How are students judged against other applicants from their high school?
Yes present and past applicants
If you’ve thought to ask this question, you’re definitely on the right track to understanding how admissions professionals think. They are trying to figure out how well you’ve done in relation to your immediate peers. What this means is that if the highest grade point average available at your school is a 4.0, you shouldn’t be intimidated by a friend at another school who is bragging about a weighted 4.5. Accordingly, you might say that students are judged against other applicants from their high school. That said, don’t stress over being ranked 4 compared to 6. If you’re at the top of your class, the differentiators increasingly revolve around extracurricular activities and intangible personal qualities. Admissions officers aren’t wondering why you weren’t ‘president’ or ‘editor in chief’ or ‘math team captain’ but they are looking to see that whatever you’ve chosen to do, you’ve really made your mark.
First, admissions officers will compare you to your school context to be able to identify whether you have been able to stand out. Then they will compare your profile to the admissions pool at large. Unfortunately, just because you stand out at your school doesn’t mean you stand out compared to everyone who applied.
Students within your school will have access to the same resources, courses and opportunities as you during the school day. If you have a similar GPA as another student, but your courseload is comprised of standard courses and electives, while the other student is taking a challenging course-load, there is a good chance you will be “placed” below that student in the admissions process. The same goes for clubs, sports and other extracurriculars. Remember that most schools list a class rank as well, which will place you against other candidates in your school. A 3.5 might be common at one school and a rarity at others.
As always, this differs dramatically from school to school. At UC and most publics, there’s no way to “compare and contrast,” as it were, since the applicant pools are just so massive. The only way UC can really do this is through ELC (Eligibility in the Local Context) identification (top 9 percent of kids in a class), but this only does so much.
With private schools, it again depends on the school. No one publicly says, “We have caps on admission from certain schools,” but I doubt that Cornell admissions would feel too excited about admitting, say, 50 percent of the applicants from a particular high school, no matter how qualified they are. In my experience, we would sometimes deny students from particular schools from which we had a slew of applicants to “send a message” that we possessed some selectivity. Of course, this strategy could backfire, and I don’t believe it happened frequently.
In terms of the specifics – how a decision would be come to between two applicants – the process is largely the same as any other admissions decision: look at the kid’s numbers, rigor, EAs, LoRs, and so forth to make a call. However, there is an added dimension: What will the counselor/school think of us if we deny the boring 3.85 and admit the fascinating 3.3?
This is largely irrelevant to the question, but it is an interesting process. And, as with everything, it’s a judgment call. If we felt that such an approach would irreparably damage our relationship with the counselor/school, we would do the following: think about the decision extensively; try to come up with a diplomatic decision (Maybe one of them gets waitlisted? Admitted for spring?); and if this fails, contact the counselor to let them know the reasoning behind our decision upon its release.
The whole application process is based on comparisons and that is no different when two people from the same school are being judged. However, in those cases it is less about comparing apples to oranges because there is a comparable context in which to view their records. Obviously the whole record is reviewed but comparisons about grades, and strength of schedule are such that they can be compared with more confidence because the standards and opportunities are the same. At the same time there are many things that are a part of an application that are not school related so it is not just a question of one student having a better GPA for instance and that being the factor that gives them a definitive advantage. It is about the totality of the application as well as what the student offers the college community.
We look at GPA and most important Course Rigor. You are being compared to other students in your high school. We want to see a challenging course load and great grades to go along with it. That is the most critical piece, course rigor. We of course also look at involvement. What else did you do with your time in high school compared to your counterparts?
By looking at the school profile, a college admissions representative can see if the student took advantage of courses, outside activities and specialized programs that may them successful as a future college student. If most of the students peers did tackle those AP courses and the variety of extracurriculars available then he/she is compared to those other kids.
Students need to look at applying to colleges outside of their local state university as a job interview where the best candidate will get the position. In this case, it is a spot at XYZ University.
With lots of scrutiny. No college really wants several students from any particular high school, unless they are all superstars in unrelated academic or athletic areas.
Students are usually judged on the basis of there own context. The high school they attended is one piece of contextual information that would be the same, but there may be many other differences to consider.
I have conducted numerous interviews for Brown University over the past several years, and every now and then I run up against an interesting situation: applicants from the same high school. More often than not, these students are very different in personality, interests and academic strengths. However, colleges cannot help but compare applicants from the same schools, often evaluating them together. This is especially likely given that admissions departments divide their workload geographically, so that the same rep becomes familiar with a given high school, visiting that school or nearby location during the fall and reviewing that school’s applicants during the busy season. I usually tell my students that it is an advantage to be the only applicant from his or her own school so that the candidate is not outdone by a classmate. However, this is out of the student’s control.
Here is my video response to the question.
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