The Admissions Process: What Do Colleges Look For

Not all schools select candidates on the basis of grades and test scores alone. What do colleges look for? The way colleges select students, particularly private institutions, will depend on factors determined by each college according to criteria they set and revise each year. College Selectivity Level  As you can imagine, schools want to attract the brightest and most motivated students. However, there are clear distinctions on how colleges select students. It depends ultimately on each college’s selectivity criteria, which varies, among other things, by the type of institution:

Community Colleges:  Non-Selective   
Most Public Colleges & Universities: Moderately Selective
  
Some Public Colleges & Universities: Selective
   
Private Colleges & Universities: Selective or Highly Selective

Moderately Selective vs. Selective (or highly selective)

While most moderately selective colleges may accept students on the basis of academic performance, a selective school may look for more. In other words, once a selective college is satisfied that a student applicant is on firm academic footing, the school will look for something else in the student’s profile that may tip the scale in the student’s favor. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a moderately selective school wouldn’t appreciate and value that "extra something" an applicant could bring to the school. For instance, your demonstrated musical talents may suddenly earn you a preferential student financial aid package, or at the very least, earn you access to the school even if your academic credentials are somewhat below par.  


Who is the Admissions Committee and What Do They Look For?

A college admissions committee consists generally of the Dean of Admissions, together with assistants to the dean, and a combination of faculty and students. They use several different yardsticks to measure a student’s potential. First, there are the quantifiable factors:

  • Grades
  • Test Scores
  • Class Rank
  • Honor Classes Taken

A selective school will require that you meet their standards in the four components above in order to make the first cut. Then, to make the second cut, the school looks at the following:

  1. The Admission Essay
  2. The College Interview
  3. Teachers Recommendations
  4. Guidance Counselor Recommendation
  5. Special Talents
  6. Extracurricular Activities 

When evaluating what do colleges look for when picking candidates and how much weight given to each and any of the factors above, we find that it will ultimately depend on each college. Some colleges might place more importance than others on a college interview or a teacher recommendation  However, all colleges will place a great importance on the college essay.

Beyond academics, colleges are looking for whatever personal qualities and strengths you possess. The Admission Committee is seeking a variety of talents, interests, achievements, personalities, career goals, and even backgrounds.

Remember, when considering what do colleges look for when selecting candidates, you must understand that above all colleges are interested in their long-term survival. Every measure they take and decision they make, is with an eye into improving or maintaining their current standings in society and within the academic community at large. A greater status means more endowments and support from alumni and various foundations and organizations. In turn, this translates into better facilities, which attract the best faculty, which attract the best students. Many schools like to brag about the diversity of their student body, and about the wide range of student activities available at their campuses, which ultimately enriches the student’s life and college experience. This is precisely why Admission Committees weigh heavily a number of nonacademic factors when selecting students. These nonacademic factors usually serve as indicators of outstanding motivation and accomplishment.

Rating the Student

This is when the Admission Committee gets down to business and takes a close look at each application, comparing it against their own academic and nonacademic selection criteria. Each school has their own rating system and scores every student accordingly. The outcome of this rating determines how colleges select students, whether a student is accepted, denied, or placed on a waiting list. Depending on the school, some students with lower GPA averages or lower test scores may be rated higher due to nonacademic factors. This is because each school will have their own selection criteria and enrollment goals. For example, if a school places a high value on the personal  essay and your essay happens to stand out, you’ll score more points. Or, maybe the school determines that this year they are going to need more students for their chest club, more students for their debate team, mores students for their karate club, more students from the west coast, plus a good tuba player and a new center for their woman’s basketball team. If you meet any of these criteria, it’s more points! Here’s a list of some of those "extras" that you may bring to the table, and that schools may consider when facing a very competitive situation. Listed in no particular order:

  • Scholarly accomplishments in some field

  • Area of study (interest in some underpopulated department of the college)

  • Demonstrated social and community commitment

  • State of residency

  • Ethnicity

  • Demonstrated talents in the arts, music, writing, theater, or athletics

  • Demonstrated interest in other school activities( speech competitions, debate teams, etc.)

  • Being a member of an underrepresented group (such as "minority group")

  • Unique or unusual background

  • Children of alumni, or of staff or faculty members

  A Sample of School Comparisons Here’s a comparative view of three schools in their selection process. This first is a large, moderately selective Public University. The second is a medium-sized, selective Private University. The last one is a small, highly selective Private College.

UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT (UCONN)
Very ImportantImportantConsideredNot Considered
School Records   
Class Rank   
Test Scores   
 Recommendations  
 Essay  
  Interview 
Extracurricular   
Special Talent   
 Pers. Qualities  
  Alumni Child 
  Geography 
Volunteer Work   
Work Experience   
 Minority Group  
   Religion

 

QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY
Very ImportantImportantConsideredNot Considered
School Records   
 Class Rank  
 Test Scores  
  Recommendations 
 Essay  
  Interview 
  Extracurricular 
  Special Talent 
  Pers. Qualities 
  Alumni Child 
   Geography
  Volunteer Work 
  Work Experience 
  Minority Group 
   Religion
SWARTHMORE COLLEGE
Very ImportantImportantConsideredNot Considered
School Records   
Class Rank   
 Test Scores  
Recommendations   
Essay   
  Interview 
 Extracurricular  
 Special Talent  
 Pers. Qualities  
  Alumni Child 
  Geography 
 Volunteer Work  
  Work Experience 
  Minority Group 
   Religion


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