Assessing your record, your strengths and weaknesses, and examining the college's selectivity and statistics will give you some idea. Knowing whom a college has admitted or denied in the past can also give you some clue, but be aware that it can be dangerous to generalize too much from past decisions: the student who got in with grades lower than yours may have had unusually strong recommendations; she may have been an extraordinary violinist; he may have been the son of an alumna.
Obviously, grades and test scores are not the only things taken into account in a selective admission process, but it is a good place to start in evaluating your chances at a particular college. The deans have access to a spreadsheet containing three years’ worth of recent college admissions data, College Kickstart allows you to compare your academic profile to other applicants to a particular college, and the back of this Handbook details some useful admissions data. Before you start looking at statistics, however, take the following steps:
Evaluate yourself. What kinds of grades have you earned? What kind of testing profile do (will) you have? How rigorous is the curriculum you have selected? We can help provide a context for this.
Get the facts on the colleges in which you are interested. What is the acceptance rate? What is the average GPA of accepted candidates? What is the middle 50% range of SAT scores of accepted applicants?
Compare your grades and scores with those of your selected schools. College Kickstart is a useful tool that allows you to compare your statistics to previous applicants from AOC.
WHAT IS A LIKELY COLLEGE?
These are colleges where your candidacy is very strong and the probability of your admission is 75% or better, if the admission trends at that college don’t shift significantly (which is always an unknown factor in the process). If your grades are well above the mean for that college, if your scores are significantly above the middle 50% range, and if, when looking at the history of AOC applicants to the school, your profile is comfortably in a range that has been accepted in the past, then the school is in your “Likely” category.
WHAT IS A TARGET COLLEGE?
These are colleges where your candidacy is competitive, based on your academic profile and our history of admission with the school. A “Target” means that your application will be in the running, but the decision could go either way. If your academic profile is slightly above the mean for grades and testing, you have probably found a good “Target” school. But remember, there is no formula to this process. These general guidelines may hold true if the acceptance rate at the school is above 30%. At more selective schools, grades and test scores become less reliable predictors of outcome.
WHAT IS A REACH COLLEGE?
These are colleges where your academic profile is at the low end of admitted candidates based on past admissions history. Also, any college with an acceptance rate below 15% should be considered a REACH school, no matter how strong your academic profile. As the selectivity of a school increases, the academic profile becomes less predictable, whereas your extracurricular and personal profile, self-presentation, recommendations and factors outside your control become more significant. Be sure to distinguish between what is a Reach and an “Unlikely” college. If your profile is significantly below the competitive range, your chances of admissions are therefore highly unlikely, and it may not be worth your investment of time and energy to apply.
A WARNING ABOUT GPAS
When determining your likelihood of admission, you will be using your cumulative, weighted GPA. This number can sometimes be misleading. One number representing three years of a student’s work often cannot represent the true performance of a student. The upward (or downward) trends or rigor of curriculum cannot be discerned from a single number. A student with eight AP courses and all B’s may have the same grade point average as someone with no AP courses and all A’s. An AOC transcript contains only year-end grades. A college will focus on the curriculum that a student has chosen and the grades over the course of three years, not a single number represented in a GPA. Senior year grades can also be a factor in college admission evaluations, especially as the most recent indication of potential for college work.
SELECTIVITY VS. QUALITY
Just because a large percentage of HW students have been accepted to a certain college, do not assume that it is not a “good school.” There can be many reasons for a high quality college to have a high rate of acceptance. A large school may need to take more students to fill its class. Schools with specialized programs or more remote settings will attract a more focused applicant pool. Make sure to evaluate your fit with a school over its ranking or admit rate.