What Do Colleges Consider in their Admissions Decisions?

  • See this interesting article about the college admissions decision process at George Washington University's admissions office.

    Or, what do colleges care about? Or, what will colleges ask for in an application? This is the stuff on which your admissions decision will be based:

    2-yr schools in North Carolina only need to see a high school diploma, and they can either use existing SAT/ACT test scores, or a community college placement test to determine course placement.

    4-yr schools can ask for a variety of different things:

    • Academic records - schools will want to see your transcript, focusing on your year-by-year classes taken (rigor is important) and final grades.  Your overall GPA and Class Rank is also listed on your transcript.  All schools will want to see this. Remember, you can look up a school in Naviance, or search for a school's Class Profile, to find the average GPA of admitted students.
    • Test scores - most schools do use SAT/ACT scores as a component of their admissions decisions.
    • Extracurricular activities - whatever you spend your time doing outside of class in high school, be it athletics, school organizations, part-time work, volunteering or community service, etc. These types of things can show schools time management skills, contributions to the community, pursuit of passions, work ethic, and more. How are you productive in your free time? A component of most schools' admissions decisions.
    • Letters of recommendation - most schools will want to see one or more letters of recommendation from non-family adults. Many require that at least one come from a specific school staff member (e.g., academic teacher, school counselor). Sometimes there is a specific template for the recommender, while other times it is a generic request. These letters are vital for colleges to be able to consider you as an individual they want on their campus instead of just an application. You should ask adults who know you and what you've accomplished very well, and please remember to provide them with enough time (AT LEAST two weeks, and a month or more is best) to fulfill your request. If you are unsure whom you should ask, see your school counselor.
    • Essays - many schools ask you to submit essays as part of your application. Sometimes you are given a specific prompt, other times you are given a choice between a handful of prompts, and still other times you are given more license and told to write a "Personal Statement," or something similar. Taking these essays very seriously and submitting quality work could be the difference in your admissions decision. Please take the time to plan, write, and edit good essays. Just as letters of recommendation are a chance for adults who know you well to "sell" you on a more personal level, the essay is your own chance to stand out as a person who the colleges want to attend instead of just another application.

    Unusual obstacles or circumstances - if there are any unusual circumstances or notable obstacles that you have experienced or overcome in your life which may have had an adverse effect on other components of your application, then you will have the opportunity to explain what happened. Examples could include moving from school-to-school, childcare or other family obligations, necessity of part-time work, medical complications, and more affecting grades, course selection, participation in extracurricular activities, etc.