Roadmap to College: What College Admissions Officers Look For
“I look for the quality of the applicant’s curriculum. In other words, did the applicant take the most challenging program offered at his/her high school and did he/she experience success?
Will the applicant make a positive contribution to the university community academically and socially? What will we learn from this applicant?” –Mitchell L. Thompson Jr., Dean of Students, Scarsdale High School; Former Associate Dean of Admissions and Records at The Cooper Union; and Former Admissions Director for SUNY Oneonta
Different types of colleges look for different factors in an applicant. A public university may place more of an emphasis on objective factors, including grades, academic program, and standardized test scores. A private university may look at objective factors as well as some subjective factors, including essays, extracurricular activities, legacy (whether either of your parents attended the college), teacher and counselor letters of recommendations, and others. More competitive public universities also look at subjective factors. This use of objective and subjective admission factors is known as a holistic approach, where many indicators are taken into account when reviewing your application. A very selective college, private or public, looks at many more admissions factors than a less selective college.
In general, colleges look for students who they believe will succeed in college. Which factors do they use to gauge how successful you will be? Your academic average or GPA (Grade Point Average) is the most important indicator of how well you will perform in college. According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors’ (NACAC) State of College Admission 2008 Report, the four top factors used by most colleges are your
- grades in college preparatory classes
- academic program (what classes you have taken)
- SAT/ACT scores
- overall GPA
The next set of factors that are considered are personal statements, essays, class rank (if given), letters of recommendations, extracurricular activities, your demonstrated interest in attending a school, subject test scores (if needed), and interviews (if needed). Demonstrated interest is a measure of how interested you are in a university, and usually includes whether you have joined a college’s mailing list, requested viewbooks or other materials, visited campus on an official tour, attended open houses or information sessions, or had any correspondence with admissions officers.
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