Getting into a Top University Without a $50,000 Consultant

Given the University of Southern California (USC) scandal a few years ago, were literally a number of well-to-do families paid their way into the top name school with students who clearly were not qualified to be accepted into the programs, it’s not surprising that most people now feel reinforced in the assumption that a top school degree is really only available to those willing to pay the price for it.

Not Everything Has to be Bought

While there is no argument that money and family connections will find placement in the pedigree of education, it is still possible for a good student to achieve the same on their own merits without a $50,000 consultant. Here’s what we found out about what works.

The Process Starts Before High School

To start the process, it literally needs to be in a child’s eighth grade year, which is before high school. The child should already be performing at a higher than average capability and preparing to be a 4.0 student at a minimum in terms of performance. This is actually a slight bit easier than it sounds. Unlike the old days when an A grade didn't happen unless you had a cumulative 94% in the class, today it happens at the 90% mark. The 4.0 GPA does not automatically qualify them later on for admission, but it is a minimum qualification to even be considered. The most important part to remember is that grade performance starts even before high school!

Ideally, the child takes advantage of a chance to start high school credit classes during the summer before high school, and it should be something that is challenging, like geometry, for example.

The goal in high school itself, academically, is to take as many advanced placement (AP) classes as possible. Why those in particular? A couple reasons apply. First off,  AP classes are purposely harder than normal and show a consistent performance at a challenging pace. They move faster than normal classes, they're far more demanding in workload, and there is less support, which means the student has to perform on his or her own merits better. The combination shows a capability of consistent quality output.

Second, AP classes earn credit for college general education requirements, assuming the student also takes the related AP exam for that class. Not every class qualifies for every school, but most of the AP classes do provide the advantage of earning college credit. Another factor the universities look for, again, is the rigor that they expect of high-quality students.

Finally among the AP classes available, those that are the most challenging, such as chemistry and calculus for example, earn even higher points because of the nature of the challenge and what is expected of the student not only to pass the class, but to pass the class with an A grade or higher.

When you consider all of those factors above it becomes fairly obvious why many of these these students with a number of AP classes on their records are earning GPAs well over 4.0 and more in the neighborhood of 4.3, 4.5 and even 4.9.


So You Met the MQs, But Wait...

However, grades are not enough. In addition to all of that academic performance and all the time it takes to achieve those results, a student is also expected to produce extracurricular activities. Now, most people assume that means sports. Not necessarily. Extracurricular activities also include community involvement as well as non-sports activities. The can be outside of the standard traditional school format as well. So, working as a hospital volunteer, working as an administrative volunteer for a Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts organization, helping out with a senior support program, helping out with an animal adoption program or as a volunteer, being in an early pre-entrance military program like ROTC and more all count. There’s a variety of programs that can qualify, and ideally a student should have involvement in not one but two of these programs on a consistent basis throughout their high school career. Not only do they show a commitment for greater, but they also show an ability to perform benefits in addition to what is already a demanding academic schedule

Finally, in addition to the above comes the presentation, which is the college essay. Many also think this document is just a default statement, a filing requirement that's for a writing sample only. With today's tools, they frequently use AI to write a basic essay and just shove it off, assuming no one reads them. The reality is, admission panels read those essays critically. What the student is saying about what they expect their university education to provide them, as well as the world tells the panel volumes. It also shows the sincerity of the applicant, which can be the difference between someone who is put on the waiting list and someone who is admitted right away.

But What if the Student is Already in High School?

Now, let’s not fool ourselves. Someone who as a student is already a junior or senior and suddenly tries to start up halfway through high school to prepare themselves for university is probably out of luck. Even a consultant would be hard-pressed to make a case for such a situation without, of course, cheating the system. The preparation for a successful opportunity into a top university again starts well before high school. Make no mistake, the academics are a minimum qualification, and many of these schools have 60 to 70% of the students admitted scoring at least a 4.0 GPA on average, with many of them over a 4.5 GPA thanks to all the AP classes that they have taken. This is not an area where someone gets in through a lottery. It is the best of the best. So, a family who is hoping that their child is going to make it doesn’t need to drop tens of thousands of dollars or take out a second mortgage, but you do need to understand the formula of what gives your child the best chance and start early. To ignore my advice, go to a consultant and see what your money produces, but speaking as a parent of a child who’s been accepted to five top schools there’s proof in the pudding.

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A professional freelance writer for the last 20 years and a budding photographer by hobby.

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