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Articles / Applying to College / What factors do colleges weigh before they admit or reject?

Feb. 10, 2002

What factors do colleges weigh before they admit or reject?

Question: What kinds of factors do colleges weigh before they admit or reject a student?

There's no universal formula. The primary considerations, though, include class schedule (the difficulty of courses taken throughout high school), grade-point average, class rank, standardized test scores (the SAT I and SAT II Subject Tests), and your application essay (if required).


Some other factors include alumni relationships (anyone from your family go there?), athletic skills, special talents (music, art, writing, etc.), geographic location, and ethnic background. There may be other, less-obvious factors at work in admission decisions. Money has, unfortunately become a factor. At some schools, if two equally qualified candidates are competing for a place in the freshman class, the nod of approval will go to the student whose family can afford to pay.

It is very important for college applicants to market themselves as completely as possible. By "market" I mean present all the positive aspects of your background and credentials so that your profile distinguishes itself from the hundreds, if not thousands, of other applications being evaluated. For example, if you are deeply interested in some special activity, such as painting or photography, by all means prepare examples of your work for the admission staff to consider. The majority of high school seniors do not have special talents, so showcasing yours will set you apart.

Applicants are usually screened through several levels of evaluation. First, the obvious rejects are identified. These are the ones who don't meet the admission criteria of the school or those that show little care of preparation (sloppy writing, poorly written essays, etc.). The survivors then go on to admission staff that represents certain geographic regions. Another screening occurs and then the serious debating starts about why this or that candidate is worthy. Usually the dean of admission has a hand in approving a significant portion of every class.

The bottom line is to make yourself stand out from the crowd. It's not bragging to emphasize your strengths. It's good marketing.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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