Thursday, September 24, 2009

Does that hundredth of a GPA point matter?

While traveling in the Southeast last week, I hosted a program for Seconday School Counselors to share information with them about Dartmouth and provide some insights into selective admissions that would hopefully be useful as they counsel anxious students through this vexing college application process. I spend a lot of time talking to students and families about admissions, but students only experience the admissions process once (parents might experience it several times). The program was nice chance to talk at length with colleagues who have been doing this work for a long time and can speak to the trends and questions that emerge over a longer period of time.

One counselor raised a point about working with very good students whose anxiety about admission to the most selective colleges and universities leads them to obsess over very small factors affecting their class rank and GPA. Perhaps these students chose not to take a particular elective they find interesting, or consider dropping an extracurricular endeavor that requires them to take a class without honors weighting, because they fear these choices would lower their GPA and negatively impact their candidacies for highly selective schools. This is regrettable, but it is also why we have started this blog - to give insight on the admissions process, create more transparency, and hopefully counter these sorts of misconceptions.

As other posts on this blog have suggested, our process of holistic review is designed so that our admissions decisions do not rely on negligible differences in GPA, rank, or standardized testing to distinguish between highly qualified candidates. Two points jump to mind:

1) In admissions processes as selective at Dartmouth, there is not some combination of tangible academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments that will assure you of admission. Regardless of whether you have a 97.01 or a 97.02 GPA, you need to prepare an application that illuminates your tangible accomplishments as well as the intangible intellectual and personal qualities that would make you a compelling addition to the Dartmouth community. To not do so is to risk seeming like many others.

2) A GPA at a certain level - or class rank, if your school reports it - is NOT an intrinsic reason that you will be a compelling candidate. It can be an indicator of qualities that we find appealing - that you have been a serious student, taken rigorous courses, and performed well. Sometimes a GPA and rank do a poor job of showing this - if your school's GPA and ranking system do not reward academic rigor and treats all grades the same, for instance. We're going to be thorough in our evaluation of your academic achievement, and this should be good news for you regardless of whether you are the student with tangible academic accomplishments in the highest range, or a student who has not always been at the very top but whose candidacy is strong in other areas (see point #1).

I hope this helps start a conversation, either internally or with your parents/counselor/friends, about how you hope to be measured as a candidate to Dartmouth or any other school. I would guess you consider many of your qualities to be more important than that hundredth of a GPA point.

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