Grades in college prep courses; standardized test scores; overall GPA; application essays; and student’s ‘demonstrated interest’ are the top five factors college admissions officers consider when reviewing applications. According to the most recent “State of College Admission” report published by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), admissions criteria such as subject test scores (AP or IB), interviews, and work experience fall to the bottom of the list.
Strong grades in all classes have consistently been the most important criterion, but in the past ten years, a greater emphasis has been placed on courses considered to be college preparatory such as AP and IB. The same report states that 92% of colleges attribute ‘considerable’ or ‘moderate’ importance to these grades. Taking more AP/IB classes also enhances an application, but the key is doing well in such courses as “grades in college prep courses are better indicators of a student’s likelihood of succeeding in college.”
Whether we like it or not, the truth is that 88% of colleges rank standardized test scores as second. More than 1.84 million high school students took the ACT, and 1.67 million took the SAT in 2014. NACAC estimates that even more students will take these exams in 2015.
A student’s overall GPA was listed as the number 3 criterion by 89% of colleges. Regardless of specific courses, the overall GPA reflects how seriously a student is engaged and committed to academics.
Not surprisingly, application essays are number 4 on the list with over 60% of colleges ranking them so. Essays are the only way admissions reviewers get a snapshot of the applicant’s personality, hence these writing assignments are the only way students can shine through the numbers. They are also the last piece of the application over which the student still has some control so the more time and effort devoted to writing compelling work, the better.
At the 2014 annual NACAC conference, admissions deans highlighted the growing significance of “demonstrated interest” to the admissions review process; now 54% of colleges rank it as number 5. More and more colleges are asking applicants directly: “did you attend an information session;” “meet with an admissions rep;” “visit our campus;” interview with an alum.” The more ‘yes’ boxes checked off, the more attractive the candidate. As one high school counselor contended, “it’s yet another hoop for applicants to jump through.”
How do students connect with colleges enough to show their interest? There is an ever-growing list of opportunities including campus visits, website engagement, Twitter, contact with alumni, and more. Prioritizing the long list of responsibilities for students on the college journey is one of the most important services that independent college counselors provide.