Using our school's application history from Naviance for college list

I am looking at our school application / acceptance history as an input to college list. Some of the highly selective schools have almost zero acceptance over the past 10+ years of data, even though there are a lot of students applying. From the scatter diagrams, students with scores at the very top (including perfect SAT / ACT) were all rejected. So, the school level acceptance rate would be like 1 - 2% for these colleges while the national average would be in high single digit. Not all highly selective colleges show this kind of school historical data. Many are in line with national average.

My question is, is there a reason why some colleges have much lower than national average acceptance rate from my school and should I assume they have some “aversion” against my school? Should I just not bother applying to those schools?

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Simple answers:

More detailed answers:

First, not all of these numbers actually deviate from what is expected. Unless there are a good number of applicants, it is difficult to say much about acceptance rates. An 5% average acceptance rate doesn’t mean that, if 20 kids from a high school apply, 1 will certainly be accepted. Moreover, the average acceptance rate of non-hooked applicants to a colleges with an average rate of 7% is around 1%-3%.

However, it is also often an actual pattern for colleges with a wide ranges of acceptance rates.

Some of these numbers also have to do with the population of a given high school. If your kid is attending a high school which does not have a substantial number of legacies or kids from very wealthy families, acceptance rates to colleges where these are important factors will be low.

And indeed, local reputations is important, and there are often connections between GCs and AOs at some colleges as well.

So, while the percent of kids who were accepted from my own kid’s high school to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford matched what would be expected, and acceptance rates to Cornell were higher than expected, Princeton has not accepted an applicant from my kid’s high school in the past decade or so.

Conversely, my kid’s high school is in Chicagoland, and acceptance rates to U Chicago and Northwestern are far higher than the average acceptance rates to these schools, because of connections between the school’s GCs and the AOs of these schools, and because of the local reputation of the high school.

This also affect admissions to colleges with higher acceptance rates. So, for the same stats, a student from my kid’s high school is much more likely to be accepted to Carleton, WashU, Macalester, UMN, UIUC, St. Olaf’s, and a host of other Midwestern colleges than the average acceptance rates to these colleges by students with these stats.

On the other hand, I cannot say anything about acceptance rates to Brown, UPenn, Dartmouth, and other East and West Coast colleges with low acceptance rates, since the number of applicants to these schools is too low for any meaningful analysis.

Sometimes issues of legacy and religious or political background can have an effect on both applications and admissions. So very few students from my kid’s high school apply to Notre Dame, despite the fact that it is pretty near (nearer than WashU, for certain).

All that being said, the only way that a student is certain to never attend a college is by not applying. As the old joke goes - a man who has been praying for years to win big in the lottery and hasn’t, rails about his prayers not being answered, and God suddenly speaks to him, saying, “WORK WITH ME ON THIS, BUY A TICKET!”.


I don’t think this is uncommon. At my kids’ HS, no one gets into Princeton, ever. It’s very rare for anyone to get into Harvard, Columbia, or Yale (although someone got into one of those schools this year). Dartmouth is also fairly uncommon, but I think that’s because not a lot of kids apply there. It’s much more common for kids to get into Cornell, Brown, and Penn.

The problem with Naviance is that you have NO idea of anything about the kid who did or did not get in, other than the GPA and SAT/ACT. In fact, in cases where there are so few accepted applicants that citing the GPA and SAT/ACT for those accepted would “out” the stats of the person who was accepted, Naviance doesn’t even give that data!

You don’t know if the person who got in was a recruited athlete, a legacy, an under-represented minority, a donor child/grandchild, or had an extraordinary extracurricular achievement that that particular school really wanted. You don’t know if the person who was rejected had a suspension on his record.

My kid is a perfect example of this. Got into a tippy-top school, with a weighted GPA of 4.18/4.4, when only two kids have gotten into that school in the past 15 years or so from his excellent medium/large public high. Plenty who had perfect GPAs and perfect SATs were rejected. Yes, he had a 36 ACT, top-notch in-school music EC. Great letters. But the reason he got in was his extraordinary music achievement outside of school. Won international level competitions. Played with three extremely high level ensembles/programs in two big east coast cities. Had a letter of recommendation from the conductor of the tippy-top college’s symphony.

So in years to come, students could look at his stats and say, “Tippy-top took a kid from our school with a 4.18 and a great SAT/ACT. I have better than that. I should get in.” And they’d have NO idea of anything else about that one acceptance in the sea of rejections.

