LAC chances with good academics but bad ECs


  • US domestic (US citizen or permanent resident) or international student: US domestic
  • State/Location of residency: (state is important if you apply to any state universities): NJ
  • Type of high school (current college for transfers): Public
  • Gender/Race/Ethnicity (optional): Trans F, white, grade 12
  • Other special factors (first generation to college, legacy, athlete, etc.): None

Intended Major(s)
Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, Economics

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 3.87
  • Weighted HS GPA (incl. weighting system): 4.53/5.0
  • College GPA (for transfers): N/a
  • Class Rank: Unavailable, but based on school profile I seem to be at about #6/#7 out of 280 or so
  • ACT/SAT Scores: 1570 SAT (790 English, 780 Math)

(AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes, AP/IB scores for high school; also include level of math and foreign language reached and any unusual academic electives; for transfers, describe your college courses and preparation for your intended major(s)): AP Bio (5, grade 10), Calc AB (5, grade 11), Chem (5, grade 11), Econ (5Ă—2, grade 11), English Lang (5, grade 11), English Lit (grade 12), Physics E&M (grade 12), Statistics (grade 12), US History (5, grade 11)
Mandarin Chinese 5 Honors for world language, Multivariable Calculus for math
I also have an unusual elective in the form of Research in Molecular Biology (class with actual research, I will be published by the end of the year)


(Include leadership, summer activities, competitions, volunteering, and work experience)
Math Club (co-president 12, grades 9-12), Columbia Science Honors Program (12), Science Olympiad (11-12), professional math tutoring (12), trail maintenance volunteering (9-12), FHSU Sternberg Science Camps (9-10)

(Optionally, guess how strong these are and include any other relevant information or circumstances.)
Essays are probably pretty bad, I can write about literally anything except myself
LORs are probably good; I’ve had a close relationship with one teacher for 4 years (math club advisor, grade 11 math teacher), and the other teacher wrote a LOR that got me into SHP (grade 11 physics teacher)

Cost Constraints / Budget
(High school students: please get a budget from your parents and use the Net Price Calculators on the web sites of colleges of interest.)
Parents are willing and able to pay for anything.

(List of colleges by your initial chance estimate; designate if applying ED/EA/RD; if a scholarship is necessary for affordability, indicate that you are aiming for a scholarship and use the scholarship chance to estimate it into the appropriate group below)
I have my doubts about these difficulties given my extracurricular situation, but this is what my parents insist on it being.

  • Safety (certain admission and affordability)
    Dickinson College (RD), St. Olaf College (RD)
  • Likely (would be possible, but very unlikely or surprising, for it not to admit or be affordable)
    Skidmore College (RD)
  • Match
    Wesleyan University (RD), Macalester College (RD), Colby College (RD), Carleton College (RD)
  • Reach
    Haverford College (ED1), Pomona College (RD), Swarthmore College (RD), Bowdoin College (RD)

How many of these schools are fully unattainable due to holistic admissions?

I think they are all within reach, especially ED - I think you are quite likely to get into Haverford ED as you plan. Pomona is the reachiest and may be the longest shot.

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This site will help you sort through your choices’ economics departments: Economics rankings: US Economics Departments at Liberal Arts Colleges | IDEAS/RePEc.

As suggestions, you may want to consider Vassar and Bates for your overall list.


I agree you’ve done well - in laying out you list.

Please work hard on your essay - lots of proofers.

If I see any concern it would be the ECs. They could be fine but you’d want to quantify where you can. The trail grooming, for example, how many hours did you work etc.

You’ll have a fine list of acceptances, and even a few with merit aid - of the few on your list that offer it. M

Are you ok with any geography. I ask bcuz you’re all NE except for the two MN and California school.

If you prefer NE, perhaps you can swap in a few more for the further away.

Good luck.

If you aren’t successful at Haverford, and I think you have a decent shot there, you are likely to have good options in March. Your matches are reaches though. – some have single digit acceptance rates and are reaches for everyone.

Do make sure you write thoughtful essays. – that’s how you will stand out in the crowd.


The following are all unpredictable. The high number of exceptional applicants make predictions too volatile to say with any certainty what the chances for any student are. Listed with most recent acceptance rates:

6% - Pomona
7% - Swarthmore
7% - Colby
9% - Bowdoin
14% - Haverford
14% - Wesleyan

I agree that Carleton and Macalester are matches. I would put Dickinson in the same likely category as Skidmore. St. Olaf makes a good safety.

Just a note. Skidmore fills half of its freshman class from the early applicant pool, reducing acceptance rates in the regular admit cycle.


You have good stats, but if you don’t write good essays that may be an issue for these schools. Do you have anyone familiar with college essay writing to help guide you and provide essay feedback?

I agree your targets are likely reaches, especially for unhooked applicants. Carleton’s class of 2026 overall acceptance rate was 16.5%. Wesleyan’s 13.5%, Colby’s 7%…RD acceptance rates are lower than the overall rate.

Macalester may be a target, but if you look at the data, the RD acceptance rate might was likely below 20%, which is reachy. Why aren’t you applying to Macalester EA?

