k saved in it, which is HUGE for me. I am not sure if I would have to report that fund in my financial aid application as it isn’t under my name, but if I did I’m guessing that would hurt my chances at getting significant aid.

This thread has been super helpful so far, and I think all of you are right that I should not necessarily apply ED to a school given my need for aid. Thank you for your advice!

If it is not in your name, or your parent’s name, you do NOT report it! It is your grandparents’ money. Yes, they intend to use it to help you, but they could just as easily use it to buy a house, tomorrow. It’s a good thing that they kept it out of your name.

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With respect to your interest in environmental science, this site should help you refine your choices:

Regarding financial assistance to attend college, these schools combine high academic quality with well-funded financial aid programs:

You will find this resource especially convenient for estimating costs:


As suggestions, look into Hamilton, Pitzer and Colorado College.

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In case you might benefit from clarification, are you sure you meant “public relations” above, rather than public policy, which can connect to the practical aspects of environmental studies (i.e., the implementation of environmental policy)?

Haha yes, thank you! I meant to say international relations and public policy, so I guess I just combined the two. In general, I am interested the implementation of environmental policy, and more specifically how foreign policy can be implemented to better fight the climate crisis.

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With respect to your goals, you would benefit from the tools and insights of a public policy program, for which these colleges would be excellent:

For an international perspective, see which of these colleges suit your other criteria:

Since your primary personal interests reside in environmental studies, however, continue to emphasize colleges strong in this area as your primary search criterion (site also provided previously):

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Congrats on having an extremely impressive resumé! However, your descriptions of some of these activities are a bit vague, so it’s hard to weigh the ECs too much (ex: how “established” is this international academic journal?).

Let’s talk numbers. Your ACT is clearly fabulous, but your GPA is a bit concerning. These colleges you mention tend to weigh your transcript more than your test scores (particularly LACs), and they already get TONS of applicants with perfect 4.0 UW GPAs and perfect/near-perfect test scores. However, the fact that you have an upward trend and a legitimate reason for your lower grades may help mitigate the lower UW GPA (which is still great btw, just slightly less competitive for these highly selective schools). Additionally, your course rigor is outstanding.

I think it is a wise move to ED to Bowdoin if that is your number one choice. I think you will have a VERY solid chance of getting in, as I am sure they would love to see an applicant as accomplished as you be a guaranteed matriculant to their school.

In terms of RD, I would say Williams, Pomona, and Dartmouth are high reaches (with currently single-digit acceptance rates, they are for everyone). They simply have way more incredibly qualified applicants than they do admissions spots; it is a crapshoot for anyone applying. I’d say Colby is a reach, but less so (while they have a similarly low accept rate as the other three, they are known to artificially inflate their app pool, and thus they don’t have as competitive admissions), and W&L is a low reach/high target with a ~20% accept rate.

Since you are clearly an impressive candidate, I suggest adding even more reach LACs/universities if you are looking to attend a highly prestigious school, since admissions to these places are just so competitive. Schools that come to mind are Middlebury (quite similar to Bowdoin, but less competitive to get into), Amherst College (basically Williams’s twin, both vying for #1 spot in LACs), Swarthmore (another tippy top LAC, quite intellectually focused), Brown (very undergrad-focused and more relaxed environment), and, if you want a super-duper reach school, Princeton (again, undergrad-focused Ivy).

As others have said, you should find some targets and safeties that you are excited about too. Of course, this list doesn’t matter if you get into Bowdoin ED, but in the scenario that you don’t you should have a solid list of schools that you are excited to apply to!

Here’s the current list with my recommended additions italicized (take or leave any of them!):

High Reaches:

  • Dartmouth (6.2%)
  • Williams (8%)
  • Pomona (~7%)
  • Bowdoin (~9%, much stronger chance ED)
  • Amherst (8%)
  • Swarthmore (~7%)
  • Brown (5.4%)
  • Princeton (~4%)


  • Colby (8%, but less competitive app pool)
  • Middlebury (15.7% - don’t let the higher accept rate tell you anything, this is an outstanding LAC that easily matches Bowdoin!)


  • W&L (~20%, could also be a low reach)

I should really read the thread before I contribute my comment! It looks like you already have Midd and Swarthmore (but why not Amherst???! come on dude!!)! As for the FA issue, I now agree that applying ED to Bowdoin isn’t the best idea. However, keep in mind that you are allowed to exit an ED binding plan if the offered FA is not sufficient. And again, do be sure that you like your targets and safeties!!