What Do Colleges Look For In An Applicant? | Top 4 Factors That Impress!
If there was only one question you could ask regarding the topic of getting accepted to college, what would it be? Well, our number one question we get is “What Do Colleges Look For In An Applicant?”. Most of our students and parents want to know, above all else, what the colleges will be specifically looking at when they go to apply for admission so that they can best prepare themselves to get accepted.
It’s not a secret that good grades are a must, but are there other factors that go into college admission? If so, what are the other areas that students can focus on to help impress the college admission representatives? That’s what today’s post is going to be about.
We are going to answer that common question: What Do Colleges Look For? And, we will also show you some things outside of the classroom that you can do to help better your chances of getting accepted!
What Do Colleges Look For In A Student?
The first area we need to discuss is the most obvious. Academics, specifically a students GPA, is one of the first things any college representative is going to look at when they receive the application and transcript. Your GPA or Grade Point Average is comprised of all the grades you’ve earned on your high school transcript and averaged together. If you’re high school is on a “4 point system”, then a 4.0 would signify that you’ve earned all A’s in your respective courses.
Along with your GPA goes your Class Rank. Class Rank is loosely described as where you fit in when compared to other students in your graduating class using your GPA as a measurement. For instance, if you have an overall GPA of 3.75/4.0 and your Class Rank is 50 out of 400 students, that means there are 49 other kids in your graduating class that have a better Grade Point Average than you do. So the higher the GPA you earn, the higher your Class Rank will be. (highest being #1 in your class).
What do colleges look for with regard to GPA and Class Rank?
As we know, every school is different. Some colleges are much more difficult to gain admission to than others. As a general rule, you will want to be in the top 50% of your class at a minimum. If you are interested in Ivy League and/or some of the more Elite and Highly Selective schools, the closer you can get to #1 in your class, the better. The Elite colleges want to see the top 2-5% of the class, whereas the more traditional, state universities will accept students ranging from the top 10% to 50% depending on other factors that we’ll discuss below.
The next factor in determining admission to college will be your standardized test scores. Now, we’re not talking about test grades in specific courses. Colleges will not see those. We’re talking about the ACT and SAT scores.
Taken during your junior year, the ACT is probably the most important test for college entrance. What you score on this test will go hand in hand with your GPA and Class Rank to determine if you get accepted, denied or if the admission people need to take a deeper look at your courses (which we will get to). Most schools work on what is called a “sliding scale” for admission.
This basically means that the higher GPA/Class Rank you have, the lower the ACT Composite score you will need to gain admission. And, it works the other way also. The higher the ACT Composite score you earn, the lower the GPA/Class Rank you will be able to get away with and still get admitted. Keep in mind that all colleges differ with regard to how low of a GPA or ACT score you can get and still get accepted.
The SAT is slightly different than the ACT in that it isn’t a requirement by most colleges. However, most of the Elite and Highly Selective schools will require you submit an SAT score for admission, so if you are looking at the Ivy League plan on taking the SAT test.
The next two admission factors are little more involved, but lesser known than the obvious grades and test scores. When colleges receive a transcript from you for evaluation, chances are they will want to see what courses you chose to take in college. Did you challenge yourself, or did you take relatively easy courses that you could get an easy A in?
College admissions is getting more competitive every year. When asking the question: What Do Colleges Look For?, do not just assume that it’s all about your grades. The more prestigious the college you are applying to, the more in-depth they will go before granting you admission. They are looking for the students that challenged themselves in high school by taking Honors and/or Advanced Placement courses as opposed to lower level classes.
Course rigor is important in demonstrating to your prospective college that you are capable of handling college level work. Those students who earning a high GPA, but didn’t take any challenging courses in high school run the risk of being denied admission based on their weak course selection. It does happen, so take the highest level courses in each subject area that you will get a B or better in. If you cannot earn at least a B, do not take the higher level course.
Again, many colleges are moving to a more holistic approach to evaluating potential students so having strong involvement in extra-curricular activities is a major plus. In addition to a solid course background, great grades and test scores, being involved outside of the classroom shows good initiative and time management skills. Colleges want to see that well-rounded student, not just top grades and scores.
Being a member of a club or sports team is a great choice. But do your best to take it a step further. For instance, if you are a member of Student Council, consider running for an office such as Treasurer, Vice President or even President! The top colleges are looking for leaders, and what better way to show them that you are a leader than by holding office or running a club or activity. If sports is more your thing, strive to be named a team captain. This displays outstanding leadership and colleges love that when its combined with a solid academic background.
How Do I Know If I’ll Get Accepted?
The unfortunate answer to that is: You don’t until you apply. However, you have the opportunity to put yourself in the absolute best position for admission right now. Enrolling in the right classes, taking on the right leadership roles and displaying your time management skills are just a couple things you can be working on today.
We’ve developed a guidebook to help parents and student along their journey through high school with the end goal of getting accepted to their college of choice. We walk you through the process of preparing for college admission the RIGHT way, clear up all the confusion about standardized testing, admission options, what classes look best to the colleges and what extra-curricular activities the colleges are specifically looking for.
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