A lot of different factors feed into college admissions decisions. Sometimes the most surprising things can turn out to be a plus or a minus.

It’s great that high school students have so many college options in this country. But it’s confusing, too, because there is so much information to consider, and because so much of that information gets distorted by perceptions of status and rankings.

I once worked with a high school senior whose parents really, really wanted him to go to Harvard. Well, that wasn’t going to happen.

The client had a decent but not exceptional high school record. He hadn’t taken especially challenging high school classes, and had only an okay GPA. His SAT score in the mid-500 range. There was no way he could compete with the other students applying to Harvard.

I spent a lot of time talking with this client and his parents about his other school options. I discussed some schools that offer some of the same advantages that Harvard does, but without the low acceptance rate.

My client decided that he’d like to go to Penn State. Once that decision was made, we talked about what he needed to do in his application to make him stand out from the crowd.

He wasn’t going to be a shoo-in at Penn State and he wasn’t a Pennsylvania resident. His numbers were comparable to those of Penn admits, but a lot of other students with similar GPAs and SATs would be applying to Penn, too. This client needed to say something about his background and interests that make a strong case for Penn to admit him.

We agreed that what was special about his profile was his passion for law and his desire to go on to law school. We built his application around that.

It worked. He was accepted, and is happy at Penn State and doing well.

This is one of my favorite admissions stories because I’m not sure this client would have even considered Penn State if we hadn’t talked about his situation and his options. I think he’s both happier and doing better at Penn than he would be at the schools he was initially considering. This is a good example of how school selection can make a big difference not just in admissions outcomes, but in the quality of your college experience.

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