College Admissions: What Do Schools Really Care About?

Last Updated Oct 20, 2011 11:23 AM EDT

What do colleges want from their applicants?
How about perfection?

It's easy to appreciate why many teenagers and their parents might feel that way, but most colleges and universities, beyond the most elite, don't require perfection.

In fact, the typical school accepts 65.5% of its applicants so perfection is clearly not a requirement.

A new college admission study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents many colleges and universities, provides a handy cheat sheet on what schools do value when they review applications. Here's the first post that I wrote about the study that was released yesterday afternoon:

Latest Trends in College Admissions: 15 Things You Should Know

Admission Factors of "Considerable Importance"

In conducting the survey, NACAC asked schools to rate what admission factors were of "considerable importance." Here is the percentage of schools that placed the highest value on these factors:
  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 (AP, IB) 9.6%
  11. Interview 9.2%
  12. Extracurricular activities 7.4%
  13. Student portfolio 5.9%
  14. SAT II subject test scores 5.3%
  15. State graduation exam scores 4.2%
  16. Work 1.9%

Admission Factors That Don't Matter


Equally helpful is what percentage of schools said the following admission factors were of "no importance."
  1. SAT II subject test scores 58.0%
  2. State graduation exam scores 53.4%
  3. Portfolio 48.2%
  4. Interview 35.2%
  5. Work 30.6%
  6. Subject test scores (AP, IB) 25.3%
  7. Student's demonstrated interest in school 19.5%
  8. Essay or writing sample 17.6%
  9. Extracurricular activities 15.2%
  10. Class rank 15.0%
  11. Counselor recommendation 12.4%
  12. Teacher recommendation 12.3%
  13. SAT and ACT scores 4.3%
  14. Strength of curriculum 3.9%
  15. Grades in all courses 1.6%
  16. Grades in college prep classes 1.6%

Bottom Line:

Clearly the best things that teenagers can do to increase their chances of getting accepted is to perform well in college prep courses and to make sure they include some rigorous classes in their schedule.

More from The College Solution:

25 Colleges With the Happiest Freshmen
25 Colleges With the Unhappiest Freshmen
25 Colleges With the Best Professors
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and Shrinking the Cost of College workbook. She also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.

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