So post admissions apocalypse advice to a junior not curing cancer

My junior in the south/midwest (some say we are in the south…others in the midwest) needs to start looking for colleges. Very large private school, will have 10 AP’s, 3.996 UW GPA (one soph. B), no class rank, not strong test scores (probably around 1400), average EC due to one EC being 4x a week. I’m sure his recs will be good. He’s well-liked by his teachers for his dedication and interest in learning. Of course, I could say the same for 20 other students in his grade.

Looking at all the results from this year, it seems what may have been a safety five years ago may now be a reach. I’m not trying to push Vandy (my alma mater) but some good schools on the small to medium size.

We won’t be asking for FA but I really don’t want to spend 80K. Maybe 50K. He’s a very young junior so we also expect some kind of gap year just to give him so more time to mature. I have no idea how that fits into the plan.

I want some realistic goals for a kid who doesn’t have a declared major right now - unless it is getting to the next level of a video game.

Thank you for any help. I know my questions were of a varied nature.

Can some in state public universities be safeties?

those would definitely be safeties! Our state universities have a 97 percent acceptance. I’m hoping for a small or mid-size private school with little to no party scene. We have a few small privates in our state but not difficult to get into. We also send a lot of kids in our area to Miami of Ohio probably the kids who in my day would have been able to get into Vandy or WashU. Of course, now all the cool kids head to Auburn, Alabama or South Carolina just to something different.

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1400 is not terrible. It is just shy of 93rd percentile after all. It can be coached if he’s motivated to practice.

If he wants to party, he’ll figure out a way no matter where he goes. If he doesn’t, he’ll figure out a way no matter where he goes. If you’re saying this in hopes of control, it’s time to let that go. This is when they test the waters of self management and you have to be ready for that, because like it or not, whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

There are lots of great small schools known for wonderful environments, strong teaching and not being competitive. Look up Colleges That Change Lives. Remember, how competitive a school is has nothing to do with how good it is. It’s only a measure of popularity. We’ve been hoodwinked into thinking exclusivity is a proxy for quality and it isn’t. It’s a self perpetuating problem.


Have you considered public LACs, like New College of Florida, or Truman State, UNC Asheville? Oops I see you asked for private.
Still may be worth a comparison with Colleges That Change Lives.

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Thank you for the idea of Colleges That Change Lives. That is a new resource for me. My son does not like loud noise and misbehaving so that is why I was asking about non-party scene schools. But honestly, I’m not sure it is possible to find a quiet dorm room on any college campus. Personally, I could have been in a convent and found a way to get into trouble, so I definitely understand that mentality!


Many schools have substance free dorms, fyi.

A 1400 is a fantastic SAT score, don’t be overly influenced by all the posters on CC claiming to have a 1500+

Also, since you are focused on merit aid, you need to be focused on safety schools if you want to knock $25,000+ off the bill. So forget about Vanderbilt level schools.

I don’t know what COVID has done to merit aid budgets, but at least in the past schools like Kenyon, Denison, Lewis & Clark, Hobart, Union, Skidmore (maybe not $25,000/year), St. Lawrence? gave generous merit aid.


I wasn’t sure how to edit. I was thinking 50K a year, not for four years.

Take a look at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. And, visit schools where/when you can. Although my daughter was accepted at Rhodes, she ultimately chose to attend a larger school because it reminded her too much of her own private high school, which had a small graduating class her year.

@eyemgh makes good points about partying. And, as someone once put it, “For some students, every school is a party school.”

I concur that Colleges That Change Lives may be a good resource for what you are seeking.


I lived in both a substance free dorm (I don’t have a substance issue but I had a terrible lottery number and this was the best option) and a dorm with “quiet hours”. I wasn’t at a huge party school but the quiet dorm was honestly the best group situation I’ve ever lived in…if you wanted loud music, you headed off to a friend who lived in a frat…

So I would not rule out schools at this juncture using “quiet” as a criterion- you can explore different living options once you’ve settled on a list.


Thank you for that information. I did not realize some colleges have quiet dorms. I remember at Vanderbilt there was one hall for boys and one hall for girls that had stricter rules for opposite sex visitors and that was it. I think both floors voted to get rid of that by November!

I loved the title of your thread. I help kids with essays and I cannot tell you how often they write about how they want to cure cancer (often because a grandparent had it). I tell them to rephrase!

Anyway your son sounds like a great kid with really good scores, grades, and an EC with depth, and he is well-liked. Your modesty probably rubbed off on him in terms of character :slight_smile:

Don’t let the apocalypse this year worry you too much. Lots of COVID gap years and deferrals, schools adjusting to test-optional etc. I think it will calm down.

I was also going to suggest Colleges that Change Lives (book by Loren Pope is old but the website and college fairs are great. Pope also wrote Looking Beyond the Ivy League which is old but I used it instead of or alongside the larger college guides like Princeton Review.I t has good descriptions of schools even if an old book.

I don’t feel comfortable suggesting schools otherwise, because we don’t know the size, location, academics, EC’ss or most importantly “vibe” that he wants. We started off by visiting a random large state u., a small liberal arts college and an artsy alternative type school- just to get them thinking.

If he wants a liberal arts college, there could be many possibilities and ditto if he wants a large university. Obviously, sometimes a private can come out cheaper than a state, but not always.


Rowdy partying and noise may be associated with drinking… describes college characteristics that correlate to higher or lower drinking that could be used in preliminary searches, although individual colleges should be investigated more thoroughly.

