Lifelaunchr is a regular contributor to the Edmodo Blog. With articles written by Venkates Swaminathan, Founder/CEO of LifeLaunchr, the site provides parents and students with virtual and in-person coaching for all aspects of college planning, starting as early as freshman year. Watch for a new post regularly on the Edmodo blog and find out how you or your student can better prepare for a life-changing experience in college.
Parents and students in the college application process always want to know: what do college admissions officers look for in each application? How do they evaluate and judge students when picking whom to admit and whom not to?
College admissions in the United States isn’t a science. There are many factors college admissions officers consider in deciding whom to offer a seat to. But there are eight things most universities consider.
Eight Factors College Admissions Officers Consider
1. Your Course Load and Grades
This is the most important factor in college admissions, and the one most parents are unaware of in the early years of a student’s high school education. For admissions officers, the question is: Did you take challenging courses in high school, and get good grades? So choose your courses strategically: it makes a big difference.
Case in point: One student we worked with just got into the University of California at Berkeley and was wait-listed at Harvard. Both schools were a stretch for him, and he hadn’t expected either outcome. The biggest factor was likely that he took Calculus Honors and Physics Honors in senior year and got As on both. Being able to show you can master tough subjects and tough classes is very important.
2. Standardized Test Scores
Although an increasing number of universities are now test-optional, meaning they don’t require standardized tests, most selective universities still require them or consider them highly. That is because standardized testing is still among the only ways admissions officers can compare students from diverse states and school districts. So develop a standardized testing strategy early. As early as sophomore year, determine your approach to these tests, and be sure to get preparation help if you can.
3. Great Letters of Recommendation
Many top universities will ask for, or at least consider, more than one letter of recommendation. While you’ll need to get one from your counselor or principal, you can get the others from teachers or coaches who know you well. So develop relationships early. Having a teacher or coach who has gotten to know you, or building a relationship with your school counselor, could make a big difference. That is because a university will give greater weight to a letter than demonstrates real knowledge of a student’s background, abilities, and character.
4. Your Résumé
Building a great résumé of extracurriculars, sports, and community service doesn’t have to mean an overwhelmingly busy life in high school. The key is to show leadership and focus on a few activities. For example, one student we worked with recently played the violin and built on that by reaching out to a local senior center and offering to play for the residents. It showed passion and leadership and showed that her community service was work she cared about a lot.
5. A Great Essay
Your application essay, and the answers to supplemental questions, can be the difference-maker when you’re up against many students who have the same grades and test scores. And no matter what your grades and test scores are, there will be others with similar scores. Writing a great essay involves forgetting a lot of what you learn in high school English class about a standard five-paragraph essay, and learning how to write a beautifully crafted narrative. This free course can be a great help in learning how to do that.
When people hear the word “diversity,” they think it always refers to racial, ethnic, or gender diversity. But diversity can mean many things. For students in California, for example, universities in the Midwest will be much more likely to accept you and offer merit aid because they have relatively few students from California. Likewise, if you’re applying to a school that really wants more applicants for their STEM programs, you’ll bring diversity of major if you’re interested in Chemistry. So search for colleges and start doing the research today.
When a university offers you a spot, they are giving up a precious resource: a slot in their class. They’re much more likely to do it if they think you’ll say yes. One way they judge this is through “demonstrated interest,” a measure in a university’s admissions computers of your likelihood of accepting. To boost this score, email the admissions department, sign up for an interview with a counselor, and don’t forget to write a thank you note. Be as specific as you can about what you like about a university. It makes a difference.
8. Your Social Media
Here are some tips on social media and communications:
- Get an email address you use solely for college admissions, and make sure it is appropriate for this purpose.
- Don’t put anything on your social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, for example) you wouldn’t want an admissions officer to see. People have lost admissions due to inappropriate content, or just because their pages showed an image inconsistent with their applications.
- Use social media to your advantage. If you’ve got a passion for art, write a blog. If you care about conservation, use your Twitter feed to connect with people who work in the field. Admissions officers will notice.
College admissions can be a complex process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Learn what college admissions officers look for, and you can use that knowledge to build a great application.