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Reading the Mind of a College Admission Officer

Here's a great way to boost your chances of getting into your dream school: Read the mind of a college's admission officer.

Don't laugh. It's not as outlandish as it might seem.

While you can't read a college admission officer's mind, you can read a document that details what a specific college's admission office most values in its applicants. This invaluable document is called the Common Data Set.

Uncovering Admission Office Secrets

Colleges and universities across the country dump all sorts of statistics about their schools into their annual Common Data Set, including their freshmen profiles, financial aid statistics and freshmen retention rates.

The section of the Common Data Set that provides a glimpse into a school's admission decisions is entitled, C. First-Time, First-year (Freshman) Admission. In this section of the Common Data Set, a school rates 18 admission factors as very important, important, considered and not considered. Some of the factors include:

  • Rigor of high school courses.
  • Grade point average.
  • Standardized test scores.
  • Class rank.
  • Application essay.
  • Recommendations.
  • Volunteer experience.

You might assume that schools are pretty much looking for the same traits in candidates, but that's true. In it's Common Data Set, for instance, Berea College, a highly respected school in Kentucky, shared that it considers only one criteria very important. That's doing well in an interview.

Hampshire College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, which prides itself on being nonconformist, rates just two college admission factors as very important - application essay and character/personal qualities.

It can also be enlightening what a school doesn't care about. For instance, California Institute of Technology, doesn't give a hoot if a student does not show interest in the school before applying. In contrast, the United State's Military Academy's Common Data Set reveals that an applicant's interest is very important.

Not all Common Data Sets are going to helpful. Harvard's Common Data Set doesn't list any admission factors as very important or important. Instead it lumps nearly all them into the considered category. What did surprise me was Harvard's revelation that doesn't consider class rank at all.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
Harvard image by juandesant. CC 2.0.