College admissions officials are having great difficulty choosing whom to admit among the vast number of qualified candidates from affluent areas. While getting top grades is always critical for college admissions, school officials have told me that they have a difficult time deciphering whether a student with a 95 average from Guilford High School has performed better than a student with an A minus average from Valley Regional High School in Essex. Moreover, weighing extracurricular activities in a comparative way is highly subjective. The all state soccer player versus the all New England violinist versus the top community activist are all pretty similar from an objective standpoint.
Other than SAT-ACT scores, the other dominant way that candidates gain an upper hand in college admissions is through “stories” about their backgrounds. Here’s the problem for our relatively privileged children. Those with compelling stories usually do not come from Connecticut’s lush suburbs.
Overcoming legitimate structural hardship – as in poverty, parental drug use, and growing up amidst violent crime – make for eye catching stories. Being a first generation college student is also compelling. Overcoming a basketball injury, getting cut from the school play, and dealing with mean girls – standard Connecticut high school resilience stories – while unquestionably challenging – are not in the same league of difficulty.
The SAT-ACT, like it or not, fair or not, becomes the criterion that can be evaluated most objectively. Moreover, Connecticut students do not present a geographic hook either. Boston College is far more likely to take a student with similar grades from Oklahoma than from Connecticut. Connecticut students have to stand out. That’s why it is imperative for Connecticut high school students to maximize their test scores.
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