How much do scores/grades really matter for selective private schools? UCs? & Choosing a safety

S21 is a really good test taker and has perfect scores and grades so far (should have 9-10 APs by graduation, assuming he gets the ones he wants). Fortunately he was able to take the SAT, ACT, and subject tests by October.

You hear stories of kids JUST like him getting rejected from top 10-20 uni. and slac… I feel they are very holistic and probably get tons of similar apps so it’s still a crapshoot as it comes down to other factors. How true is this?

Some more info, for context:
Asian male from a competitive CA high school- tons of NMSF
as of today, undecided major but thinking of a double major in an undecided STEM field (not CS!) and pre-law
has a couple of in depth ECs, nothing earth shattering compared to many high achieving CC posters but very genuine and time-consuming - one of them involves academic competitions and shows a ton of growth, maturity, and leadership over 6-7 years- he has several regional and national awards- minimum 10 hours a week, not inc. the time spent reading articles and watching documentaries lol
the other is a pt job tutoring math and other subjects, since 9th grade- 10 hours a week (only 2 online at the moment, due to covid), more in the summer - his boss loves him
He also did an environmental volunteer internship one summer.
No sports in high school but enjoys nature/hiking
He will have fabulous recommendations.
Writing skills are great and I think his essays will be quirky and humorous.

He will apply to slac, larger privates, and the UCs.

Also, what’s an academically challenging safety in CA for someone like him?

Scores always matter, and they are usually the most important thing for most colleges, even the most selective ones. But selective colleges, especially private ones, are trying to put together a more diverse class, and, unfortunately, the number of Asian kids with high scores and grades, who attended competitive schools (especially from California), who apply to selective colleges, is pretty high. This means, unfortunately, that many of this group will be rejected.

However, your kid’s chances at the UCs, even UCB and UCLA, are pretty decent, so long as he’s not looking to major in CS. My nephew (mother Asian, father White/Jewish), had top grades and scores, fairly mediocre ECs, great LoRs, and is a good writer. He was rejected from Rice (ED), Princeton, and WashU. He was, however, accepted to CWRU, and all the UCs, except for Berkeley (Biology). He will be attending UCLA.

However, it is difficult to figure out safeties without knowing what his GPA and UC GPA are, as well as his SAT scores.

For all levels of schools they are normally the two most important factors unless you have a very special talent/attribute. The one difference at the very top, grades/test scores are necessary but not sufficient. Therefore you can get rejected by having “weaker” grades/scores, but you will never be accepted on them alone.

MWolf, to answer your question, he has an UW 4.0 - should have 9 or 10 APs by graduation and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up with an UW 4.0. I’m not sure what the weighted gpa is but he will have completed 5 APs by jr year. His school restricts APs to only one before 11th grade… I think it’s 4.45 on the UC scale (per the roger uc gpa calculator, for 10-11 only, a-g courses).
ACT - 36 in all sections, essay- 11/12
SAT- 1590 and essay was slightly worse than ACT
PSAT 1520, so will be a nmsf
800’s in bio, math 2, world history

Academics are definitely strong. He also has strong leadership and national awards in one of his ECs, plus his tutoring job. Also plans to add an additional EC this summer. I would say his ECs are strong but realistic :slight_smile:
It’s difficult to figure out safeties with holistic schools. I’m not sure this even exists.
Not interested in CS

Eeyore123, agree that top academics are required for someone in his demographic, but not sufficient.

We’ve been doing the college thing for a fair few years now (this should be our last ug admissions cycle!! if she would just make a decision…). One of the things that keeps surprising me is how real the ‘fit’ thing is. There is a tendency for high-achievers to look around and say ‘what’s the highest I can get into’, as if it was a straight ladder- but it’s not.

For your son, OP, he should be in good shape for a really strong UC- so the next question is ‘what would suit him as well or better?’. In the SLAC category that means him thinking about environments where he thinks he might thrive- and then visiting (virtually these days) a lot of different options to see how they fit. Like well-made hats or shoes, LACs have a lot of similarities- they will all do their primary job really well, but some will suit your head or feet or where you want to go better than others.

You have a great example of this right there in CA: the Claremont McKenna colleges: 4 small but very distinctive college environments. The Quaker consortium in PA (UPenn / Haverford / BrynMawr / Swarthmore) and the 5 College consortium in MA (UMass Amherst, Amherst, Smith, Mt Holyoke and Hampshire*) are other groups that can help tease out what sort of LAC he prefers -and then you can look for others like that one. So the game is: you can go to any of the colleges in the group- which would you pick and why? At least with my collegekids that framing led to some good conversations on what can be a very touchy subject for academically ambitious students!

