Need help understanding chances for S23

I’m trying to help my S decide whether to retake the ACT and how much time to spend on preparing for it. As a parent I am also wondering whether he has a real shot at any of these reachier LACs. How much will raising the ACT help in these test optional times? Thanks

US citizen
Private HS
White Male
Full Pay (happy to receive merit but not required)

Interested in sciences and history, but undecided at this time.

GPA after junior year could range somewhere between 3.75-3.9. School does not weight.
School does not rank but certainly in top 25%, maybe higher
ACT 33 Composite. Lowest section was math, at 30. Scheduled to retake in December, but need help understanding how much raising this score this will help.

I can’t get a straight answer from the GC about the rigor checkbox. He won’t get highest rigor but maybe the next one down? School offers many APs but generally kids only take one math, one science, one FL, one English. Can load up in social studies but no one takes ten APs here. Things like AP Psych or AP Human Goegraphy are not offered. The occasional student might take 2 in math or 2 in science but those cases are rare. Maybe 8 APs would be the absolute max for the kids that end up at ivies or similar.

MATH: Honors Geometry, Honors Algebra 2, Honors precalc (Likely AP Calc AB Senior year)
SCIENCE: Biology, Honors Chemistry, Honors Physics (will sit for AP Physics 1 test this year on teacher advice), Marine Science, Climate change & technology (Possible AP Bio or AP Chem Senior year)
FL: Spanish 3, 4, 5 (AP Spanish senior year)
ENGLISH: World Lit, American Lit, English electives junior year (English electives senior year, school classifies all grade 12 as post AP level) *(This is one AP he did not want to take, not his favorite subject and the English dept very challenging overall)
SOCIAL STUDIES: World history, US History, AP Euro, (Senior year could take AP US Gov or regular social studies elective)
ARTS: Four semesters of theatre and visual arts

Third degree black belt in Taekwondo, working towards 4th degree. Started practicing at age 6.
Teaches taekwondo - was student teacher in 9th grade and paid teacher since sophomore year
Active in theatre productions, has had role every production spring and fall. possible leadership position senior year.
Active in school charity club raising money for hunger, probable leader senior year.
Kickboxing and jujitsu starting mid sophomore year
Member of various other clubs, recreational guitar player
Grocery store job sterilizing shopping carts during Covid summer 2020

Will have strong recs based on strong performance and teachers always loving having him in their class. No essay yet as he is a junior. In an interview, will likely do very well, is very personable.

School sends 100% to four year colleges. Naviance spans ten years so it’s sometimes hard to tell what is recent and things have gotten tougher during that time.

Colleges he’s considering and also some that I want him to consider:
Reach: Wesleyan, Bates, Bowdoin, Tufts, Pomona, Pitzer
Reach/Match: Vassar, Carleton, Grinnell
Match: Skidmore, Whitman, Lafeyette, Macalester
Likely: Denison, St Olaf, Puget Sound, Lewis and Clark, Eckerd

He doesn’t think he wants rural so Grinnell may not make the list, but the students there sound like such a fit that I want him to consider it. Things can change over the next year.

Also open to midsized schools if anyone can suggest that a down to earth smart quirky theater kid might like in the vein of Carleton, Grinnell, Wesleyan, Bates type vibe. He liked Wesyelan and Tufts on our visits and those are bigger.

So couple thoughts. He’s a junior? So yea he should take again. 33 is great. I don’t know all his sub scores so for example a 32.5 is a 33. A 33.25 is also a 33. So if he gets his math up there is a possibility of a higher superscore. So it makes sense to retake. Even his other sections could trigger an increase. A 33 is strong. A 34 is great!! It can help. At some schools could be the difference from TO to submitting. And could mean more merit. Or merit period depending on the school.

So your comment happy to receive merit but not required is telling for what you need. Much of your list is need based aid only. So if I were to say to you that you could spend $320k at Wesleyan and I’m just throwing out a school and #…$150k at Rollins, Kalamazoo or pick your very solid bit 3rd level LAC, what would you do. That price difference is HUGE and that money also grows so many choose to pick a state flagship with Honors college vs an Ivy League. It’s why, for example, an Alabama has more National Merit Finalists than any school in the country.

In your case you may even look at some of the public LACs such as Charleston, UNCA and more.

Not sure if you plan an ED app…obviously better odds….but on your list RD I’d say….

Bates is a reach but if ED I think a match. The reaches look right otherwise except Wesleyan. I’d flip it and Vassar.

I think your matches are likely except Mac which is a match. So it’s your matches / likely that will give you the equation I brought up above related to merit.

Oh, the last 4 btw…let’s call them what they are…safeties.

