The College Search

Decent Colleges for B/C Honors Student With High SAT's?

Question: My junior son has excellent test scores and is likely to get a National Merit Commendation next year. He takes honors, accelerated and AP classes. However, he is not motivated by homework and often doesn't do it... Thus, his grades are B's and C's, rather than A's.

My question is - are there decent schools which will look at his intelligence by his scores and the classes he takes rather than his GPA? I know that guidance counselors and college admissions people always say they'd rather have the high GPA and the low SAT. This is no comfort to me - so, I ask, are there any schools that look at test scores more than GPA? By the way, I am not talking Ivy League. My son has no interest in any of them.


A borderline applicant with high test scores does have a fighting chance at many colleges, but an otherwise weak applicant probably won't. So, depending on how many of those “B’s and C’s” are actually C’s, your son may do just fine at the colleges on his list ... or not. The guidance counselors and admission folks who have told you that a strong GPA trumps strong test scores are correct. However, your son will also get some extra consideration for electing a demanding course load.

It is always a challenge for me to counsel smart kids whose abilities are not reflected in their transcripts. I want them to end up at places where they will be happy and engaged, but some of the schools most likely to offer a simpatico academic environment are not likely to admit them.

If your son is interested in small liberal arts schools, you should check out “Colleges That Change Lives.” (See http://www.ctcl.org/ ) One young man I know, who sounds a bit like your son, had an amazing experience at Guilford College in North Carolina and went on to attend his top-choice graduate program. Similarly, bright students in my immediate orbit have thrived at many of the other places on the list. Note, however, that the admission standards vary among the CTCL colleges. Some would welcome an applicant with high tests but B/C grades. Others may not. The campus climates at these schools can vary considerably, too from very left-leaning (e.g., Hampshire) to conservative Christian (Wheaton). So your son must do some research to see which ones best meet his academic and personal needs.

Finally, I think your son is an excellent candidate for a Stats Evaluation from College Karma. Admittedly, this is something of a shameless plug. College Karma is a business I co-founded in 2008 with my College Confidential colleague Dave Berry. The Stats Eval--along with other College Karma counseling services--used to be provided by College Confidential. But when CC was acquired by Hobsons two years ago, we split into two separate enterprises.

You can read about the Stats Eval near the top of the page here: http://www.collegekarma.com/college_counseling/college_counseling.htm It's $150, and I assure you that you will get your money's worth. Once your son has completed and submitted the Stats Evaluation form, he will receive an assessment of his admission chances at all the colleges he lists on the form along with suggestions of ways to improve those chances. The eval report also provides the names of other colleges to consider that should meet his profile and preferences. However, if your son, now a junior, has taken only PSAT’s so far and not “real” SAT’s yet, it would make sense to hold off on the Stats Eval until he has one set of SAT (or ACT) results.

There are many very “decent” colleges that will accept your son, and a Stats Eval will help us point him to the ones that should be the best fits.

(posted 2/26/2011)