*for now anyway…

I think you are smart to be looking for the safeties. Much harder IMO than putting together a reach list.

Start with budget considerations first. It’s not a safety if you can’t afford it. It’s also not a safety if your student really doesn’t want to go there.

With his scores he would be auto admit at many of the large southern flagships. I would expect you will have in state safeties as well.

I wholeheartedly agree with the advice to look for fit. When he finds the type if school he loves, its easier to find the match and safeties that have similar feels.

That is your problem. I don’t think that there are any safety schools that have holistic admissions. A good safety needs a couple of characteristics. First, it needs to be affordable under many economic scenarios. It should have an early decision. December 15th would be the last day I would accept. A rolling decision in Set/Oct is even better. And lastly, they have to be willing to go. They don’t have to love it.

My DS first app last year was to Alabama. He had an acceptance in hand in October. Since he was a NMSF with a confirming SAT, Grades, etc. we knew that with the scholarship, he could fully fund his undergraduate with no support from us if needed. Was he in love with the school, no. But he did understand that it was a very good worst option. His very last two applications were to his reach schools (Princeton and UChicago). By the time he submitted those apps, he had 4 acceptances in hand.
I think of it like building a house. You have to start on the bottom with a firm foundation. Then you can work your way up to the top. If you try to start at the top, bad things can happen.

My first thought for a safety would be Arizona. With those stats, and as a NMF (the only way that he won’t be an Finalist is if he doesn’t apply), he could get great merit aid, so it would be a financial safety as well.

Another LAC in CA, to add to @collegemom3717’s list, is Occidental, which would be more of a match, whereas the Claremont colleges are all reaches for anybody. I’ll also add the NESCAC colleges in the NE, which have a range of acceptance rates.

I would also point out the many great colleges and universities in the Midwest, from LACs like Carleton and Macalester, to universities like UIUC, Wisconsin, Purdue, UIndiana , OSU, UMichican, MSU, and UMN.

As for the UCs, with those stats, Berkeley and UCLA will be in the high match/low reach range, UCI will be a match, UCSD and UCSB will be a low matches, and the rest should be safeties or almost safeties.

As I wrote, my nephew has a similar profile, and he was accepted into all the UCs except Berkeley.

Because your son has top stats, but moderate ECs, he will be in the situation in which colleges which admit mostly based on stats will be falling all over themselves to convince him to attend there, while colleges with more “holistic” admissions may be less interested. But, as I wrote, my nephew, who has a very similar profile, was accepted (class of 2024) to a number of really good “holistic admissions” colleges, including CWRU.

Collegemom3717, our daughter attends one of the Claremont colleges, so he’s visited numerous times. We were supposed to go for spring break and he was planning to stay in her room overnight, and we were going to spend the week touring SoCal colleges, but you know how that turned out. He did the Pomona and CMC virtual sessions and really liked those (I thought he would, based on his interests- he didn’t like Pitzer, as I also suspected :slight_smile: He might look at Harvey mudd, because why not, but I don’t think it’ll be a fit). DD has had a wonderful experience in Claremont. But of course those are wildly unpredictable reaches for anyone.
We visited haverford/swarthmore/U Penn last year and he liked all three of them, though they are quite different LOL. He really liked Haverford, in fact… for someone who is undecided with very varied interests, it seemed a good fit. Again, all these are reaches but not out of reach, either.

Occidental might be a good safety where he could still be challenged enough and get the liberal arts experience. Our Dd got a small scholarship there with lower stats, so he might qualify for merit. I guess Santa Clara U., too.

Based on the fact that his school sends approximately 50 kids to UC Berkeley and UCLA combined every year, I think he has an excellent shot at one or both of those and UCSD, etc. Don’t know about safety, though. I guess Davis might be a safety, and it’s a great choice with good caring profs - again, his sister got regents there, and many of her friends attend.
I’ve seen kids face disappointment when they reach too high, so I know it’s a lottery, but UCs are MUCH more predictable than selective privates. Here’s the other problem with the whole safety thing – sometimes you might be overqualified and they reject you for that reason.

We haven’t even thought about out of state safeties because he prefers to stay in state, unless it’s something amazing. Fortunately dh is a huge saver - we’ve saved enough for private and it’s protected in a 529- phew…
If out of state, the NY/NJ/PA area or NC, as we have family in those places. After Covid, he’s getting anxious about being far from home, unless we have family in the area (and I’m feeling the same- thankful that dd could drive home vs flying). Maybe things will calm down in a year, but right now that’s how we feel, not just for Covid but any emergency. can help you assess UC chances with 2019 admit rates by UC-recalculated weighted-capped GPA.

