2 years ago
Admissions Advice

Questions about my course rigor

Just rejected straightly by UPenn. But there are some factors just so not understandable. How hard is it to get into UPenn and is my situation really carefully evaluated by the committee? I am not really trying to complain that much. But maybe I am trying to do something to improve.

My situation is that I have got a 4.0 unweighted but our school does not allow us to choose honor courses freely so I only have taken honors in the second semesters of 11th and the whole 12th grade. But I managed to finish 3 grades of courses in less than half a year. Isn't finishing high school in less than one year with a 4.0 an achievement?

I really hoped to increase the rigor of the curriculum. But before I realize there is an system called "honor and AP courses" in high schools and it seems important for college admissions. I have almost already finished my 11th grade in the sixth month. I tried them and they are generally not too hard(APs or honors).

But anything whether it is AP or regular really freaks people out on the Apex platform. Anyway to compensate for that? If it is a normal platform, AP or honors will be no problem at all. Now only taking honors will work out smoothly for me since it is not on Apex.

Is there anyway to compensate for lack of APs? Will more honor courses do in this situation?


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3 answers

Accepted Answer
2 years ago

I agree with the wonderful answers here! As others have said, top universities like UPenn accepted applicants for many more reasons besides academics. What they are looking for when it comes to your grades and GPA is that you are simply doing your best given your circumstances. For example, say a student could only take three honors classes their junior year. If they took all three, this would be seen as a satisfactory level of rigor.

A lack of APs is most likely not the main reason why you were rejected from UPenn. Your essays, extracurriculars, and having a niche/identity that is sought after during the admissions cycle are the most likely reasons.

Hope this helps!

2 years ago


UPenn like all Ivies is like a 3 ring circus. Each year they have to find between 1100 (Dartmouth) and 3200 (Cornell) cohorts to play a role in the circus. Within the circus are acrobats (recruited athletes), princes and princesses (legacies), clowns (children of faculty and rich donors), and the rest fill specific roles like being musicians, animal trainers, knife throwers, fire eaters, and other entertainers that are oddly interesting to patrons.

So UPenn is no different. They need 2400 cohorts to fill their 4 ring circus. (A&S, Wharton,Nursing,Engineering) out of 55,000 applications. (4.3% matriculation because other performers get better gigs at other circuses.)

When you consider all the parts that need to be filled by recruited athletes, legacies, donor kids, children of faculty, and hooked applicants because of DEIA policies, like being Black, LatinA, Indigenous, disabled, marginalized folk who are queer, low-income or first generation, then about 600 (25%) spots are already doled out as priority admits. (200 spots go to athletes, 384 spots go to legacies, may 20-25 go to Fac/Brats, and 10 uber donor kids,) Keep in mind there are also 450 who are low-income and 450 are the first generation and 550 admits identifying as Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, or mixed with 2 or more races so maybe 2 or 3 of these buckets intersect and that's like 1000 admits.

Then the admissions office starts the serious shaping of the class. Dozens of AOs get together and they are given lists of players they need to perform a role in the circus. The head of admissions says we need 8 for the dance team, 13 for the orchestra (2 trombones and 3 french horns and 4 violinists, 2 clarinets and 1 tuba, and 1 bassoonist), we need 8 cheerleaders, 20 Walk-on athletes because we didn't get all our recruited athletes, we need 12 editors for publications/newspapers, 75 Questbridge admits and 25 from other community-based services.

So my points are the following. College admissions at Ivies are not pure meritocratic processes. Academics (GPA, Course rigor, test scores, intellectual vitality) get your application the 2nd read, but then it's up to "fitment" and whether your ECs, personal character, community impact, etc align with the school's shopping list.

Too many HS seniors think that they need to check all the boxes of some transparent criteria to get into a specific Ivy. That is a fallacy. You can be a legacy on both sides and get rejected. Or you can be a QB match finalist with a 3.7 GPA and 1360 SAT and get in or you can be a recruited athlete with an 88.00 GPA and 29 ACT and get in. It's not about meeting a specific bar. It's about whether this particular application cycle, you were a good match for the school. Obviously, there were other betting-fitting applicants.

I think the President/Chancellor of Princeton said it best a couple of years ago when he said he could admit 8 times as many applicants and they would all be able to meet the academic challenges at Princeton but he has no room. At least Princeton and Yale are building more dormitories.

Do not take admissions acceptance or rejection personally or as an indicator that you are not intelligent enough. My advice is to pick some soft targets that you will be happy to attend in addition to your current list of RD schools. Good luck.

2 years ago[edited]

Hi @Jai123456!

There are some things that you really cannot control about your application. I understand it's frustrating when you're well qualified for a college and you aren't accepted. What's worse is they'll never tell you why you were rejected. They'll just end you a cliche rejection letter which they've been sending to thousands of applicants in the past years.

Most of the times, rejection doesn't have anything to do with your GPA and curriculum. At top schools, many applicants have similar academic achievements, so they compare your extracurriculars. After that, your essays are probably the final decision makers.

Now that you're about to finish high school, you don't have many opportunities to improve your coursework. Honors courses will work, but if you want to go higher, you can self-study for AP exams. AP exams are conducted in May and the late registrations might still be accepted. Those APs won't count for your application though as all admissions will have completed by then.

For now, just try to get into a less-selective college and then transfer to UPenn after 1 or 2 years.

Hope this helps!

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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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