Here is what Colleges and Universities are Looking for in Students.
Admission to college is competitive. This seemingly unanswerable question rests on the minds of high
school students during the college search process. Yet, admissions
offices of every college and university consistently scrutinize
certain areas of student performance.
The most important factors are grades in college preparatory courses,
admissions tests, like the SAT and ACT and high school grade point
average. These three factors continue to be the most examined and critical.
Despite their prominence, these factors are not the only aspects colleges
and universities use to make admissions decisions. Colleges and
universities consider class rank, quality of application essays
or writing samples, and letters of recommendation.
Now, admissions officers of every college and university know that
grades and test scores are not the only indicator of a student’s
success in college. Therefore, they conduct interviews with
prospective students and factor in work, extra-curricular activities
(check out Common Mistakes Students make on College Applications),
and demonstrated interest in the institution. Also, Rules to follow
when selecting a College or University will provide powerful insight
of the importance of visiting the institution.
Selective college and university admissions also focus on student
performance on state graduation exams and subject tests, like the
SAT II and Advanced Placement (AP). Also colleges may factor
student race or ethnicity, ability to pay tuition, state or
county of residence, and relationship to alumni to achieve a
diverse student body. However, these factors usually will not
hinder a student’s chance of acceptance in public institutions.
In a recent college admissions survey done by NACAC, colleges
and universities were asked to rate the importance of admissions
factors from considerably, moderately, limited, or not important.
Here are the results:
About 73 percent of colleges and universities said that grades
in college preparatory courses are considerably important, 16
percent said it was moderately important, 6 percent said it has
limited importance and 5 percent said it was not important at all.
About 59 percent of colleges and universities said test scores are
considerably important while 29 percent said that it is moderately
important. About 6 percent said it has limited importance, and 6
percent said it has no importance at all.
Over 53 percent of colleges and universities said that grades in all
courses are considerably important while 34.7 percent said it was
moderately important, and 7.5 percent said it has limited importance.
About 4.1 percent said it has no importance at all.
About 31 percent of colleges and universities said that class rank is considerably
important while 33.3 percent said that it is moderately important, and 20.1 percent
said it has limited importance. About 15.5 percent said it has no importance at all.
About 23 percent of institutions surveyed said that the essay/writing sample is
considerably important while 34.8 percent said that is it moderately important,
and 21 percent said it has limited importance. About 21 percent said it has no
importance at all.
About 16 percent of colleges and universities said that counselor recommendations
are considerably important while 44 percent said it is moderately important, and
25.2 percent said it has limited importance. About 14 percent said it has no
importance at all.
About 17 percent of colleges and universities said that teacher recommendations
are considerably important while 41.5 percent said it is moderately important,
and 26.4 percent said it has limited importance. About 15 percent said it has no
importance at all.
Around 8.6 percent of institutions said that the interview is considerably
important while 28.8 percent said it is moderately important, and 29.3 percent
said it has limited importance. About 33.2 percent said it has no importance at all.
Only 8 percent of colleges and universities said that work/extracurricular
activities are considerably important while 39.1 percent said it is moderately
important, and 35 percent said it has limited importance. About 17.8 percent
said it has no importance at all.
More than 15 percent of colleges and universities said that student demonstrated
interest is considerably important while 21.1 percent said it is moderately
important, and 22.9 percent said it has limited importance. About 41 percent
said it has no importance at all.
In the state graduation scores category only 6.7 percent colleges and universities
said that it is considerably important while 12.3 percent said it is moderately
important, and 29.7 percent said it has limited importance. About 51.3 percent
said it has no importance at all.
Only 6.9 percent of colleges and universities judged Subject tests as considerably
important while 24.6 percent said it is moderately important, and 32.6 percent
said it has limited importance. About 35.9 percent said it has no importance at all.
Only 2.3 percent of colleges and universities find student's race/ethnicity
considerably important while 15.5 percent said it is moderately important,
and 19.9 percent said it has limited importance. About 62.3 percent said it
has no importance at all.
A Student’s ability to pay for collegeis considerably important for only 2.3
percent of colleges and universities while 6.6 percent said it is moderately
important, and 15.3 percent said that student’s ability to pay for college has
limited importance. About 75.5 percent said it has no importance at all.
State or county of residence has no importance for 74.4 percent of college
and university decision making process while 16.3 percent said it has limited
importance, and 7.9 percent said that it is moderately important. Only 1.4 percent
said it is considerably important.
An overwhelming 34.6 percent of college and university said that alumni
relationshas no importance in the college admissions process while 43.8
percent said it has limited importance, and 19.5 percent said it is moderately
important. Only 2.1 percent said it is considerably important.
These are the statistical results of relevant importance of the factors that
colleges and universities use in making admission decisions. Visit this link
to find a list of college preparatory courses that you can take in high school.
Now, imagine that I'm a member of the Admissions Committee at a college. My job on the Admissions Committee is to
accept only those applicants about whom I can make a reasonable prediction of satisfactory performance in college.
But how can I make such a prediction? What information about an applicant will most reliably tell me he or she will
succeed in college?
If I look at personal statements, for example, most of those will try to convince me that a given applicant will be
the best college student anyone could ever want. That is, it's highly unlikely a personal statement will reveal
anything about an applicant except the most flattering information. And the same can be said about letters of
So, after looking at personal statements and letters of recommendation, I'm still left with the same 7,000
applications with which I began.
How do I weed out all but the most promising 1,400?
Suppose I look at high school grade point averages. They indeed might give me some reliable information. How a person
has performed academically in the past might accurately predict how he or she will do in the future. So I might adopt a
strategy of first admitting all those people with 4.0 GPAs and then work backward from 4.0 until the entering college
class is filled.
But there's a problem with this strategy. The 7,000 applicants have attended more than 250 different high schools in the
United States and abroad. How do I know that a 4.0 GPA at one high school represents the same level of academic achievement
as a 4.0 at another high school? One high school might have very high academic standards, while another might not. So
an "A" at one school is not the same as an "A" somewhere else. Also, one student with a 4.0 GPA might have majored in
basket weaving, while another 4.0 student from the same college majored in a far more difficult field. So, two 4.0 GPAs
of students from the same school may not represent comparable academic achievements. Thus, even using GPA, I can't be
100% sure about selecting the incoming law-school class.
What else is left? The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). This is an examination every college bound applicant must take,
which is graded uniformly across all applicants. Scores on the SAT range from a low of 1200 to a high of 2400. In other
words, a person can take the SAT and get all the questions wrong, but still receives a score of 1200. Another person
getting all the questions right receives a 2400.
In theory, the SAT is a consistent measure for an admissions officer to compare all 7,000 applicants with each other.
Indeed, look at how much college relies on the SAT. The information below represents the SAT scores for those applicants
to college recently who had a 3.5 GPA or better. In other words, these are the most promising applicants in terms of their
academic performance in high school.
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