College Ranking vs GPA & Test Scores

This graph depicts the general interactions between college rankings and GPA and SAT/ACT scores. 

We've found this graph can be a great conversation-starter for parents and students who are new to the college admissions process, just to give them a sense of the general landscape of admissions as it relates to GPA and test scores.  

Additional details about the graph:

Lower Left Quadrant (Low College Ranking, Low GPA/Test Scores): Remember, there are more than 2,000 colleges across the United States that fall into this category. If you want to go to college, there is a college out there that wants you!  This little bit of information can often be very helpful in ratcheting down the anxiety surrounding college admissions.

Upper Left Quadrant (High College Ranking, Low GPA/Test Scores): This is where we find the majority of denials.  If you're applying to a top-ranked school, it really helps to have competitive stats.  If your GPA and SAT or ACT score aren't competitive with those of a school's typical applicants (or it's a test-optional school), you'll very likely need to have another "hook." A hook is a trait that makes a student more desirable to a college, such as being a highly-recruited athlete, excellent musician, development case, debate champion, etc.

Upper Right Quadrant (High College Ranking, High GPA/Test Scores): We often refer to the top 50 ranked colleges as "Ivy-Like."  This term was coined by Deren Finks, former Dean of Admissions at Harvey Mudd College. We have found that this term is a useful reminder that it is roughly as difficult today to gain admittance to one of the top 50 colleges as it used to be to gain admittance to one of the Ivy League schools. If you are applying to schools in this quadrant, it really helps to have a GPA and SAT or ACT score that is in line with these schools' typical applicants.  

Lower Right Quadrant (Low College Ranking, High GPA/Test Scores): This is where students can find scholarship dollars. If your stats are higher than those of a school's typical applicants, you significantly increase your chances of receiving merit-based financial aid.  If you have a strong GPA and an SAT or ACT score to match, we would encourage you to ask your counselor about excellent colleges that don't have a huge brand name. You might be surprised at how much money some colleges will give you!

The Ivy League: Up there, in the top right-hand corner, you'll notice a red dot for the Ivy League. Given the difficulty of gaining admittance to these schools (plus Stanford, MIT, and a handful of others), they are quite literally off our chart. That is not to say that you can't get into one of these colleges; many of our students do! However, if you are applying to the most selective schools in the country it is often helpful to remember that an excellent GPA and a near-perfect SAT or ACT score are usually the minimum requirements for consideration. 


How to Use this Graph: This graph can be a great tool to kick-start a conversation between students, parents, and counselors.  Some questions we've found helpful for families in the past include:

  • Where do you currently see yourself on this graph?  

  • Where would your parents like you to be on this graph?  Why?

  • Where would you like to be on this graph?  Why?  

  • If you'd like to be somewhere other than your current position, what steps do you need to take to reach your goal? 


Do you have specific questions about finding the right-fit college for you?  

Contact us here.