So he doesn’t want rural. You could argue the Maine schools, Carleton, St Olaf and Dennison are. If you have them and are looking for more how about Oberlin and Wooster plus Dickinson and Gettysburg as well as no merit aid F & M. Lawrence too as theater.

You might look at Richmond and Wake Forest skewing larger. Emory’s Oxford, W&M (won’t be cheap). Or ‘lesser’ pedigree but solid schools like Charleston, UNCA, Miami Ohio…skewing bigger but it’s an LAC campus environment feel but like Dennison, a bit rural but close enough to a city. Easy in and aid.

Lots of great schools to get on their interest list to start getting info and maybe even free apps but yep eventually you need to narrow down.

While he may not want rural, sometimes you’ll find these are complete colleges with activity 7 days a week whereas others are close to society and the school could empty out on weekends.

Good luck.


He should take it again.


I agree, take it again! And work as hard as he can to keep the grades up. I think you should push the counselor to tell you if he is highest rigor or not, so your son can appropriately pick senior year classes. That seems strange they won’t say.


I agree, it is frustrating that they won’t say. They don’t really like to talk to junior parents until after 1/1 when the seniors are all submitted. At least that comes before senior year course registration. I assume because he didn’t take AP English it isn’t technically highest rigor. But we were following the advice we heard of “Take the APs in the areas you are interested in.” And English was one he feels he struggles in the most and is least interested in. I hope that by getting to AP level in 4 of the 5 core areas he will show broad competence. I am also hoping that once we get to meet with the GC we can get a narrower read of the Naviance data for a couple of the reachier ones to see who actually got in (were they athletes, etc).

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Thanks. So you’d say Vassar is tougher than Wesleyan? Vassar appeared to have a larger admit rate for male applicants than female which is why we thought it might be easier for him there than Wes. He loved Wes the best of the ones he saw. Of course that could change over the next year.

He nixed Colby for being too rural but thought Lewiston was enough of a town. I like the sound of a lot of the Ohio schools, too. I agree that somewhere like Colby or Grinnell, you’d have plenty to do on campus. But he has to also agree, hahaha.

We are ok with full pay but yeah, it does really add up so it would have to be a very top choice. He is frugal so if he doesn’t end up using ED somewhere successfully, he may see merit offers and be swayed by them.

I think you have wide enough variety that as long as you choose from the different buckets it’s not an issue. I wouldn’t not apply to Tufts or Pomona based on what the GC says. I would take them for what they are. Reaches.

If you have two from your Eckerd, Lewis and Clark list then you have two you’ll be in at.

I know someone with only 4 APs at a school that offers a boatload of them so light rigor. Got 25-30k at DePauw which is a very solid school.

The reality is the lesser tier schools…your Eckerds, Lewis & Clark’s, Puget Sound etc can’t charge what Vassar does. You don’t pay the same at Outback that you do at Ruth Chris even if the meal is just as good. Hence the discounting (ie merit aid) or these schools would lose out on strong students.

I think you stretch a kid but not to the point of insanity. He does need to leave his comfort zone class wise because when he gets to college, guess what he’ll have classes that make him uncomfortable. But at the same time, he’s a kid and if it’s going to be pure insanity that’s not good. In other words, unless it’s violently stressing him stretching on an AP is ok, even in a less comfortable area like English.

So what’s the worst case. He doesn’t go to Tufts or Pomona and ends up at UPS out west or Mac or beautiful St. Pete at Eckerd and likely for less $$.

So I think yes get him in classes he can handle regardless of comfort. But you are in good shape either way.


Relooking you are correct. I perceive Vassar as stronger and Wes let’s a boatload in TO and the 33+will help there. At Vassar too.

Both are heavily female but Vassar moreso possibly due to its legacy. People still think it’s a female only college.

#s wise he’s ok. Maybe not rigor wise. But at under 25% and you can be assured they grab a lot ED maybe both are reaches.

You get 20 common app slots. If the work isn’t too much use them completely.

Others will disagree but I say Google the list of colleges with no app fees. Niche + no application fee.

Since schools let you self report test scores, I’d use the remaining available slots to apply to schools that had no extra work…ie no additional essays because why not….you may score a deal. Hello Evansville, Rhodes, Dayton etc

So if you plan to apply to 15, throw in five more that require no effort. If they give you a great offer, you can go and look. You might find that you like !!

As for ED if you’re not comfortable spending $320k and that’s a personal opinion…mine is that’s insanity unless you are Warren Buffet…but if you are not comfortable with it then don’t let him ED at a no merit school. Even a Skidmore has merit but for music and math/science only.

You may be able to afford $320k. I could. But that’s not the question. The question is do you want to afford $320k? That’s what you need to answer up front.