You need to apply EA where that’s offered so double check all your schools. St Olaf has EA too, so make that deadline. Are you applying ED2 anywhere if Haverford doesn’t work out?

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Your essays really will be more important than your ECs. I think your ECs are fine. You need to bump up those essays…so get some help maybe from your English teacher and your school counselor.

I am optimistic that you’ll get into Haverford ED1.

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Haverford is tricky both because it is smaller than the typical LAC and because of its strong Quaker heritage. An applicant – especially one considering using that ED1 spot for Haverford – should understand Haverford’s distinctive culture and community and find ways to communicate how they value that culture and will contribute to it. (From a former BiCo community member).


I see no safeties here and all of your matches are reaches. An LAC that uses holistic admissions and has a 50% acceptance rate isn’t a safety. It’s very possible, of course. You really need a true safety.

Skidmore isn’t THAT likely, for reasons already mentioned. I’m surprised Bates isn’t on your list, given its similarity to many of the colleges you’ve mentioned. That’s a reach too though.

Check out Clark U as a possible safety, maybe Muhlenberg, Kalamazoo and College of Wooster. If you want that LAC vibe, SUNY Geneseo is a good option and would probably offer you a big scholarship.


I agree with this and wanted to amplify it, and share some data. My intent is not to concern OP, but to show them how to do research…which is important especially when talking about smaller LACs.

I don’t see Haverford Class of 2026 ED stats anywhere. But, for Class of 2025, 179 students were accepted EDI. That includes 20 Questbridge candidates, over 50% POC, and 14.5% First gen (likely some overlap with QB/POC). Additionally, there will be recruited athletes, legacies, and international students in that 179 number as well. My point is that there are likely fewer than 50 spots for someone with OP’s profile available in EDI, 1/2 for each gender (not sure how/if OP will be reporting gender).


If you received a 5 on all those AP’s, arent you recognized with AP scholar with distinction?

I’ve seen multiple kids put that in their awards section.

I wasn’t certain, but this was my concern also.

@LilyEH I expect you to get some acceptances, and I think that your chances at ED are reasonable also. The entire process might have a successful completion very early on with an ED acceptance. However, I do think that you will want to think carefully about your safeties and make sure that you really do have solid safeties.

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I was going to say this exactly. While I think you are likely to be accepted at at least one or two of your top choices, in today’s admissions environment I would not consider them matches.

Based on your list you might take a look at Grinnell. That could be a match - and no compromise in academic standard. I think you are also a candidate for excellent Merit Aid there, with which they are extremely generous due to there very large endowment (one of the largest per student in the country).


I think you will be a very strong applicant and are likely to have at least a couple of admittances, and quite possibly many. Since these are liberal arts colleges that accept relatively smaller numbers of students, when they have a small percentage of acceptances, it really means a small number of students accepted (versus larger universities with a small acceptance rate that will accept thousands of applicants). Thus, there is a definite possibility that you may not receive as many acceptances as one might think looking at your strong profile. This is how I would classify your current list:

Extremely Likely (80-99+%)

Likely (60-79%)

  • Dickinson
  • St. Olaf

Toss-Up (40-59%)

  • Macalester
  • Skidmore
  • Wesleyan (teetering toward low probability)

Low Probability (20-39%)

  • Carleton
  • Haverford (if EA, if ED, then a Toss-Up)

Lower Probability (less than 20%)

  • Colby
  • Pomona
  • Swarthmore

In looking at the locations of the schools you’ve selected, it appears as though you are primarily looking at blue states, with the exception of Pennsylvania which is…purple? If my child was trans, I would urge my child to take a careful look at the policies in Pennsylvania and which way the state seems to be leaning. (I am not saying this with certain knowledge of any Pennsylvania policies, but due to how it tends to sway from one side or another; I would want to make certain that my child would feel safe and comfortable on campus and in the surrounding community.)

Have you considered these institutions, which I think would either be a likely or a safety for you?

  • Clark (MA) - Likely teetering towards extremely likely
  • Connecticut College - Likely
  • Hobart William Smith (NY) - Extremely likely
  • Mount Holyoke (MA) - Women’s College and likely
  • Occidental (CA)- Teetering between toss-up and likely
  • SUNY Geneseo - Extremely likely
  • Union (NY) - Likely
  • Wheaton (MA) - Extremely likely
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Lily, you tell us that your essays are “probably pretty bad.” Is that just your opinion or have you had some other feedback on your essays?

Vassar would also be worth looking at. Also if you love Haverford and don’t get in ED (for what it’s worth I think you will), consider Bryn Mawr - it is very connected with Haverford and lots of students of one seem to spend most of their time at the other.

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The rep of both Union and Hobart is for conservative student bodies. This is obviously very relative - all colleges lean liberal and this is NY state so your rights should be secure, but these aren’t the progressive meccas the poster has on her current list and that I would recommend for a trans student without further research.

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Thanks for sharing that about Union & Hobart. Union received a 4.5* from Campus Pride Index compared to Vassar’s 3.5*, but perhaps it’s more to do with institutional policies rather than the campus climate? Hobart wasn’t listed (not all schools are).