2 years ago
Admissions Advice

How can I get into a T20 with a low gpa?

Hi, I'm a junior right now with a relatively low gpa for t20 schools, 3.5 uw and a 3.8 w. I want to know what I can do to improve my chances in getting into a t20 school. I took a lot of AP classes and I've gotten a B in every single one of them so that took a toll on my gpa (Am taking 5 this year). I have strong, top tier ECs in computer science and art and I have a 1580 SAT score.

And please don't say that I should be aiming for a lower level school. The vast majority of my college list is of safeties and targets. I just want to try to see if it's possible I could get in. I've seen success stories of people who got in with a similar gpa, or even lower with no legacies, sports, etc.

What can I actually do to improve my chances?

🎉 First post
Let’s welcome @justontine555 to the community! Remember to be kind, helpful, and supportive in your responses.

Earn karma by helping others:

1 karma for each ⬆️ upvote on your answer, and 20 karma if your answer is marked accepted.

2 answers

2 years ago

I think it's possible. Your academic narrative is pretty much set at this point. However you can certainly improve your "intellectual vitality/intellectual curiosity" score. What is that? That's all the academic things you do outside of your HS setting.

-Supervised research


-Individualized learning like taking online college courses in advanced subjects or courses not taught in your HS.

-Publications of your work in well know academia journals

-Honors or awards from your "spike" activity whether that is building model rockets, patenting your own IP for some tech you've created, or winning some scholarship either $$$ or free attendance to a MIT stem summer program.

A high IV/IC score will differentiate you from other applicants. It will however not significantly make up for a lackluster 3.5 GPA.

I would change your thinking about T20 schools because for the most part they T20 only includes Ivys, Elites and Top Research Publics like UCLA/UC Berkeley (maybe UMich/UVA in there depending on the list). The problem with T20 in the last 2 cycles is that everyone and their cousin is applying all the same schools. So admissions officers see the same 4.0 GPA/1550+SAT/35+ACT a hundred times a day whether you are applying to BU, Tufts, Brown, Georgetown and Vandy. The only way to differentiate yourself in the T20 is have a high IV/IC score, be a "hooked" applicant, or a ALDC candidate. I'm guessing you don't qualify for the last 2 things I mentioned.

If you expand your college list to include Top Liberal arts colleges, I think you might be doing yourself a favor. I would recommend that you apply to some of these schools as well.

Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Amherst, Williams, Skidmore, Middlebury, Hamilton, Colgate, U.of Richmond, Davidson, Washington & Lee, CMC, Pitzer, Reed, Carleton, Haverford, Swarthmore, ColoradoCollege, Macalester, Wake Forest, Vassar, Trinity. (And if you are female, consider Barnard, Wellesley, BrynMawr, Scripps)

If you are a serious person and student, you will know that where you go undergrad has little bearing on your where you end up for grad school or PhD programs. You will still get an excellent education outside the T20 and still benefit from having access to great financial aid, great abroad learning programs and great resources.

I think the one huge concept high school students have to accept is that undergraduate college admissions is not fair and not a meritocracy. Just like you didn't get to choose the color of your skin, your families religion nor your socio-economic status, unfortunately the ugly truth about college admissions is that you just have to play the cards you are dealt with against players that have had 13 years of superior education and support.

Therefore, you can make up for this by expanding your way of thinking and use your undergraduate experience to level the playing field. If you graduate Summa Cum Laude from Middlebury you might have a better chance of getting to Wharton or Yale Law school than somebody who goofed off with a B average at Brown or Cornell. It matters most where you end up, not where you go when you are 18 years old.

So I hope you took this advice with an open mind and see that I'm just trying to give you some practical options. There is no quick fix to a 3.5 GPA.

Good luck.

2 years ago

Hi @justontine555!

The thing about T20 schools is that they're very difficult to get into, regardless of how strong your profile is. They receive so many well-qualified applicants that admissions often boils down to luck.

That said, it is certainly possible for you to get in with a lower GPA, especially with a high SAT score. Grades and test scores are often compared (as one unit) against whatever benchmark admissions officers think is the minimum for academic preparedness at their school. Having a low GPA might send you to the bottom of the applicant pile, but if your high school was especially difficult (which the disparity between your GPA and test scores would suggest), then admissions officers won't think too much about it. From that point on you'd be compared on the basis of essays and extracurriculars where, at the very least, you look like you have a shot.

However, if your low GPA becomes a sticking point, then you'll have a much lower chance of getting in. At that point it will mostly depend on your background and intended major. Admissions officers are looking to build a well-rounded class, so if first picks are skewed in a certain direction, they will go back and "fill gaps" with students who can help balance out the incoming class.

It's likely that your GPA will ultimately be an issue given your performance in AP classes. Colleges expect you to choose a reasonable workload for yourself, so having your grades drop after taking a bunch of APs will send a poor signal in that regard. But again, that won't be the deciding factor, and it may not be as big an issue if your high school has a reputation for being especially difficult.

If you want more specific guidance, I'd recommend checking out our Chancing Engine (link in the sidebar). It takes into account your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to give you your chances of acceptance at just about any school you can think of. But in the end, admissions is random enough that we can't say for certain.

Good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions.

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
+ add school
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Community Guidelines

To keep this community safe and supportive:

  1. Be kind and respectful!
  2. Keep posts relevant to college admissions and high school.
  3. Don’t ask “chance-me” questions. Use CollegeVine’s chancing instead!

How karma works