How Accurate Are College Admissions Calculators?


how accurate are college admissions calculators

Applying for college can be a stressful time. It’s time-consuming and expensive to turn in application after application without knowing whether you’ll be accepted.

This is where college admissions calculators come into play. Before filling out your application — and paying a fee — you could potentially see whether you have a good chance of getting into the school of your choice.


But are these college admissions calculators accurate? What can you expect when you use one? Let’s look at how these calculators work to determine whether they’re a good gauge of what you can expect when applying for schools.

What Are College Admissions Calculators?

A college admission calculator is designed to take the information you provide about your academic achievements and then provide you with the chance that you’ll be accepted to a specific college. Some items you might be asked to provide include:

  • Basic demographic information, such as religion, race and gender
  • Schools you’re interested in applying for
  • Current location
  • Potential major
  • ACT and SAT scores
  • Number of times you’ve taken standardized tests
  • Any AP exams you’ve taken, and their scores
  • Unweighted GPA
  • High school class rank out of total number in graduating class
  • Planned honors and/or AP classes
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Legacy status (a close relative attended the school)

Each calculator is different, so it might make sense to use two or three college admissions calculators to compare results.

Once you provide your information, you can usually filter to find schools and see your chances of acceptance. Depending on the calculator, you might see information about whether the school might be a “safety” choice or whether it should be a first choice.

For example, you might input your information and check your chances for Harvard. The calculator might show you that Harvard has a 4% acceptance rate — but your chance of acceptance is 3%. In this case, it might not make sense to apply.


On the other hand, you might compare those results with Penn State. The overall acceptance rate according to the college admissions calculator might be 54%, with your changes listed at 82%. You might decide you like those odds and apply for Penn State and skip Harvard. As a safety, you might also apply to a public university in your state or a neighboring state, where you have a 98% chance of being accepted.

Are College Admissions Calculators Accurate?

Most college admissions calculators use an algorithm to determine your acceptance chances. They compare your information to the stats provided by various schools. These stats can include demographic information, as well as information about average standardized test scores and GPAs.

Some of the available admissions calculators include:

In general, the more information a college admissions calculator asks for, the more likely it is to be accurate.

Many admissions calculators make fields optional, so you don’t have to answer every question. However, the more fields you leave blank, the less accurate your results will be. The more details you can fill in, the more data the calculator has to compare with data provided by the schools.

Remember, though, that none of these calculators is 100% accurate. They can only give you a general idea of how likely you are to be accepted to a college or help you identify colleges where you might have a good chance of getting in.

Tweaking Your College Admissions Calculator Answers

College admissions calculators can be useful when determining which items are likely to be more heavily weighted. For example, a calculator that asks for extracurricular activities might help you see which niche sports can increase your chances of acceptance. Switch out your basketball preference and learn to play lacrosse and you might boost your chances of getting into your dream school.

Other items, like including a potential major, can offer deeper insight into what schools seek. That way, you can narrow down schools based on your interests — and how likely you are to get into a program that matches your preferences.

When using a college admissions calculator, it often helps to start inputting data when you’re younger. That way, if you need to change course with an extracurricular activity or re-take the SAT, you have time to adjust.

Suppose you wait until your junior or senior year to use college admissions calculators. In that case, they can provide you with a dose of reality about your chances of getting into your dream school.

Should You Give Up Based On Your Calculator Results?

Just because a college admissions calculator gives you disappointing news, it doesn’t mean you’re completely out of the game. If you can make a strong showing in other ways, you might be able to get into your preferred school, regardless of what the algorithm says. Some more qualitative items that colleges consider include:

  • Personal statement or essay: If you have a strong admissions essay or personal statement, a school might overlook other items. By showing that you’ve overcome hardship or dealt with extraordinary circumstances, you might get past the gatekeepers more easily.
  • Letters of recommendation: Maybe you have outstanding letters of recommendation from local luminaries. A recommendation from your mayor, well-known business leader or a respected alumnus might open doors that would otherwise be closed.
  • Diversity: Some colleges prioritize bringing students from varying cultural, racial, demographic and economic backgrounds. In those cases, you might be able to take a result that would mean a lower potential for acceptance and boost it.

At the very least, some of these factors might lead to an interview at the school. If you can excel at your interview, you might be able to get in — no matter your calculated results.

Depending on how early you start, a college admissions counselor might be able to help as well. For example, working with a college admissions counselor starting in ninth grade can map out a plan of study, recommend extracurricular activities and keep you on track. This can be especially helpful if you want to attend a competitive school.

Related: Mastering The College Admissions Interview

Bottom Line

College admissions calculators can provide a baseline expectation for your likelihood of getting into a specific school. Some calculators might even provide filtered recommendations based on the information you provide.

However, these admissions calculators aren’t completely accurate and don’t always consider the influence of legacy and personal stories. But, even if they aren’t totally on point, they can still give you an idea of whether it’s worth paying an application fee to a stretch school. Depending on the situation, it might save you hundreds of dollars in fees.

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