Not only should he take it again, he should prep for it intensively, with some tutoring from a pro coach. Perhaps this is what he should be doing over Christmas break? Then take it in early January, so as not to interfere with his academic classes. Practicing with retired ACT sections can really raise one’s score.


Have you and your son thought about trying the SAT, at least once?

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he did a practice one and got 680 verbal and 660 Math, with no prep. He already had the 33 ACT which is better, so I thought redoing ACT might be easier?

Broadly, if the GC isn’t saying he gets the “most rigorous” curriculum box, then if you think there is some room to improve on ACT, it could be worth finding an extra point or so in order to help that tell the “academic” story. As a fall semester junior, this would be the time to give that a try, since spring of junior year usually picks up with some preliminary visits etc. and it is ideal to have testing done with, if possible.

Certainly reasonable minds can differ, but I don’t see much difference between the Reaches and the Match/Reaches on the list. Once a LAC has a lower acceptance rate, it becomes about culture and fit and that is unpredictable. It is true that for a male, Vassar numbers are slightly better, same may still be true at Skidmore. But with below 30% acceptance rates, and in some instances, much below, it is not predictable. Also, check current acceptance rates, as US News and many other sites lag by at least a full admissions cycle, and many of the sites which aggregate info about admissions may be 2 cycles behind. As an active Denison parent, I’d be careful about calling it a safety rather than a match with a 28% acceptance rate.

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Yes, it is really hard to tell sometimes. “Not predictable,” is correct! Naviance says that 72% of Denison applicants from the high school have been accepted with an average 28 ACT, but that is a small sample size, and is over 10 years, so not super helpful or accurate for this year or next. Also one cannot tell whether the lower scores were submitted or not (I think Naviance probably includes all the scores whether or not the college saw them). Denison seems to have risen in familiarity and popularity in the past few years, and sure sounds great on paper. We are hoping to visit.

According to Naviance, Carleton takes over half the applicants, and is a much larger sample size, which makes it SEEM less reachy compared to Bates or Wesleyan. But certainly not a guarantee and applications continue to rise as everone is in the same situation as I am, not knowing if your kid actually has a chance at all.

Will the common Data set have the most recent acceptance rate or if not, where is the place to look?

If you Google the school + student profile, many list 2025 data. For example see Dennison.

Some will even say what % go TO and you’d be amazed that top schools seem to be 40-60%…higher than one would assume.

The CDS is the place to look but school websites are helpful too.

Know that most private LACs are likely digging into ED heavily.

I do think you can relax a little because you do have safeties on your list. As long as your son is happy at an Eckerd or Puget Sound, for example, you will be fine. You might add a couple more at that level if you have concern but I think you are in great shape. You have reaches on your list and that’s great. If you don’t get rejected somewhere you did not reach enough!!

I think he’s done a fine job both academically and in the college list formulation.

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Common Data Sets are released after the admissions cycle has been completed, so you should be able to google 2021 data for schools of interest. Some schools do not make Common Data Sets available, as it is not required, and I’m sorry to say Denison does not release that. Much of the admissions and diversity info can be found on schools’ press releases and admissions websites, if schools do not make that info available.

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That is a great score, but I think he should take the ACT at the end of the school year if he has math in the spring. It will not be much for him based on his current scores to increase it a little for the Super score. He can take it in December as a practice again.

June 11 or July 16, depending on when school ends. He will most likely see the math go up just with another year/semester of math. The Honors Pre-Calc this year helps a lot. It is a fast paced timed test so there is some rhythm and strategy to taking it as well. He can look at what he needs to review based on the practice tests. You do not need to drop a ton of cash to prep for this. He will see results with some free self prep.

He should have taken the PSAT in October at school. Those scores will post around Dec 6/7. Depending on the score and state you are in he may qualify for national merit process. That score will also help him decide which test he may be more comfortable with and may shift gears on you.


From our experience, modest (1 kid only) but good (ED1 admission to her only-real-love choice):

  1. math is the most teachable portion of tests
  2. Making yourself interesting for to the AOs is the name of the game, more than a long list of modest (i.e boring - they’ve seen it al) accomplishments in a lot of fields. Good luck, and if Pomona becomes one of the top choices, PM me.

My child is taking 11 AP classes and all the rest advanced (higher than honors) and our GC is not giving him the highest rigor checkmark. She bases it only if the student takes AP chem or bio. If not you don’t get it. Even though he has taken AP physics, calc and 9 others. Ugh.

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I would hope the schools see through this. Because each school is different, the “box” is just another data point or observation point.

If they see 11 AP classes - and they’ll see the weighted GPA - no doubt your student will get a fair shake.