What are College Admissions Really Looking at These Days?

We have seen how college admissions are constantly changing, and hows today's process is different than it was many years ago.

What are College Admissions Really Looking at These Days?

It’s important for students and parents to understand trends, changes, and what is most important in the admission decision.


  1. The “WHY US” factorOne of the most important college admissions factors that catch the attention of admission counselors is why does a student wants to attend their institution. A very high number of colleges said they place considerable importance on the reasons for applying to their school. Grades, the strength of curriculum, test scores, and essays continue to be most important, but letting the school know why you have selected can make a difference in your admissions. Colleges admit students who want to attend, not students applying just to apply, or because they may receive financial aid or a scholarship.ADVICE
    • Show your true interest in your top-choice colleges.
    • Visit, connect with the admissions office, and, more importantly, articulate in your application exactly why this college is a great fit for you.
    • Research and achieve a high level of knowledge of each school. Let them know that you’re serious about attending. This can give you an edge over other applicants that have strong profiles but may not have put as much thought into their applications.
  2. Test Scores remain very Important, but more Colleges are going Test-OptionalClose to 60% of colleges place considerable importance on your SAT or ACT. This is down 50% from 10 years ago and this trend seems to grow. Both SAT and ACT have undergone major changes over the last 3 years, and the effectiveness of the tests’ abilities to predict college success is questionable. College entrance exams are still an important part of the admissions process, but many have been using it as an additional criterion, rather than the main criteria.ADVICE
    • We highly recommend taking a diagnostic SAT and/or ACT to determine which test is better suited for your abilities
    • Take the test more than once to try to achieve your highest score.
    • If your test scores do not match your academic level, then focus on looking for those institutions that are test-optional.
    • If you achieve a high SAT or ACT do not think for a moment that this is the only factor colleges will use to admit you.“We know students with +1500 SAT score that was not admitted into some of their dream colleges, and we know others who were below the required SAT who got it” 
  3. Grades, grades, and grades…Grades are the most important factor colleges consider when evaluating applicants. Over 80%  of colleges place considerable importance on grades in college prep courses. Of course, they want to see what classes you have taken.“Students are in college to learn, and colleges admit students who can handle a college course load and graduate on time”.


    • Keep your grades up. Don’t assume that an impressive activity list, awards, and stellar essay will make up for poor academic performance. This just adds to what is most important for colleges.
    • Maintain an upward grade trend to be competitive in the admissions process.
    • Identify your weak areas and seek help, especially at the early stages.
    • Take those classes that increase your highest chance for future college admissions
  4. Teachers recommendation letters count, but not as much as beforeTeacher and counselor recommendations are important to give context to a students’ applicant profile and who they are inside of the classroom, but with teachers and counselors working with hundreds of students each year, admissions officers realize that many times students don’t have the opportunity to forge strong relationships with recommenders.ADVICE:
    • Gather compelling recommendations that add context and substance to your application.
    • Recommendations do not carry much weight alone, but when viewed in the context of your overall application, your interests, and specialty, a stellar recommendation can help an admissions officer better advocate for acceptance for you.
    • Always seek recommendations from teachers or people with some type of relationship to your major of study. If you do have someone who attended your top-choice colleges, that always plays a strong card.
  5. Class Rank is not as important as beforeYour class rank is more of a personal achievement than a factor that matters to college admissions officers. Less than 15% of colleges place considerable weight on class rank, compared to 23% 10 years ago and 36% 20 years ago. Class rank can provide additional context for admissions officers in regards to students’ academic performance and accomplishments, but it offers little insight into how students fit it in on a college campus. This admissions factor has declined the most in importance over the last 10-15 years.ADVICE:
    • Don’t focus so much on how you compare to your classmates.
    • Focus on how your applicant profile compares to the profile of admitted students at your top-choice colleges.
    • If you want to be top in your class, set it as a personal goal, but don’t neglect your other college prep goals thinking that class rank alone will get you accepted.
  6. College Application Lists have expandedEven with the number of high school graduates lowering in the US, colleges have reported year-to-year application increases every year in the last 10 years. The use of massive applications such as Common App, Universal College Application, etc, makes it easier than ever for students to apply to college. Another reason behind this is the fear of declining admissions and the need for families to find the best financial aid proposition.ADVICE:
    • Make sure you always include safety schools in order to guarantee that you will have options
    • When building your college list, focus on the quality of your schools and not so much on quantity.
    • Apply to great-fit schools where you’ll be successful and happy, not just any college where you will be admitted.
    • If you focus on a smaller number of great-fit colleges and put more thought and effort into that limited number of applications, you’ll have a better chance of gaining acceptance.


“Take your time to research one college at a time. Find out what they evaluate most and convince them why you are a perfect fit for their culture. Be creative and consistent in your communication. Your efforts will have a direct impact on getting into the college of your dreams”


Thomas E. Anderson
President & Founder USP


SOURCES: US News, College Board, Ivy Wise, Princeton Review