However, be careful that some majors are much more selective than the campus overall. CS is typically such a major, and engineering majors often are, but some other majors could be as well.

Note that law school admissions does not require any particular major or course work, although (beyond the highly important college GPA and LSAT score) some college course choices may have some influence (according to ). A science or engineering major may be helpful for some types of law practice.

That’s super that he’s seen enough to be able to start recognizing that some appeal to him more than others- the more he can articulate why A over B the easier it is to find similar elements in other colleges. If you can give some clues, lots of people here can suggest some, at various selectivity levels.

“what’s an academically challenging safety in CA”

We had a similar situation with a daughter who was the top student in her high school. However, she wanted a small school. The best small schools where we live (Liberal Arts Colleges) are very unpredictable for admission. The little scatter plots showed almost no correlation at all between GPA or SAT scores and acceptance. One seemed to show a strong inverse correlation but the sample size was very small. Our in-state public flagship is big. We toured it, but she felt it was too big.

“You hear stories of kids JUST like him getting rejected from top 10-20 uni.”

Yup. Picking reaches is often easier than picking safeties. For us our safeties were all either in-state public schools or in Canada. In Canada being the top student in your high school seems to nearly guarantee acceptance wherever you want to go. Most of my Asian friends are sending their kids to public universities, or at least using them for safeties. At least one has also sent their child to a top university in Canada.

I think that there are schools that would be highly likely for admission for you, such as the middle of the UC’s. Given that all of the UC’s are very good, the third or fourth ranked is a great school. However, we are not from that end of the country and I do not know if they are safeties for you.

I would be hesitant on thinking UC Davis is a safety. They reject or waitlist several High stat applicants that get into UCLA/UCB. They are big on “fit” based on their own criteria.

UC’s tend to be very unpredictable and saw several examples of these high stat applicants being waitlisted at UCD/UCI/UCSB and even UCSC but get into UCSD/UCLA and UCB.

I agree it is very hard to determine a Safety school for a high stat applicant but Arizona State and University of Alabama are schools often mentioned due to NMF scholarships.

Cal Poly SLO would be a possible safety as long as he is not applying for CS or some of the competitive Engineering majors. Even San Diego state combined with the Weber’s Honors college would give a good safety and still be challenging.

The issue with finding a safety is normally that people think they are below them. Yield protection may be real, but it is normally associated with schools that would be match schools for highly competitive students (e.g Tulane, CWRU, etc ).

Actually, it can be easier to find safeties with higher stats, since higher stats make it easier to meet many colleges’ automatic admission and merit scholarship thresholds.

The only catch is that sometimes the applicant feels that any college that s/he can easily get into is “beneath” him/her, which basically eliminates all safeties.

Two key principles at work in this process are: UCs in particular do not discriminate based on ethnicity and do not use any sort of quota on this basis. Prestigious private colleges really like to admit well qualified full pay ED applicants because they need to protect their yield.

What I would love to know is How many “perfect stats in a rigorous curriculum/solid EC” kids actually get turned down by UCs. I know it’s possible (esp with UCB, which is more holistic) but curious to know stats. That list only shows 4.2 and above GPA and doesn’t factor in scores.

@ucbalumnus, I recently learned that law schools focus on GPA and scores, which favors someone like my kid :slight_smile: I know very little about law school - is patent law the option for someone with a stem background? I’m wondering what else.

Regarding Davis, that’s too bad that he could get shut out, possibly for being “overqualified.” It would be a good option if he got into the regents program, like our daughter… Although she chose a slac in the end, it was a solid option.
Cal poly won’t work well for someone who is undecided and wants to explore :frowning:

@college3717, based on his comments thus far, I think the most important criteria include:

  • flexibility to Explore and switch majors
  • ability to double major in completely different areas
  • Where he will be around others who enjoy discussing academics and nerdy humor as much as he does, so he will fit in - based on my own observations, this is who he gravitates to and is happiest around, in his main EC also
  • must have a solid humanities program and students who enjoy those subjects, in addition to STEM. I assume that rules out STEM schools (not sure about Harvey mudd)
  • bonus if it has engineering (swarthmore!) though I spent time researching this and this would greatly limit his options, so he would need to do a 5 year slac engineering program if goes that route. If he knew he wanted engineering, that would definitely affect the decision, but it’s just one of many options (he hasn’t ruled it out rather than actively choosing it) so it doesn’t make sense to apply into engineering.

i think, when looking at safeties, fit becomes even more important. An honors college could make it work.