Question: My child, a junior, has average grades (3.5) and an average ACT score (22). He is, however, a very accomplished musician in honors bands and orchestras. He has also held leadership positions and has volunteered with at-risk students for several years. He was hoping to go to a liberal arts college out of state with a geographically diverse student body. However, looking at the admission criteria, it doesn't appear that he will get into any of them. Is he destined to go to a state college? Thanks!
Your son will have lots of college choices. While his grades and ACT score may keep him out of some of the schools that are most sought-after by prestige-conscious parents and students, he will be in the running at many excellent liberal arts colleges. (Don't discount state schools either. While your son may not be excited about the more local options, there may be others that might appeal to him.)
It would be helpful to know more about your son and his record. For instance, is his 3.5 GPA the result of mostly A's in his freshman year and increasingly lower grades thereafter ... or perhaps the reverse? Does he tend to do very well in some subjects and consistently more poorly in others? Has he taken advanced, honors, Advanced Placement (etc.) classes? These are the sorts of questions that admission offices will be asking as they review your son's application. If your son's grades are on the rise, if he has clear strength in (or passion for) certain subjects, and if he's elected challenging classes, all of this will work in his favor.
It would also be helpful to know if he plans to retake his ACT next year. If the 22 came from a single testing, he might want to try the exam as a senior or even at the end of his junior year. If your son is strong in a subject not tested by the ACT (e.g., a foreign language, a specific science, history), he might want to also try the SAT Subject tests. Even if colleges don't require these tests, they will look at the scores your son submits, which could be another mark in the plus column for him.
One place to start seeking out-of-state liberal arts colleges for your son is Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even If You're Not a Straight-A Student by Loren Pope (See review at http://www.collegeconfidential.com/college_search/change_lives.htm )
Not only does Pope offer detailed descriptions of liberal arts schools throughout the country that welcome applicants who aren't always at the pinnacle of their high school classes, but also he points out that these institutions may offer a more personalized and thus very effective college experience (hence the life-changing bit in the title) than many of their more renowned counterparts do.
Finally, don't be discouraged by some of the posts you read on the College Confidential discussion board that may leave you feeling as if every other kid on the planet has perfect test scores and a GPA in the stratosphere. Instead, help your son decide what he really seeks in a college and then to find some of the many places that will offer it ... and gladly accept him.