Is it too late to attend a selective college?
by Soliana Habte

It’s never too late to realize you want to go to a good college! Whether you’re in the middle of high school, about to finish, or have already graduated, there are great options to consider.

The first step is to think about why you haven’t been doing as well as you’d like. Are you doing your homework and studying? If you aren’t finding school motivating, find out what piques your curiosity. Colleges are interested in students who demonstrate passion, even if it’s not in a school-related activity. If there are family issues, illness, mental illness or learning disorders that have affected your performance, it is important to communicate these things to schools when you apply, as this information adds important context to your transcript.

If you are in your sophomore or junior year, there is a lot you can do to counteract poor performance earlier in high school. While colleges definitely compare you to other applicants, they also compare you to yourself! A rigorous schedule with honors or AP classes you do well in will show that you are doing better in harder classes. If you only have one or two extracurriculars, you have time to either try some new things, or to deepen your commitment by taking on leadership roles in your current activities. Think creatively about what outside activities are available to you—while many high school students volunteer or play sports, some students have hobbies, after-school jobs, or help their families by taking care of siblings or elderly relatives. Any of these activities can make you stand out as a college applicant: the important thing is to do what you do passionately.

If you are in your senior year, it’s still not too late! A strong ACT or SAT score combined with improved grades senior year will show that your priorities have changed. Even if you have already applied and not gained acceptance to a college yet, there are many awesome schools with higher acceptance rates and rolling admission deadlines. Many colleges, like Union College, Lawrence University, The College of Wooster, Lewis & Clark, Hobart and William Smith, and Fordham, can have difficulty filling their freshman classes, making them much easier to get into than you may have thought. On the Common App, you can look at “Late Application” or “Late Deadline” schools; on May 1, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) publishes their “Space Availability Survey: Openings for Qualified Students” on their website. COVID-19 has created additional opportunities, as some schools have reopened admissions recruiting for local students who are now considering staying close to home. If you have a particular school in mind, it’s a great idea to call them and ask about their policies. You will need to explain why you would be a good fit for the school, so be sure to look at the admissions criteria and make sure it’s an appropriate choice.

If you’ve already graduated from high school, it’s still not too late to decide you want to go to a great college! One of the best options is transferring from a community college. Not only does this give you a chance to earn strong grades your first two years with very affordable tuition, it can also give you much better odds of transferring. The UCLA Transfer Alliance Program (TAP) helps students in California transfer to UCLA at the junior level from a California community college by giving them priority consideration for admission. While UCLA’s regular acceptance rate is 12%, the transfer acceptance rate is 24%!

It’s important to keep in mind that a college’s acceptance rate doesn’t determine how good a school it is or if it’s a good match for you. Thinking about location, student body size, campus resources and amenities as well as the graduation rate will give you a much more holistic way of determining a list of great colleges for you.