Roadmap to College: What College Admissions Officers Look For (page 2)
“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.
How Do Colleges View the Philosophy of Admissions?
The philosophy of how to build a freshman class varies widely from college to college and sometimes from year to year. For example, if a college needs a football player or an oboist to round out their team or orchestra, and you happen to play that sport or that musical instrument, then you may have a leg up on the competition.
Many colleges post their philosophy of the admissions process on their Web site. When you become interested in a college, you should try to determine what their philosophy is to see if you fit into their parameters. For example, the New York University (NYU) Web site states that NYU is looking to form a “geographically, socially, ethnically and economically diverse” class. It goes on to explain what qualities NYU is looking for in an applicant, including motivation, leadership skills, and compassion. They look at a broad range of indicators from a strong pool of applicants to build an “academically talented” and diverse freshman class.
Rice University has a clearly stated philosophy of what type of student they want to admit. They explain that they use standardized test scores “cautiously” and that they use a “broader perspective” with the goal of “enriching the learning environment at Rice.”
Here’s what our panel of admissions experts tells us regarding the most significant factors they look for in an applicant.
Nancy J. Maly, Director of Admissions, Grinnell College, stresses the following factors:
- Strong academic preparation for college
- Interest in and understanding of Grinnell College
- Potential to contribute to the institution in meaningful ways
- Interests/activities, both academic and personal, that suggest a potential match with the college
Raymond Lutzky, Director of Outreach, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, looks for:
- Strong performance in high school, particularly in math and science.
- Well-rounded with outside interests/involvement, such as athletics, church involvement, volunteer commitments, student or other civic organizations.
- Entrepreneurial spirit: “Many students have started their own companies before they even enter Rensselaer, such as Karthik Bala ’97, founder of Vicarious Visions, the company that makes Guitar Hero. While most high schools do not teach entrepreneurship, we like to see some interest from the student in commericialization, product design, or running their own small business.”
- Background/diversity brought to the student body: “At Rensselaer, we are looking for students from all walks of life, all socio-economic conditions, all cultures, religions and races. Students with unique backgrounds (everything from an Iowa farm to an Indonesian city) always add to the total Rensselaer community.”
Lauren A. Kay, Assistant Director of Admissions, Indiana University, says, “The most significant factors are grades and grade trends, the strength of a student’s courses, and test scores.”
Cheryl Brown, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Binghamton University, State University of New York, says, “Binghamton uses a holistic approach to reading applications. What this means is that you’re more than just a number and test scores. We look at extracurricular activities, interests and consider other factors. That doesn’t mean that grades and academic performance aren’t important—they are! Binghamton is a top public university and our students’ academic performances reflect that. We admit high achieving, well rounded students, who graduate Binghamton ready to succeed professionally and personally.”
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