Parents only want me to apply to prestigious schools, even though I'm very unqualified

Hey CC community, apologies if this is not the right sub-forum for this kind of post, I’m brand new here. I’m a HS senior.

Title is a bit misleading in the sense that my aunt and uncle are actually the ones guiding me through college admissions and even offering to pay my tuition. Dad isn’t in the picture and my mother is an immigrant with no clear understanding of American college admissions. So that’s why aunt and uncle are running the show, so to speak.

My aunt and uncle are both Ivy League graduates (Princeton and Yale, respectively), very intelligent, inspiring people. Yet their ignorance of the current climate of college admissions is problematic, as I think they’re setting me up to crash and burn come the release of college decisions. They graduated in 1978. It is 2020. “If I can do it, you can!” They honestly believe that I can get admitted into the very best schools in the country.

They have been pushing me to the likes of HYPS, and they have literally dissuaded me from applying to any actual safeties (according to uncle, UMichigan is my safety). they have literally told me to take off Northeastern and USC because I’m “too good for those schools”. Also, there seems to be this idea that I am bound for these stellar universities just because I’m a relatively smart URM in a low-income Oregon household (for the record, aunt and uncle are both white, rich, Manhattan residents).

Here is my college list, which feels like their list, as of now. To preface, I honestly think I could thrive at most of these, I just think it’s an amazing waste of energy and money to fill out applications for schools I have zero chance to.

Columbia - My dream school, FWIW
Yale - No desire to attend this one

My mother is pushing me to the likes of HYPS, I think just because of their brand recognition and, yes, her ignorance of the selectivity we’re dealing with. So that makes 3 family members that are pressuring me to only apply to reach schools. How the heck can I convince my family that:

  1. Simply being smart doesn’t guarantee admission into this class of colleges
  2. My stats are way too low
  3. I absolutely need a few safety schools ?

Thank you for reading my rant. I’ve been lurking around the forums for a bit and I wanted to vent a bit. Any advice about my predicament is much appreciated. I can provide my stats, ECs, whatever, but frankly I’m not sure what the point is.

Obviously as you already understand it is a mistake to only apply to colleges that are reaches for everyone.

What are your academic stats and important ECs?

Would your aunt and uncle be willing to meet with your guidance counselor to discuss your application strategy? Perhaps he/she could help them understand the current landscape.

Have you looked at admission rates (then and now) and college guide books with your aunt and uncle?

So what are your stats?

You are correct that these are reaches for all. However if your academic record is competitive, there is no harm in applying to reaches if somebody is going to help you pay for them. Regardless, you should have a few safeties/matches from both admissions and financial point of view as well.

Do you have personal savings for application fees to a few safeties/matches on your own if your relations will only pay for elite schools? You probably know this, but need-based aid is hard to obtain at public universities out of state.

Good luck!

If your parents are divorced, that can make financial aid problematic at all of your list except for Chicago, so your aunt and uncle really will need to put a lot of their money where their mouth is if you get into any of the colleges on your list. Basically, all of your list except Chicago require both parents to complete financial aid forms, and will assess your eligibility for financial aid based on both of their finances.

As others have asked, what does your academic record look like, and what are your academic and professional interests? Also, how willing are your aunt, uncle, and mother to pay for colleges other than the list you gave? No one can suggest possible safety colleges without that information.

Oregon State if STEM, UOregon if Humanities/Social Sciences inclined. Portland State if interested in CS.

Need your stats. Also, you say you are an URM. Need to know whether you are male or female, and whether you are African American, or Hispanic. There is a difference, in terms of the boost one gets in admission. I am assuming that you are not a legacy at any of these schools (meaning a parent attended them).

Hey, thanks for replying. I guess I should have been more direct about what I meant by that line in the first post. Dad passed away two years ago, so the problem you highlighted regarding UChicago doesn’t apply to us. Regarding paying for college: my aunt and uncle have been absolutely clear that they are covering everything. This, of course, adds pressure to just nod along to their disastrous college suggestions. Mom can’t really afford to pay anything and she knows this.

Appreciate your concern. I have a little bit of money, not much, but I could pay for application fees to a few safeties/matches. Still super hard to navigate this process though.

Nope, aunt and uncle won’t listen to what any faculty at my HS have to say about this. They have said this. We have had talks about how the stats prove that it is harder to get into these schools than it was in their time, but they still think any school would be vying for a student like me. Hard to reason with them. They overestimate how much my African-Americanness helps and underestimate how far applicants go to get into top schools these days.

I didn’t think people here would care about my stats on this post, but here they are (plus some explanations). I am not being modest either, I seriously am unimpressive to T10 schools. Here it is:

GPA: 3.6 UW 3.8 W with full IB course-load

ACT: 28-- A math section score of 19 dragged my composite down badly. I have done consistent test prep since then, but cannot sit in and take a test due to Covid. Signed up for an ACT and SAT in December, predicted to get a 33/1500. Very pissed that I could be missing out on a great score to report, to be honest.

