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Did you ever wonder what criteria admissions committees employ in making their decisions?  Here is your answer.

By Evan Forster and David Thomas


College applicants are obsessed with the alphabet soup of standardized tests—SATs, ACTs, APs, etc.—and their impact on admissions. Next come extracurriculars and essays as focal points for college candidates. But these are just a few of many, many factors that count in the decision-making process of admissions committees. Not all universities put the same weight on the same factors: one school may care much more about GPA weighting while another wants strong writing skills even in science applicants.

But we love this comprehensive list of data points considered by admissions officers, which came out of a discussion of our colleagues at IECA. And please note that these are NOT in any sort of order (after all, each college would rank this list differently). Look it over and evaluate which are your strong suits, your weak spots, and which you’ve never even thought about! If you don’t even know what some of these are, shoot us an email!

1.            Grades in high-school courses

2.            Cumulative GPA

3.            Class Rank

4.            Rigor of courses (degree to which the student challenged herself within the context of available courses)

5.            SAT/ACT/Subject Test Scores

6.            AP/IB scores

7.            Recommendations (Teacher, School Counselor, Other)

8.            Awards/Honors/Recognition

9.            Activities

10.          Re-computation of GPA (weighting, unweighting, use of core courses only, etc.)

11.          Special Talents (music, athletics, etc.)

12.          Relative who is an alum

13.          Profile of the applicant’s high school

14.          Family’s ability to pay

15.          Essays

16.          Extenuating circumstances (illness, etc.)

17.          Member of an underrepresented group

18.          Choice of major

19.          International applicant

20.          Socioeconomic background/level of parent’s education

21.          Character (suspensions, criminal history, etc.)

22.          Demonstrated interest

23.          Personal interview

24.          Early Decision vs. Regular Decision

25.          Upward/Downward trend in grades throughout high school

26.          Volunteerism

27.          Portfolio (for art, architecture, interior design, etc.)

27.          After-school/summer employment

28.          Audition (music, performing arts, etc.)

29.          Comes from a “famous” family, or the student him/herself is famous

30.          Development case: Family is able to make/has made a very significant financial contribution to the college

31.          Geographic/regional desirability

32.          Number of students applying to that institution from a given high school in that particular year

33.          Applicant comes from a high school that has historically been a “feeder” high school for that college

34.          Gap Year experience

35.          Intellectual curiosity/Enthusiasm for learning

36.          Has taken the initiative to seek-out outside courses, in cases where the student’s high school might not offer “high-level” courses such as APs

37.          Participation in a rigorous academic summer program offered by a college

38.          Demonstrated leadership

39.          How early/late application was submitted in cases where rolling admission is used

40.          State of residence (State-supported institutions must adhere to legislated limits on the number of out-of-state students who can enroll.  On the other hand, if a state college is looking to bring in additional tuition dollars, filling the class with a particular percentage of out-of-state students is beneficial because they pay higher tuition.)

41.          Documented learning disability

42.          Essay in response to the question: “Have you ever been suspended or dismissed from a school?”

43.          Child of that college’s administration, faculty or staff

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