A recent study released by the National Association of College Admission Counseling sheds light on the top ten things admissions officials are looking for in their incoming freshman classes, and while the list in its entirety probably won’t shock you, how admissions officials weight the criteria just might.
Toward the top of the list, of course, are overall grade point average, SAT/ACT scores, and class rank, but the top two considerations, surpassing these three factors, are the strength of your high school curriculum and your grades in college prep courses.
For example, let’s say your overall high school GPA is a solid 3.8, but that many of your higher marks were earned in gym and woodshop. When colleges recalculate your GPA based only on your academic performance in college prep courses (such as calculus and English), that average may take a substantial dive, making you a less desirable candidate than you’d initially thought.
But don’t try to increase your GPA by easing off on the harder classes. Colleges are also concerned about the rigor of your curriculum. Let’s say Jill secured a perfect 4.0 in all four years of regular high school English. Bob, on the other hand, averaged a 3.9 for his four years of English study, but took AP English during his junior and senior years. Bob is likely the more desirable candidate for acceptance because he showed that he is both willing and capable of successfully taking on more difficult coursework than Jill attempted. Admissions people know that AP and honors courses, by design, require more effort. So a lower GPA for a schedule that includes a healthy dose of honors or AP courses may carry more weight with the admissions office than a higher GPA earned in a standard high school classes.
Below is the list in its entirety so that you can get a better idea of where you fall on the college desirability scale and where you might need to kick it up a notch:
1. Grades in College Prep Courses – 83.4%
2. Strength of curriculum 65.7%
3. SAT or ACT scores 59.3%
4. Grades in all courses – 46.2%
5. Essay or writing sample 26.6%
6. Student’s demonstrated interest in the college 23.0%
7. Class rank 21.8%
8. Counselor recommendation 19.4%
9. Teacher recommendation 19.0%
10. Subject test score (, IB) 9.6%