ECs: Two paid jobs (Sonic Drive-in server, referee for flag football and soccer),
100+ service hours with PNW Outdoor School,
played clarinet since 6th grade and performed in one of the best school bands in the district,
studying Japanese outside of school to the point of semi-fluency,
Leader of a committee for Japanese National Honor Society club at my school
[Really difficult to get EC opportunities considering my tiny HS of 100 graduating students and availability of one parent]

Demographic: Oregonian, African-American, male, immigrant mother, single-family household, poor

I really wanted more out of my high school experience, but too many limitations in my life.

Are you a first generation student? If you truly don’t have the stats (3.9+ unweighted GPA; lots of AP/IB courses if offered at your school; strong ECs; strong recs), then I don’t think it’s worth applying and hopefully you can convince you aunt and uncle to invest in your success by paying for a college that’s the right fit for you.

D21 has a classmate whose parents are the same. Kid has a 2.7 WEIGHTED GPA and scored 18 on the ACT. Kid’s mother is making her apply to Brown, Amherst, Dartmouth and Smith. Mother thinks her D’s musical accomplishments (singing in the city choir) are enough to overcome low stats. Poor kid is going to get a slew of rejection letters. Hoping the college counselor will make headway but I have my doubts.

So, I made a post addressing questions and stats and whatnot. I think it got deleted because I tried to edit it twice. If it reappears on this thread, well, oops. I’ll make this one less longwinded.

To whoever brought up UChicago financial aid, dad is deceased.

I am an African-American male.

Aunt and uncle will not listen to school counselor or any other HS faculty, on this matter. I think they assume being an AA male means an instant ticket into a good school. I am not the only smart AA male applying to such schools.

I don’t think I have legacy status at any of these schools. Dad did 2 years of undergrad at UChicago, dropped out, somehow got into Columbia grad school over 20 years later, went on to get PhD at UMichigan. I’m pretty sure this means I don’t qualify for legacy at any of these 3 schools. Bummer.

Stats (there are reasons for mediocre ECs and I have only been able to sit in for one SAT/ACT thus far. To hell with Covid.)

GPA: 3.6 UW 3.8 W with full array of IB
ACT: 28. I plan on taking two more tests in December, unless they get cancelled

  • Studied Japanese to semi-fluency
  • food committee leader at Japanese National Honor Society club in my HS
  • 100+ hours of service dedicated to PNW Outdoor School, very demanding experience but super fun
  • Played clarinet since middle school, participated in one of the best school bands in our district
  • Two paid jobs, one as a soccer and flag football referee, the other as a Sonic server

Hard to get in those ECs with such a tiny HS (class of 2021 is fewer than 100 students) and other constraints.

I think my college essays are really good, FWIW.

Appreciating the concern from members here.

3.6 UWGPA with an ACT composite score of 28, makes admission to Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, UChicago, Columbia, & UPenn unlikely even for an URM from an under represented state.

What do you want to study ?

Any career in mind ?

To which colleges or universities do you want to apply ?

I believe that you have a realistic view of your chances. First of all, you should be applying to your in-state flagship state university (U of Oregon). I think that this is a safety for you, and if the aunt and uncle should for some reason pull the financial rug out from under you, this may be your cheapest option, too. I don’t think that Northeastern and USC are by any means sure bets for you! I think that second-tier schools (not top 20) would be realistic reaches for you, because of the boost given to AA males, because of your B plus GPA, you bring geographical diversity, and because you sound like an interesting young man (forgive me, I’m a sucker for unusual language learners). I think that the Japanese study is very interesting! I bet that admissions committees would think so, too.

Probably the best thing that you can do this late in the game is to improve your standardized test score, which is very possible to do, if you prep for it.

I think that you should strike a deal with aunt and uncle, especially if they’re paying for your applications. Show them where you stand on Naviance, and where you stand in admissions stats for the schools they’re pushing you towards. Tell them that you will apply everywhere that they want you to (assuming that you are willing to go to those schools, if you get in), as long as they will also back you to apply to the schools YOU want to, because you think that they are realistic matches for you. Maybe you can keep them from wasting so much money, by pointing out that certain top schools don’t have what you want to study.

You need at least one place that is auto admit for your stats and that you know for dead certain you and your mom could pay for without any aid from family. Find that place. It probably is an in-state public U. Apply now. You want a backup in case everything else goes wrong.

A lot of places are test-optional this year, so check the policies at the places you are thinking of. You might not need to re-take the ACT. Get some advice from your own high school counselor. Apply to some matches from that person’s list. Then top your list off with two or three from your aunt & uncle’s list. Who knows, maybe there will be an admission suprise at the top end of your list. But if not, you will have your safety locked in, and a decent chance for one of the matches.

No one but you (and maybe your guidance counselor) needs to know everywhere you are applying. If you don’t have your own money to pay for the application fees, talk with your guidance counselor about that too. They might be able to get you a fee waiver. Also, students often can get fees waived just by asking the college/university admission office about that.

After a Google search, I found that Portland State has a 4 years free program ( ) if you are eligible for a federal pell grant + 3.0 GPA + Oregon resident. The Oregon Promise provides 2 years of free CC, though it is unclear what the income requirement is (appears to change every year based on funding.)

