An Inside Look at College Admission

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Brittany Burton, one of the good folks at CampusCompare, a website that all college-bound students should check out.    CampusCompare offers lots of information that can help you learn more about which colleges and universities might be a good choice for you.

An Inside Look at College Admission

Once you’ve handed in your college applications, you are probably pretty nervous about getting into college.  Although you’ve finished your college application, included your high school transcripts, your SAT and ACT scores and your college essay, you are now probably wondering how does the admissions committee choose a college applicant to actually be an admitted student?   How do they wade through all this information and come to a decision regarding your college admissions?  What matters most and what gets glossed over?   We are going to give you more of an inside look into the admissions decision process so that you know what will allow you to find the right college for you.

Transcripts:  Your high school transcript is often the most important component of your college application.  Your class work load and grades reveal what type of student you are and offer a glimpse into how you would work at their university.  However, admissions officers are trained to know the discrepancies among different schools and class schedules.  For example, at some schools, it’s easier to land an A than others. They also look at what types of courses you fulfilled. If you took honors classes, advanced placement or international baccalaureate classes, admissions officers will take this workload into account when reviewing your GPA.

Test Scores:  SAT and ACTs are being de-emphasized in many colleges, but these standardized tests do help the admissions officers compare students from different high schools across the nation. Most schools have a range that the majority of students fall under when determining acceptance, but a low test score generally won’t break all chances of getting into college.

Admissions Essay:  The college essay is a way to make you pop off the page.  Now, instead of being a series of numbers and grades, you become an individual, unique person.  This is therefore an increasingly important factor in the college admissions decision process.  We suggest telling an anecdote about your life or your personality and describing how you have learned and grown from that experience.

Letters of Recommendation:  A really good letter of recommendation can really make a difference, but colleges don’t really penalize students when the letter is not written well or only offers superficial information.  Here’s some of the stuff that admission officers are looking for:

•    Comparisons to others in the class; to those whom the teacher or counselor has worked with in past years; or with students who have enrolled at the college in question.

•    Information about grading and/or competition.

•    Illustrative examples or anecdotes

•     Personal information

•    Other personal traits or study habits (e.g., maturity, response to criticism, acceptance by peers, timely completion of assignments, willingness to go beyond what is expected, participation in class discussions).

The law entitles students to see completed recommendations.  However, reference forms include a clause that most students sign to waive this right.  This enables counselors and teachers to be candid, which is what admission officials prefer.  Recommendations normally do become part of a student’s permanent file.

Extracurricular Activities: Extracurricular activities are important to show that you are an involved student.  But with so many high school students doing so much and with so many programs and organizations, teams and clubs and causes, it’s hard to predict what admissions officers will favor.  They are really looking for what the activities teach you—qualities like commitment, accomplishment, initiative and leadership and well-roundedness.

Here are some areas they look at:

•    How much time does this student devote to an activity?  How significant is the contribution?  Admission professionals often favor depth over breadth.

•    Evidence of leadership is a key factor that can tip the scales in your favor.  There’s a difference between the student who joined the Geography Club and the one who founded it.

•    Some balance is best. The student who participates in the Science Club, the Drama Club, and is also on the tennis team usually stands out more than the one who only chooses athletics as extras.  Similarly, a balance of school related activities (clubs, teams, choirs, etc.) and those which take place elsewhere (volunteering, scouting, church groups, community theater, etc.) shows your horizon exists beyond the schoolyard.

•    Volunteering is very important, and the key here is real hands on involvement.  Admission people are usually able to differentiate between the candidate who spends every Saturday tutoring and one who volunteered a couple of times so they can add it to their application.

•    A few collegiate candidates will up their stock in admission officers’ eyes by being extraordinarily talented in some area or with a truly off-the-wall interest or experience.

So now you know what happens behind the closed doors of the admissions decision.  Still, with so many factors go into college admissions decisions that the results can sometimes seem unpredictable and off-the-mark.  But don’t try to be someone you’re not—it’s all about being yourself, and that’s what’s going to really make you stand out in your college application.

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