How screwed am I because of my stats?

I’m applying to UPenn ED next month, and I’m extremely worried about my chances because of my relatively very poor stats. During freshman year, I had no focus on academics whatsoever and got straight B’s, but then I got focused and maintained straight A’s while taking every high level class I could take. So, my cumulative GPA is only a 3.66 UW and 4.2 W, but without freshman year it’d be a 4.0 UW and 4.5 W. I’m confident that I can handle an Ivy League workload because I’m the top test taker in almost every single one of my classes without a lot of effort, but my stats make me look like I’m completely unprepared. I was counting on the SAT to represent my academic capabilities, but I never even got the chance to take it and missed my school’s make-up SAT being quarantined from being in contact with someone who had COVID, so I’m almost definitely going to have to apply without an SAT or ACT score. I know this would normally mean inevitable rejection for most normal applicants, but every other part of my application other than my stats is extremely good and very unique. I’ve started 2 businesses, a club, won several awards in DECA, and have an amazing internship at a tech startup that I got through working on other creative projects rather than just applying and being accepted, so the CEO is also writing me a stellar letter of recommendation that will carry a lot of weight since it’s a very legit company with a very legit team (two Harvard grads and a Stanford grad). I’ve made it clear in my application that I’m going into a business discipline but want to take a non-traditional approach by going to the CAS school and getting a major in Psychology with minors in consumer psychology and fine arts photography while taking classes at Wharton so that I can provide a different perspective to the largely quantitative business school culture at UPenn (which I also think will work in my favor because of UPenn’s focus on interdisciplinary learning and unique contributions to the community). My personal essay, supplemental essays, and letters of recommendation all make my aspirations and unique mission very clear, so I’m just worried about being instantly rejected because of my stats. The letters from my counselor and teachers should do me a bit more justice regarding my academic ability, but I’m still concerned with the impact of having a relatively low GPA and no SAT/ACT at all.

All you can do is apply, then it will be out of your control until decision day. Just make sure you are also applying to another reach or two, some match schools, and at least one affordable safety.

I agree that all you can do is apply and that you need to have alternate match/safety schools as part of your application portfolio.

High school coursework/performance is typically the very top criteria in evaluating an application and the reality is that Penn will have tens of thousands of applications with very strong Soph-Sr. grades and very strong Freshman grades. Their average admitted applicant had a 3.9, per their CDsS

Unique stories/other parts of an application can overcome hurdles - 2% of their admitted students weren’t in the top 25% of their HS class, 6% outside the top 10%, but I would say you are correct to be concerned about it.

When you have an “amaziing internship,” you still need to understand what a college like Penn will be looking at. And looking for. They’ll like the interdisciplinary approach. But be careful you don’t seem distracted by this early foray into the sorts of projects and some independence a start-up offers. They still want kids on campus who help form a sense of everyday community, as they see it. (In that vein, “starting” two businesses has the same pitfall. What else are you involved with? Any ECs or community service that isn’t about your business interests?)

Nor is it about your “unique mission.” Despite some colleges’ reputations for producing great post grads, they can be sensitive to applicants coming on as too “pre-professional.” (The college as their path to later success.)

It’s not all about gpa, per se. In this case, if you truly took the rigor and did well, the right courses (and balance; it’s depth and breadth,) you’ve grown. And in any case, they look at the transcript for the range and rigor of courses and the raw grades, unweighted.

It’s also not about being a “top test taker.” They like a curiosity about learning, interactive learning, not just who ends up with a high college gpa. So take a moment to give some thought to how you come across. Give it your best shot. Drives are good, but it’s not all about your drives.

“All you can do is apply”

That is my feeling also. Penn is a reach. Apply, then focus on other schools.

You need to apply to at least two affordable safeties. You need to spend time and effort identifying these safeties.

Also, start writing using paragraphs. Make an effort to write concisely and to organize your thoughts carefully. If your essays for Penn look like your original post, you will not get accepted.

In general, having a GPA of 3.66 because of a bad freshman year is better than having a solid 3.66 GPA. However, you are competing against a large number of students who have profiles similar to your own, but also have freshman grades which are much higher.

U of California, California State campuses, and Stanford do not use freshman grades in calculating GPA.


Like in high school, a good percent of a grade is not from tests. In fact, the more competitive the colleges, the more grades are dependent on essays and other written work, rather than tests. So being good at taking tests in not an indication that you are prepared for the work load at, say, UPenn. STEM classes will have lab reports, and essays too. Many classes will be project -based , without a single test of quiz.

At most colleges in the USA, the grades are not the result of a few sprints, but from “multisport” activities. Being good at testing helps, but it does not, in and of itself, indicate that you are able to handle the wide range of activities for which you will be graded.