Looking Good on Paper

In addition to looking at grade point averages test scores, admissions officers examine extracurricular activities and volunteer work to ensure each applicant is as well-rounded as possible. If a student has excellent grades and test scores but lacks outside involvement, this serves a red flag, as the student may not be able to multitask and handle multiple social and academic responsibilities, such as (living in the dorms, working with other students, etc.). A student with good grades and test scores who also plays a sport, instrument, and volunteers at a soup kitchen will probably better fit the student profile. This varies from one institution to the next, but having demonstrated interests beyond schoolwork can never be a bad thing.


To help set your child on the right path, make a list of their interests and hobbies. Soccer players may be interested in assistant coaching kids’ teams on weekends and artistic students may enjoy working at a local gallery. Volunteer activities can broaden a student’s horizon as well. Your child may think they want to be a news anchor but after volunteering as a tutor for a few months, they may enjoy the prospect of teaching.

The national average test score SAT is 1500 and for the ACT it ranges between 20 and 21, according to the Princeton Review. Scores under 1100 on the SAT or 15 on ACT are considered low at many four-year colleges. What does it exactly mean to have “good grades”? Most state universities prefer at least a 3.0 GPA while most Ivy Leagues look for 3.5 or higher. Good marks and an amazing application could offset low test scores, and top-percentile test scores may trump average grades. Keep in mind that admissions vary amongst schools. If your child is interested in how well they match up to the school, request an undergraduate profile from the school or try an admissions predictor like MyChances.net, which claims to forecast admission 90 percent of the time based on the criteria you enter.

In some cases, your child may not be admitted even if they meet every piece of criteria, but nonetheless, encourage them to go above and beyond the set expectations. When admissions officers are reviewing applicants and find two that are almost identical, the one with the longer list of extracurricular activities or stronger academics will have a higher chance in admission.


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Last Reviewed: September 2021