Great colleges for “B” students

June 15, 2017

Let’s play a game akin to the Guess your Age/Weight booth at a local county fair. If we’re wrong, you get the cheaply-made stuffed animal of your choice. Ready?

If you clicked on this article, you have an SAT score somewhere in the range of 1100-1300 (or an ACT of 22-27), you’ve taken your share of honors courses and even a couple of APs and have a GPA in the low-to-mid 3s. You’re probably super-jealous of some of your higher achieving AP peers who scored a couple hundred points higher on the SAT and sport straight A’s as they jockey for class rank position before applying to schools with single-digit acceptance rates like Northwestern, Pomona, Stanford, MIT, Swarthmore, the University of Chicago or any of the eight schools in the Ivy League.

It’s easy to be jealous of these academic one-percenters. Much of the college-related discourse in the mainstream media centers on the higher education arms race faced by these academic superstars of your grade who are all fighting for a coveted spot at one of the top 50 institutions in the nation. That leaves roughly 2,950 four-year colleges and universities in the United States that you don’t hear very much about. Fortunately, for you, a good number of these schools are exceptional in their own right and, of equal importance, are willing to open their gates to students just like you.

Can B students get into their first choice college?


To qualify, yes, if one constructs a realistic and well-thought-out college list. According to a 2016 survey, 75% of applicants were accepted by their top choice and 93% earned admission into at least one of their top three choices.

You don’t have to be the devilishly handsome 17th century German mathematician, Gottfied Wilhelm Leibnitz to realize that all of those students were not in the top 10% of their graduating classes or even the top 50%. The vast majority of the students that roam university campuses were “B” students in high school, and many go on to great success in life.

Why many colleges seek B students

There are two main reasons:

1) There are some desirable personality traits that are sometimes more prevalent outside the top of a given high school class. B students are sometimes less set in their ways, more intellectually malleable, and willing to take risks. It’s not uncommon to hear professors report that they enjoy working with B students because they are less anxious and tend to work better collaboratively than straight-A students. The oft repeated, tongue-and-cheek adage that “A students teach B students to work for C students” does have a kernel of truth to it. Of course, to be fair, if you actually surveyed the academic credentials of leaders across professional fields, you’d likely encounter quite a few former valedictorians and Ivy Leaguers.

2) Many quality institutions are struggling to meet their enrollment goals and simply are not going to attract a large number of applicants more qualified that you. As the aforementioned one-percenters vie for a seat at the most prestigious schools in the country, second-tier, but still tremendous schools are anxious to lock down students with solid credentials just like yours. For example, a student with a 1270 SAT and an unweighted GPA of 3.3 would face impossibly long odds at The University of Virginia but would be quickly snatched up by the nearby, and very reputable, James Madison University.

Good fit schools

College Transitions recently published a list of Excellent Colleges for B Students. Colleges featured in this list accept many students with good (but not elite) credentials and possess better-than-predicted outcomes in the areas of retention, degree completion, graduate school admission and postgraduate employment.  Fortunately, many of these schools also offer generous financial aid packages to their students. Here is a small sampling of schools that you may never have even heard of that offer exceptional educational experiences to B students.

Elon University

While it’s growing more and more selective each year, Elon, a medium-size liberal arts school located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, still accepts more applicants than it rejects and there is much to like about the quality of its campus experience. B students with solid but not spectacular standardized test scores will find admission attainable at this university with 60 academic programs, nationally recognized business and communications schools, 72% study abroad rate, and a host of competitive Division I sports teams to cheer on. Five or ten years from now, this school is a good bet to enter the next echelon of selectivity and prestige, but for now, B students can still find a warm welcome.

McDaniel College

If you live outside the state of Maryland and have heard of McDaniel, that’s a pretty good sign that you are a conducting a through and exhaustive college search. You won’t find this hidden gem mentioned in the Fiske Guide or The Princeton Review’s 381 Best Colleges but you will find its educational opportunities open to B students, unique, and excellent. The McDaniel Plan is what the school terms their “hands-on, customized, and personal curriculum.” Students are given a good deal of autonomy is designing their own program and working intimately with professors at this small liberal arts school with an enrollment under 1,700 students. While the sticker tuition price is high, McDaniel is known to be generous with need and merit-based aid. They are known for graduating students who are career-ready and motivated learners. With a 76% admit rate, B students will have no trouble gaining acceptance at this terrific college.

Drew University 

Located in suburban New Jersey but less than an hour drive to New York City, this tiny liberal arts school offers great access to internships, cultural experiences, and world-renowned faculty. Like many other small private schools, Drew is facing financial challenges, and is therefore willing to offer steep tuition discounts to qualified candidates in their quest to raise enrollment. The average discount offered is 58% and B students with solid SATs are likely to attract a healthy financial aid offer. The school has become gradually more selective with its acceptance rate dropping from 80% five years ago to 57% last year, but still remains very much in reach for B students.

CT’s Bottom Line

The postsecondary landscape is bright and bountiful for the B student who embraces his or her position in life and stays focused on the bigger picture of the college search and admission process. Rather than trying to claw your way into a name school where your chances at admission are slim-to-none, B students should buckle down, do their research, and discover the multitude of schools that offer an amazing, and uniquely-tailored educational experience at an affordable price.