So don’t assume that specific highly competitive colleges do or don’t like your school. Think about what you have in your application that makes you stand out, and which schools are a match for your accomplishments and interests. Then start researching whether or not you have a chance at those specific schools. Certainly, if your stats are below that of the many rejected by those schools, and you have no extraordinarily outstanding extracurricular that they might be interested in, then I agree, you should not apply to those schools. But if you have something that very few applicants have, like extraordinary achievement in one specific area, to the level of winning national or international recognition, don’t write them off.

Of course, you should consider those top schools that have a history of taking similar applicants from your school. And don’t write off the ones that none or few from your school even apply to. That highly ranked school 3000 miles away might consider you as geographically diverse, when your local top schools would not. They might merit further investigation.


Agree with what’s been said- but also consider grade inflation? It’s a factor. If your school has 15 valedictorian’s, that’s a red flag to adcom’s. If most students in AP classes get A’s- but score 3’s and 4’s on the AP exams- that’s a red flag.

I don’t think any college has an “aversion”- so go ahead and apply to your top choices- but keep your expectations in check.


Many schools are replacing “valedictorian”, who often is no different, academically, from a dozen other students, and is often simply more popular or better connected. At my kid’s high school, the kids with the top grades (perfect GPA and highest weighted GPA) are all in the same category.

However, my kid’s school has a lot less grade inflation than a long list of high schools all which have a single valedictorian.

I don’t know that grade inflation is a big issue for colleges with low admission rates and “holistic” admissions, since adcoms are already often “translating” different grading systems, so they are generally not comparing different schools. So a students with a 3.9 GPA at a high school with an average GPA of 3.7 will not be considered comparable to a student with a GPA of 3.9 who attends a high school with an average GPA of 3.2.

In any case, the high schools with the highest grade inflation tend to be those which serve more affluent communities or private high schools which serve mostly affluent families (with some exceptions). Since these tend to be the high schools from which colleges with low acceptance rates accept the largest proportion of their students, it also decreases the incentives for adcoms to pay a lot of attention to grade inflation.

A bigger problem is at large public schools with low acceptance rates like UCLA, Berkeley, U Michigan, etc, which are supposedly “holistic”, but at which GPA has a much heavier weight than at private colleges with similar acceptance rates. It is also an issue at colleges which provide automatic merit based on GPA. The adcoms at these schools do not go all that deeply into the transcript of each applicaant, and grade inflation is often ignored or is simply not detected.

It’s unlikely that there is an aversion to your school. It’s possible, of course, particularly if grades are significantly higher than achievement but ime, it’s not uncommon for people to think their school has been dinged when in fact, the students just haven’t been stellar enough to get in unhooked. (And while hooked kids are generally high achieving at those schools, getting that VIP pass to the top of the admissions pile makes a huge difference when 90-95 of every 100 applicants, most of them really strong, are going to be rejected!)

What MAY be happening is that kids don’t know how to present themselves well on the app. (They answer the questions more formulaically, without revealing who they are as people.) What is more likely is that they are what is referred to here on CC as "the average excellent student ". Iow, they lack that thing that makes them stand out in the immense pile of apps.

I wouldn’t be discouraged from applying but I would understand the odds and adjust my expectations accordingly. And as mentioned above, Naviance can’t capture all the data schools really consider. It’s a great starting point but far from perfectly predictive.

You have gotten lots of answers that are absolutely correct! Our HS sent one student to Princeton and she had a 1350 SAT but was a recruited athlete. She had to apply ED, was accepted before the winter break and during the break, everyone in the top 10 in the class applied thinking they were sure to get in too.

Additionally, if the colleges are looking for geographic diversity and there are high schools with a better reputation in your area, the colleges may be more likely to take applicants from the “better” school - not necessarily because they have an aversion to your school but because the other school is simply better or more well known.

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For the tippy top schools, we always know who those green checks are even though we send our kids to a large public high school. I don’t know, I guess people talk but the school magazine also publishes a list of where kids are going. We are a neighborhood school and a pretty tight community so many of us know each other even with class size being over 600 kids each year. Do we know how the kids wrote their essays or what their recs looked like? No. But we know if they are legacy and/or recruited athlete and we know their other ECs.

I used Naviance where we could for our kids if we were looking at a college that had enough history. The charts were right on. Some that have a mix of green and red marks didn’t tell us much but told us it was worth applying to see if our kids had what those schools wanted their year.

It’s also a good tool to bring kids down a notch who think “I’ve got a perfect GPA and ACT and I’ve done a ton of cool things while in high school too and I’m sure I’m competitive for Ivies!” Take a look at all of those red marks and make a realistic list.