College Admission is often extremely stressful for many students across the country; the primary reason for this is due to the uncertainty of the outcome. The admission process is a multivariate analysis of the student’s profile that does not depend on just one or two factors. Although there is no perfect formula that can calculate the probability of admission to a specific school, we do know exactly what factors are taken into consideration and how we need to strategically approach them to raise the chances as high as possible.
Courses Taken and Grades Received
As most people already know, the most significant factor in college admission decisions is the student’s grades and the courses that they took. Colleges will look at not only your weighted and unweighted GPA, but also the level of difficulty of your courses. The number of AP courses you took as well as the their relevance to your applied major are both key factors when they interpret and evaluate your GPA.
Strength of Curriculum
What many students and parents are not aware of is the strength of curriculum of the student’s courses. As shown in the chart, “strength of curriculum” is more important in your admission chances than standardized tests, recommendation letters, class rank, and essays. Universities will take into your high school’s curriculum and the resources that were provided to students such as the number of AP courses and college prep courses offered. If two students with the exact same GPA apply to a school, the student who attended the school with a stronger curriculum and took more difficult courses will have the advantage over the other.
Standardized Test Scores
Although many schools have now made standardized tests such as SAT and ACT optional, these exams are still examined as a key factor in determining the strength of your profile. As GPA can fluctuate heavily based on various factors such as the school and teachers, colleges still rely on tests such as the SAT to check the students’ skills in English and math in comparison to all other students across the country. If GPA is used to evaluate the student’s diligence and ability to manage and maintain their grades throughout a long period of time, standardized tests are used to evaluate the student’s academic readiness and fundamental strength in the core subjects required for most fields of study: English and Math.
Personal Statements and Essays
Personal statements and essays in a student’s college application are used to both test the student’s writing skills and ability to articulate their thoughts as well as take a deeper look into the student’s background and story that is not apparent through just a resume. This is the prime opportunity to show the school in depth exactly who you are and why you are a competitive candidate that will make a positive impact if enrolled in the school. Admission officers are looking for an original and personalized story that makes the candidate stand out rather than a story that thousands of other students are writing as well.
Student’s Demonstrated Interest
Colleges favor students who truly show strong passion and interest in the university and major. This is why early decision applications have a higher admission chance than regular decision applications as early decision applications represent the student’s commitment and interest in the school. Students can display their interest via various methods: college tours, summer camps, interviews, internships and projects relevant to the applied major, etc. Although not all schools look at the student’s demonstrated interest, many colleges and admission officers will assess this factor when determining a student’s admission decision.
Extracurricular activities can show the student’s passion in an interested activity as well as their leadership. What many students do not know is that a student’s profile becomes stronger with EC activities not from the number of different activities, but rather the depth and commitment in just one or two major ones. Make sure to document your involvement in long term activities and underscore the major successes and experiences that show your proficiency in the area as well as your leadership.
Recommendation letters are also critical in the admission process as many universities use them to get another perspective on the student from someone who has known the student for a long and consistent period of time during high school. The people who write these letters can be anyone ranging from your geometry teacher all the way to a mentor from a summer internship. The letter becomes a stronger boost to the student’s profile the more specific and personal it is. This is why students should request letters from people who will truly write about their best skills, passion for learning, and hardworking attitude.
Below is a chart provided by NACAC that shows the importance of the major factors that determine college admission.