Admissions Criteria 


When you send in your application for college a variety of criteria are evaluated by the Admission Officers. Students frequently ask: "What specific criteria do colleges use to decide who gets in and who doesn't and how does the application essay fit in"?

Each school's admission program has its own ranking criteria. Some elements of your application carry more weight than others. For most colleges, the admissions essay is one of the most important elements used to determine your qualifications.

YOUR TRANSCRIPT-- Most schools still rank the transcripts as one of the most important elements of your application. The Admissions Officers consider grades and difficulty of courses when evaluating your transcript. Advanced Placement and Honors indicate that you are willing to take challenging courses, to enrich yourself even at the risk of getting a lower grade.

If you have a high GPA in honors or AP courses, this will be seen as more impressive than a high GPA taking general or basic courses. However, admissions officers do not just look to see if you have high grades. They are sympathetic to the fact that a rigorous course load of honors classes can result in a lower grade. Remember, just because you have trouble with a difficult course does not mean you have blown your chances. The essay you write may be a good place to elaborate your interests in academics or areas you would like to study.

YOUR SAT/ACT SCORES-- Most Admissions Officers DO NOT assign as much importance to test scores as the students and parents do. This is  just one factor in evaluating your potential for success at their college. There have been questions raised over the last few years as to how reliable the SATs are in reflecting student aptitude and suitability for college programs. Concern centers around the possibility that the huge increase in SAT I preparation courses may have diluted the relevance of the scores.

The SAT I is still an important factor, but many schools are looking past test scores and focusing more on the essays to really see what a student may be capable of. The essay is the area where you can help move the focus away from your standardized testing scores. A well written essay may be a better  indication of potential success than the "number game" of admissions testing!

YOUR INTERVIEW-- Many schools use the interview as a recruiting tool these days. Interviewers are expected to make you feel comfortable and provide a good impression about their school. Meaningful interviews take too much time and it is difficult for schools to get a solid read about you in only half an hour. Many schools are toying with the idea of getting rid of the interview process altogether.

However, some competitive schools set up interviews with alumni in your home area. Their impression of you can be an important factor in admission. These interviews are generally informal and take place in your home. Be ready to talk about your major, your interest in their school, and your activities and hobbies. Use the interview as an opportunity to learn more about the school and how well it fits your criteria. Depending on when an interview takes place, you may want to use your essay to elaborate on the information you gathered to prepare and consider including any impressions or information about the school you discovered during the interview.

YOUR EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES-- Outside activities are important indicators of your interests and levels of commitment. Admissions Officers generally are most impressed by students who pick only a few extracurricular activities and then participate fully in them. Your best chance of standing out is to be actively involved in a select few campus clubs, teams, music groups, etc. A leadership role in these organizations can be advantageous. Remember that Admission Officers have seen it all and if you try to impress them by participating in 20 different organizations on a superficial level, they will see through your smokescreen. Waiting until the fall of your senior year to participate in activities will probably cause you some problems when your file comes up for consideration.

Extracurricular activities are rich areas to mine for "nuggets of information" about yourself to liven up your essay. When looking for examples to flesh out the real you, keep in mind the activities and organizations you have been involved with that help show who you are. Remember to use the information stored in your College Assist Profiles to promote a certain amount of self-analysis of who you are. Your Profiles are a good record of your interests, accomplishments and they indicate how you have grown and changed over your years in high school.

TEACHER RECOMMENDATIONS--Recommendations from your teachers, counselors and administrators still carry a great deal of weight with many Admissions Officers. If teachers write good letters of recommendation they will, hopefully, communicate to the college examples of your character, dedication, humor, and other positive attributes. A well written letter is another opportunity for a college to get a sense of your uniqueness. SO, be careful about who you have write your letters. Pick instructors you trust and respect and who feel the same way about you.

One essay strategy is to make specific references to experiences you have had with a teacher or administrator who is writing recommendations for you. Or, if a course was a particular challenge or offered you new insights, it could be a potential essay topic.

YOUR essay--By the time Admissions Officers get to your essay, they already have a general idea of who you might be. They know about your activities, your grades, your family and a variety of other things. They have clues about your character and values based on letters of recommendation, and the "real you" is beginning to come into focus. NOW, you get to sharpen that image. A well written essay, with a unique, genuine quality, will help solidify and expand on the developing image the admissions officer have of you.