Oregon is not an underrepresented state. And it’s not cum gpa- it’s what the cores show on the transcript. We don’t know the possible major yet, but you show no stem related ECs, so that would be tough for a tippy top. It’s the nature of the competition. In fact, the ECs are a bit light, in comparison.

You’re obviously bright and self aware. I don’t see your heart in those reaches. What do YOU want? A nice LAC where you can thrive or a big U?

Why do you need to tell these relatives when you apply to safeties and matches? Can you find the $$ to apply to those, without them knowing? Or get fee waivers?

On the Common App, you’ll list where your father attended college. Then, it’s up to them how they view a ‘connection.’ Was he an influence in your life?

I hope this work out, in the ways you want.

If you don’t have access to Naviance, or if your family will disregard it because it comes from your school, FYI there are a couple of web sites that will similarly show your chances of getting in based on your GPA and ACT score. I can’t link to them but if you Internet search “college admission scattergram”, you will find them. I wonder if showing this actual, recent-years data to your relatives would help them understand your true chances to these schools.

That’s a LOT of essays to write in a short time for reaches that you don’t want to attend. A better use of your time would be finding schools that are matches and reaches for you and making those applications and essays the best they can be.

I also don’t know that you need to convince them to apply to safety schools and matches, just do it. But one way is to share the scary stories of the many, many kids who don’t balance their applications and don’t get into ANY schools. It happens, and they are then faced with a gap year, community college, or trying to get a late admission to the few schools that still accept applications in April (and these will not be ‘brand name’ schools).

OP- I have great news for you.

Even if you did EVERYTHING by the book- 4.0 GPA, top scores, fantastic EC’s, teachers who say you are the most gifted and profound student they’ve ever taught- you can STILL get rejected from all these top schools. That’s just the math of it all- a 6% acceptance rate means a 94% REJECTION rate, and many of those “rejects” are valedictorians, three season athletes, gifted violinists.

So even without the family pressure and denial- you still need some schools on your list where your stats put you at the top end of the pool and not the bottom.

So sure- your aunt and uncle want to pay your application fees-- pick 3 or 4 of “their choices” and apply. Northwestern, Michigan Columbia since you love it- and one more. Then work on your own list- places that will be affordable, places that would love to have you just as you are, places where you can get a great education which meets your own needs and goals. And if they are truly affordable and you are truly a “lock” on admissions you don’t need 6 of them- 2-3 just so you have a choice is fine.

And voila- you are done with applications, now just let nature take its course. Don’t spend any energy telling your aunt that you can’t get into Harvard. If that’s her top pick for you- just send in the application and forget about it.

Hugs. I love your spunk- and it will take you a lot further in life than an extra 20 points on a standardized test will!


You need to talk to your guidance counselor at high school and come up with a list that is reasonable for you. They you might need to apply to a few high reaches to make your aunt and uncle happy, and also apply the schools that make sense. Then you see where you get accepted. Your aunt and uncle cannot make you attend a university where you do not get accepted. Oregon and Oregon State are great schools (I know a very strong student who just applied to one of them for veterinary school).

Sometimes adults will accept things coming from “experts”, such as your guidance counselor, that they would not accept coming from you. Even if you say the same things, and even if you are entirely 100% correct, sometimes it has to come from someone in a position of authority. I do not know whether it is possible to get your guidance counselor to talk to your aunt and uncle. Schedules and physical distance might make this impractical even if there weren’t a pandemic but it is something to think about. Regardless I think that you should talk to your guidance counselor first and let them know what is going on.

Since your aunt and uncle are successful manhattanites and want to fund your education, why not suggest that they pay for a college counselor? Common practice in their SES bracket. You can position it as a way of ensuring that you have the best application possible - something that would appeal to them.

If you hire anyone worth their salt, they will also explain how terribly foolhardy it would be to apply only to schools with single digit acceptances, even for an applicant with perfect stats (which yours are not.)

It might get everyone aligned. Expensive way to do it but better than having no acceptances for next year. I DO think you could submit a few apps they don’t know about as a backup strategy.

You sound like a great kid with a good head on your shoulders, so I would expect that your essays will help you.


Thanks for the answers. I have already submitted Early Action applications for UChicago and UMichigan. I think, from now on, I will work on Princeton, let A&U know that I’m done with that app, then just apply to places I think are worth applying.

A few replies suggested that I have no desire to attend these reach schools in question, which isn’t true (except for Harvard and Yale). I would love and thrive at many of these if given the amazing opportunity, I just don’t have the super-competitive academic profile, as we all know. Nevertheless, everyone here has been super understanding of my situation, and I appreciate the advice. I’ll have a talk with A&U to see if it does anything.

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I agree with your Aunt and Uncle. Well, I think you have a chance at some tippy tops and you’re selling yourself short. If you can get that 33/1500 test score in December you’re in a great spot as an AA male. The next 2 months will be tough cramming in essays and test prep, but it’ll be worth it!

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