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Colleges for B Students

Nobody’s perfect. Not every teenager is bound for the Ivy League. While parents who interview me as a potential consultant for their college-bound superstar ask about my track record with elite institutions, it is in fact a greater challenge to help a B student find an ideal college match.

I am not talking about a teen who gets a B or even a C in a course or two; I am referring to a student whose GPA throughout high school averages slightly south or north of 3.0. Alas, we no longer live in a world of the “Gentleman C”—it has probably become more like “Gentleman B+.” We live in an age of grade inflation, as well as fierce competition, driven by population factors and increased numbers international applicants, for spots in selective colleges. According to College Board, the percentage of applicants accepted with GPA’s of 3.0-3.24 is generally under 10%, and those accepted with GPA’s of 2.5-2.99 is 1-2%, even at colleges of average selectivity. So the competition is definitely tough out there.

The “B student” moniker covers a broad range of students, with diverse abilities, backgrounds and aspirations. After high school, their trajectories could include: immediate employment; vocational training via a technical institute, art school, or career college; four years in a college or university with an immediate vocational emphasis, such as business; or four years in a college or university with a liberal arts orientation and/or preparation for graduate school.

B students can have any number of individual stories. Some might be late bloomers, distracted from academics early in high school, but catching up junior or senior year as they mature and find their feet. Some may be solid students with an Achilles’ heel in one academic area, such as math or language, that drags down the GPA. There may be a learning disability, attentional disorder, or psychological condition to be diagnosed and addressed. It is also possible that the student’s passion is focused on a less academic field, say, culinary arts, dance, music, photography, fashion design, or graphic arts; he or she is therefore simply not engaged by abstract college prep courses such as Latin or Calculus. His or her true talents are not measured in the high school GPA; the B performance is not indicative of the student’s potential.

First, let us consider B students who are late bloomers, inconsistent performers, learning challenged, or emotionally fragile. They have special individual needs that should be considered in the college application process. It is not enough to simply find colleges with accessible admissions criteria. I suggest that families of B students consider small-to-medium colleges, if affordable, with a favorable faculty-student ratio, academic support, a close-knit student body, focus on the undergraduate, and a nurturing environment. B students are not entering college as finished products, ready to grab the brass ring; they are, in fact, underprepared, and need a transformational environment to help them mature and gain skills for success.

Where are these colleges? Pick up Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges. Pope describes these schools as having “a familial sense of communal enterprise… a faculty of scholars devoted to helping young people develop their powers, mentors who often become their valued friends.” Of Pope’s schools, the most accessible for B students include:  Beloit (WS), Knox (IL), Ohio Wesleyan, HiramCollege of Wooster (OH), Kalamazoo (MI), Earlham (IN), Juniata (PA), GoucherMcDaniel (MD), Lynchburg (VA), Guilford (NC), Hendrix (AK), Hampshire (MA), and Marlboro (VT). Full list at

Check out “Hidden Gems” from Steven Antonoff’s The College Finder: Choose the School That’s Right for You. Of Antonoff’s hidden gems, the most accessible for B students include:  Hobart & Smith (NY), Champlain (VT), Endicott (MA), Bryant (RI), Fairfield (CT), Drew (NJ), High Point (NC), and College of Charleston (SC). For Antonoff’s complete hidden gem lists, visit

If your B student is challenged by standardized testing, take a look at the SAT/ACT test optional schools listed at Many are also listed by Pope or Antonoff. Test-optional colleges most accessible for B students include: Hobart & Smith (NY), ProvidenceBryant (RI), Fairfield (CT),  Hampshire (MA), Marlboro (VT),  GoucherLoyola (MD), Guilford (NC), Knox (IL), and Scranton (PA).

I hesitate to recommend large universities for students who have struggled academically in high school relative to their peers. The mission of land-grant universities is to serve the public; therefore, these schools are accessible, even for applicants with less competitive credentials. After matriculation, these schools separate the wheat from the chaff. For B students unprepared for a sink-or-swim situation, however, I suggest a more intimate college atmosphere, in which somebody actually notices if a freshman sleeps in and cuts class.

Such an environment could be public; Penn State‘s satellite campuses, for example, offer a small-scale “junior college” experience to prepare late bloomers to eventually succeed at the flagship campus in University Park. The student will eventually get to enjoy the “rah-rah” Division I sports and Greek life college experience that many middle class families seem to consider a rite of passage, a socio-cultural phenomenon unique to American society.

Second, let us consider the student with a well-developed artistic or technical interest that is better honed in a vocational institute, career college, or conservatory program than in a traditional four year college. The student could be a high academic performer, or a B student, who may simply be more of an artistic or technical specialist at heart. This situation can be especially tricky for middle class suburban families, whose general expectation is that their children will attend four year colleges. Should this student  be encouraged to attend a traditional four year liberal arts college or go the specialist route instead?

The traditional college route supposedly provides a well-balanced education, of course, arguably important for all members of our complex, sophisticated society. But for the B student, it could result in continued mediocre performance, since the student is not pursuing a field in which he or she naturally excels, perhaps resulting in not graduating or not finding a job after graduation (not a great income if carrying huge debt).

The more vocationally-oriented route may lack prestige, depending on what kind of program it is, and most likely will not offer a comprehensive liberal arts foundation. It will, however, provide a venue in which the student will thrive. The student will be thoroughly trained in his or her passion, and will be equipped to find an occupation in that field upon graduation.

Can an artistic or technical specialist student have his or her cake and eat it too? Yes, there are some institutions that do offer hands-on preparation for an artistic or technical field within a traditional university setting, all along the selectivity continuum. Antonoff’s book and website, as well as Rugg’s Recommendations on the Colleges, 27th Ed., by F.E. Rugg, are helpful resources for identifying such programs. Also check out the Majors section of and

In my practice, I have encountered B students from many backgrounds, with diverse individual stories. The only generalization I can offer is that there is no “one size fits all” path for the B student. I feel that parents need to be careful about projecting their own expectations onto their adolescent; rather, parents need to guide their student in identifying the higher education environment where he or she will thrive and be best prepared for a satisfying career. Related posts: Preparing for a Major in…the Performing Arts, Why Study Liberal Arts in College?