Getting into BYU

My sister started a very interesting thread on Facebook. It began as a question about how GPAs are calculated in the BYU admission process, and it morphed into a “how do you get into BYU” discussion, with people offering a lot of helpful suggestions. I’d link to it here, but it’s a Facebook discussion, and so of course the link doesn’t exist, and it wouldn’t work even if I did.

In any case, someone linked to a site BYU has set up to discuss admissions criteria. It breaks it down by what kind of student you are (incoming freshman, transfer student, international, etc.), talks about average qualifications, scholarship–you name it. I’ve read it over with great interest, even though my oldest child is 8 years away from attending BYU, and things will likely change in the meantime.

But back to the discussion at hand: how exactly do you get into BYU? I would love love love for all my children to go to the Y. I’d take the Y over Princeton, Harvard, Yale, or Stanford–no need to even consider it for me. (Though I recognize that my children will, of course, have some say in the matter. :-)  ) Why? Because I think college is more than just setting you up for a career. I think it’s about setting you up for life. I work at a university, and I interact with college students every day during the school year. I see the lives they lead, listen to the conversations they have as I pass through the student center. And as I watch all of that, it just makes me more convinced BYU would be the best for my kids. It gives them an opportunity to be in an environment where religion isn’t just accepted–it’s encouraged. It gives them a chance to meet other Mormon kids who share not just their values, but their beliefs. And it does all of that while providing a top notch education at the same time.

But you didn’t come here to read about why BYU is teh awesome. You came to talk about how to get in.

Looking at that site I linked to, I think it’s easy to start trying to obsess over numbers. They’ve got a helpful pie chart that says admissions criteria are based on

  • 20% GPA
  • 20% ACT/SAT
  • 10% Seminary
  • 10% AP/IB Courses
  • 10% Service
  • 10% Unique Personal Circumstances
  • 10% Talents and Creativity
  • 10% Leadership

Then it pairs that chart with helpful facts like these:

  • They accept about 55% of students who apply (Though that’s a bit misleading. Remember, only students who think they have a chance at getting in apply in the first place, so there’s a certain amount of self-selection at work.)
  • Average GPA of incoming freshmen is 3.82
  • Average ACT score is 28.52
  • 82.3% of incoming students earned their Duty to God/Young Women recognition award
  • 1.9% earned a national math or science award
  • 78.7% participated in performing arts
  • 97.1% participated in a quorum or class presidency
  • 95.8% graduated from four years of seminary
  • 70.5% participated in high school sports
  • 75.9% were employed during high school
  • 70.7% of boys are Eagle Scouts

Looking at all those criteria, it seems like getting in is just a simple matter of making sure your child earns his Duty to God and Eagle Scout while working a job, getting a varsity letter, playing in band, starring in the school musical, being a quorum president, graduating from seminary, and making sure to get as close to all As and a fantastic score on the ACT as he can.

Easy peasy.

Oh wait–that’s just the average. So to be a shoo-in, do all of that, and more.

But here’s the thing. All that admissions criteria exists to help admissions officers fulfill their goal, which they sum up as follows:

“The Mission of Brigham Young University—founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued. (‘The Mission of Brigham Young University’)

“To this end, the university seeks qualified students of various talents and backgrounds, including geographic, educational, cultural, ethnic, and racial, who relate together in such a manner that they are ‘no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19). It is the university’s judgment that providing educational opportunities for a mix of students who share gospel values and come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences is an important educational asset to BYU.”

I added the italics to show what I wanted to emphasize. Getting into BYU is going to be easier for some students than others. Fact. If you live in Utah and are a white kid from pioneer stock, you’re going to have a much tougher time getting in than a student from Slovakia. (Case in point: my wife never took the ACT. Never graduated from even a single year of Seminary. Had great grades, but still–didn’t fall into many of the categories listed above. But she was a convert Slovak citizen who brought a whole boatload of “variety of backgrounds and experiences” to the table.)

The numbers help exclude or include applicants. If you’ve got perfect numbers but a rotten Bishop’s interview, it’s lights out. If you didn’t graduate from four years of Seminary when you easily could have? See ya. After that, it becomes a process of elimination. In 2013, 12,921 students applied to BYU. 7,259 were accepted. So let’s get this out of the way right off: that’s a pretty darn good acceptance rate, from a student’s perspective. Princeton had 26,498 apply and 1,963 admitted (interesting side note? 2.5% of accepted applicants to Princeton had a GPA below 3.5.). BYU accepts 56% of applicants. Princeton something like 8%–and Harvard and the others are even worse.

