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
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
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
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
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.
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.