One side effect of sharply rising college costs is that colleges are bigger than ever, and there are now more of them. That means more open slots for incoming students, and more good schools for those students to choose from.
On paper, however, the most elite colleges are harder than ever to get into. The big name schools reject over 90% of their applicants. Admission rates are also driven down because students are applying to more schools than ever; the average incoming college applicant applies to 7 different schools, while student vying for the most elite college apply to an average of 20 schools. If you apply to 10 schools, you’re still only going to matriculate at one of them, so the other 9 will have lower admission rates.
This doesn’t mean that getting into college is a breeze and one should just take it easy. Having good grades and high school achievements can make your application stand out and get you in to the school of your choice, rather than one of your fallback options.
The Bottom Line on Grades:
Grades are very important, and your grades should be as good as possible for all 4 years of high school
The more advanced courses you can take (college preparatory, Advanced Placement, etc.) the better.
Prepare for your placement tests. Use practice tests for the SAT and ACT, and take the PSAT early.
Consider taking both tests, in case you do better on one than you do on the other.
Take the tests more than once if your score isn’t high enough.
If your grades aren’t as good as they could be, then be prepared to acknowledge and explain that in your admission essay. Get the people writing your recommendations to explain why you are academically ready for college, even if your GPA isn’t the best. If all else fails, consider putting in two years at a community college where you can prove yourself academically and knock out some general required courses for much less money.
While grades are crucial, they aren’t everything. A good college wants to see quality personal recommendations, after school and community activities, etc. If they suspect that you were struggling to make grades at the expense of any extracurricular activities, then they may opt for another candidate with a better-rounded application.