In any case, to get into BYU, you have to prove that you’re a better fit than 5 out of 10 applicants. Some of that is in your control. Live a clean, moral life. Graduate from seminary. Those are baselines. Once you’re beyond that, then it becomes more nebulous. Clearly you’re not likely to get in if you’ve got a report card full of Cs. But what about a slate of classes that are all AP? Is it better to get all As in regular classes or some Bs and A-s in AP classes?

My take on it? Take the classes that will challenge you at the appropriate level. If you’re going to drown in AP classes, don’t take them. If you’re going to breeze through regular classes, don’t take them either. Challenge yourself. Show that you’re up to expanding your horizons.

Your application becomes a sort of story, and admissions committees look at the complete story to get a picture of who you are and what you’re capable of. If you get a 34 on the ACT and took no AP classes at all, that will seem strange. Why didn’t you? Was it because they weren’t offered? Fine. Was it because you wanted a 4.0 more than you wanted to learn? If that’s the case, then why in the world would they want you at their university?

Remember: they’re looking to fulfill their stated goal that I quoted above. If they have 500 white LDS people from Texas apply, there’s honestly only so many of them they’d like to take. Why? Because they want a mix. It’s not about discriminating against white Texans. It’s about having a good array of world views and backgrounds at the Y. BYU already suffers from a huge lack of diversity in some areas. If 7,000 Utah students all scored 36s on the ACT and graduated with a 4.0 from their high school, BYU still wouldn’t take all of them.

To me, it comes down to being the best student you can be. If you hate band, don’t take band. If you’re not into sports, don’t sign up. If you don’t want to be a scout, don’t be a scout. If you don’t want to go to seminary . . . don’t apply to BYU. :-) You’re going to be happier exploring the areas of life you’re interested in than you will if you’re constantly checking to see if what you’re doing is okay by BYU. If you’re ambivalent, then sure–do that which will give you a better chance of getting in.

But even though I want my kids getting into BYU, I want them to be happier more. Happier in grade school, and happier in life. Maybe that means BYU isn’t right for them, and that’s okay. The great thing about all of this from an active faithful Mormon’s perspective is that BYU is a church-run school. It’s a place that I feel most confident saying “if God wants your child to get into the school, then your child will get in.”

Now, me personallyI’m just hoping that there’s a dearth of half Slovak, bilingual LDS students from Maine who apply the years when my children are trying to get in. :-) You can be sure I’ll make sure that details like that come up in their application and essays. Bottom line? Focus on the stated admissions goals, not just the average numbers.

It’s all about the package deal.

But that’s just my 2 cents. (Okay–more like 4 cents.) I’d be interested to hear what other people thing. Fire away!

6 Comments

  • By hilary, April 4, 2014 @ 12:08 am

    It really is so scary with this looming at me in 4 years.
    I really haven’t thought much about it until now, somehow.
    But it’s here and I really want him to go there, to the point I’m willing to fork over a fair amount of cash to make it happen.

  • By Bryce Moore, April 7, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

    I can see it would/will be scary, but if it’s going to be, it’s going to be . . .

  • By Sara, August 28, 2015 @ 10:09 am

    I don’t see “Eagle Scout” listed anymore on BYU’s Entrance Averages anymore. It has been for years. That list is what high school kids use as a guide to be ready to apply. Are they no longer encouraging boys to earn that for admission due to BSA’s membership policy changes and the possibility that the church may change its commitment to that program in the future? They just came out and said they are staying with BSA for the time being but keeping their options open.

  • By Bryce Moore, September 2, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

    Interesting. I’m not sure what their plans are. That said, I’d worried in the past that if my son wasn’t an Eagle Scout, he’d have trouble getting into the Y. After all this? I’m not really worried about that anymore. I think there are going to be *plenty* of applicants who aren’t Eagle Scouts anymore.

  • By K Arrot, January 19, 2017 @ 7:22 am

    I’m looking forward to hearing your post on attending early morning seminary…although in Maine in 4 years I’m guessing you’ll have an online option. Sure wish online seminary was a churchwide policy because so far it’s the hardest church program we’ve ever participated in. Enjoyed your article!

  • By Jeff, March 24, 2017 @ 2:46 pm

    Kids in Utah are at a huge disadvantage because of (1) geography and (2) release time seminary — which destroys their transcripts. BYU is first and foremost an academic institution. Out of state, seminary is taken either online, self study, or early morning. This is a huge benefit since the kids are not forced to give up an entire 8th of their coursework to take seminary.

    Bishop endorsement, then grades, then strength of transcript, then ACT, then seminary graduation, then everything else.

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