Characteristics correlated to lower drinking:

  • Historically Black college.
  • Black and Asian students.
  • Women’s colleges (obviously not applicable to your son).
  • No fraternities or sororities, or less participation if they are present.
  • Less involvement in athletics.
  • Two year colleges (obviously not for at least the last two years of a bachelor’s degree).
  • Living situation: commuter < on campus < fraternity or sorority.
  • Size: larger college.
  • Region: South, West < North Central < Northeast.

[quote=“shmom41, post:6, topic:3518192”]
Colleges That Change Lives
[/quote] I went to U Penn on a 1340 SAT back in the day, when Penn was the “safety” Ivy. Ha ha! Not today! Your son sounds EXACTLY like my D22, who is targeting T25-50 kind of schools. She is trying to stay in the mid Atlantic region, and stay away from schools with huge party reputations. Her safety will be Pitt, which is a good match as she is interested in chemistry/materials and we are from PA so it is likely to be very affordable. Your S might be very competitive for $$ at Pitt as an out of state, high performing candidate and their honors college has a strong reputation. Since you are in the south/midwest, how about Furman, Wake Forest, Richmond or some of the Ohio schools like Kenyon or Denison?

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10 APs and the GPA is great. I would encourage you to tell your junior to try the ACT if he isn’t able to score well on the SAT or just practice like crazy for the SAT. If he can improve by maybe 80 points (a lot but not impossible) or get above a 33/34 on the ACT, he’ll be fine on that front. Only one EC is a little concerning. Does he play any sports? Does he have any passions outside of school? Even getting a job at a local store is impressive because it shows that they have a world outside of class.

I think we need a little more info on location, interests etc. I’d say a good reach based on GPA might be Boston College (since FA isn’t a concern maybe even ED). William and Mary has a high ED acceptance rate, scores are in range, and it’s a Top 40 school. Macalester, Holy Cross, Skidmore, maybe Occidental. Again, we need more context.

He’s taken/taking 10 APs and has only had one B in all of high school? That sounds pretty darn good to me! Are you unimpressed with his record because he usually didn’t take honors classes, when they were available? Because if he was taking the most rigorous classes available, and only got one B, he sounds like a superstar to me!

I would have him sit down and take a practice ACT that you can print off the ACT website. I was told that some people do better on the ACT than the SAT, and that sure worked for my kid. His PSAT was pretty good, although not even commendation level, so I wasn’t expecting a very high SAT. He took the practice ACT, did very well on it. He then self-prepped for the ACT using retired older exams that are legally in the public domain. Wound up with a 36. I really don’t think that he could have gotten a 1600 SAT. So consider giving it a try. If it doesn’t work out, he can apply test optional, and with that GPA, they would assume that his standardized test scores would have been good, too.

If he has absolutely NO idea of what he wants to do, then unless you just consider college to be growing up time for him, and plan on paying for grad school too once he’s figured out what he wants to do in life, you need to consider medium to large schools, including large state schools. This is because he needs to have access to all sorts of majors, depending upon which way his interests eventually lean. His GPA is amazing. Try him out on the ACT, see if he can get a high score with that, and you could be looking at a full tuition scholarship at any number of less competitive flagship state U’s or other up and coming programs like Barrett’s honors college at ASU. Pretty much any flagship state U honors college with a maximum OOS merit scholarship is going to be well within your price range, probably under 40K/yr. I would also consider medium to large private U’s that offer merit - not tippy-top, where he probably won’t get in, but places that are T30-50 and offer merit money.

I think it’s only for the Ivies and the tippy top schools that admitted students have perfect GPAs, perfect SATs, and have national or international level ECs. Below that, fantastic GPAs and very high SAT or ACT still get you in, and some merit money. I think that his focus right now should be finishing the semester with straight A’s, taking a practice ACT under timed conditions at the beginning of his spring break, and then planning out some ACT or SAT prep to the point where he feels he is ready to do his best on the test. A reasonable amount of targeted prep can make a BIG difference. Once you have that result, he’d be applying with a very high GPA AND a very high standardized test score (although I do believe that he could do well without it next year, too).

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I also have a kid who’s not a fan of loud and rowdy in her “home.” (Plus, she has an aversion to tobacco smoke and pot smoke.) We had a tour guide at Skidmore who lived in the substance free dorm and was clearly having a great experience. (We also liked Skidmore’s location on a wooded hill, with nearby Saratoga Springs). Another liberal arts choice that’s not a party school would be Connecticut College, especially if he’s into art. My daughter is headed to W&M, which checked all her boxes but is a state school with only a few scholarships for OOS applicants.

Does your son know what he’d like to study, or does he have an idea of location or weather?


Thank you for the info. He’s actually scheduled to take the ACT twice next week. Once at school and the other at a university. It’s terrible timing with just coming off of spring break and he took the SAT with prep in mid-march. So he will just have to wing it, there is zero time to do any practice with the homework load the teachers have dumped on kids this week in prep for AP exams. He has been in all advanced classes (which is at our school a level above honors) but there are so many bright boys, probably 30 of them are taking 5 if not 6 AP’s this year. Kids that can handle AP Chem and Physics at the same time, oh and why not some BC also…, something my student could not do. So he is an above average student and he may be in top ten percent of class, but that’s a strong maybe.

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I like WF. He did a Duke TIP camp there years ago. Such a nice feel to the campus. I was looking at some of their stats a few days ago and I couldn’t believe the kids denied admissions.

W&M would be on my top ten list. I drove around the campus while my husband was in meetings pre covid and it was just lovely. My son is a history buff which would make it more appealing. The only issue with W&M, besides admission, is that it isn’t easy to get to. Long drive or a complicated flight.