Becoming a college student is an important step in most people’s lives and a college admissions counselor wants to see that you are the best candidate for their school. There are many factors that they will look at when considering your application, but there are some must-haves and things that will make it easier to get into top schools. This article discusses what a college admissions counselor wants in their candidates, and how you can be the ideal applicant to get into top schools!
1) Baseline Academic Ability
This is the most basic criteria when dealing with a college admissions counselor. GPA, test scores, class rank, and activities are going to be the most important benchmarks that the admissions department is going to admit you on. Even schools that take a more holistic review of their application process will not overlook these key factors. Let’s break down each:
What colleges are looking for when it comes to GPA is a strong and consistent academic record. They want to see that you are consistently working hard in school, have a solid foundation of knowledge with good grades overall for 4 years. It’s also important to remember where your GPA stands relative to other students applying for a specific college. A great tool that is free to access is Thoughtco.com. I will walk you through the process:
Let’s just take Princeton as an example. If you go to https://www.thoughtco.com/princeton-university-admissions-787208 it will give you tons of data on their admissions requirements and statistics on who they accept.
This is the overall admission rate for the school. They show that their admissions rate is extremely low. This suggests that out of over 32,000 people less than 2,000 were admitted in 2018-2019.
This is the average range that they are looking for when it comes to SAT requirements for admissions. Please note, this is admissions only, not scholarships. This will give you a good idea of what goal you need to set for yourself if you plan on applying for this college. Always shoot for the 75th% and above as opposed to the 25th% to increase your chance of being admitted.
This, like the SAT, is the admissions scale for the ACT. This is why we recommend taking both tests to see if you favor one over another. Here you will see they require a higher score on English than they do Math, the SAT was just the opposite. Consider these options when applying.
This is by far the best graph the site offers. As you can see, they show you where people are not only test score-wise but also GPA based on acceptance rate. Something to note, the lower-end scores and GPA are not typical. We see a lot of students that fall into the lower quadrants have some leg up: ie- athletes, musicians, or descendants of prominent alumni.
This, like the GPA, is pretty standard and obvious for most students and parents. The higher your test scores, the more opportunities arise. This will come in the form of greater acceptance rates and higher scholarship offers. Our professional advice is to make sure you are testing early and testing often. Also, make sure you are not focusing on just one test. Look into taking both the ACT and the SAT multiple times. We have found that students much prefer one test to another and often score higher on one test above the other. The graphs below will also show you why this advice might be the right approach for you.
Make sure you are in a structured test prep course. It can be offered through your school, a local tutoring center, or an online option. Not taking these tests seriously will directly impact your admissions into college. If you are looking to get your feet wet in some test prep, here is a link to our FREE test prep course. It covers all components of both the SAT and the ACT tests. It will help get you started in the practice process but it is not a complete course so only use it as a tool to get the process started. Also, take a look at other test prep articles we’ve done here! They might help you get the ball started.
This college admissions criterion is not subject to every US student. There are many private schools that don’t offer a class rank system and that is ok. Most of your Ivy League and Top-Tier institutions will use this as a metric for their second-round choices. Meaning, once a student has passed the basic requirement of a minimum GPA and test score, they will move on to the next level of admission levels. Class rank will be evaluated at this time to make sure you are competing at a higher rate than your fellow classmates. Most competitive colleges want to see you in the top 10% of your class and the Ivy’s and Top Tier schools typically favor the 5% and above student. It’s not a hard and fast rule but through our years of helping students get into top schools, this is typically what we see.
Now, this part of the application process is a little more tricky. When we say activities, this can include sports, clubs, musical ability, artistic ability, leadership roles, and volunteer/service opportunities. Any skill or talent that sets you apart from the others in your application pool. These skills or talents should reflect positively on the University or the school must be able to leverage these skills and talents in a profitable way. For instance, athletics is a HUGE moneymaker for most colleges. If you are a star athlete, this could turn into a major money-making opportunity for the school and they will not only admit you but also might entice you to choose their school in the form of a scholarship.
The athletic activity is a bit more obvious so let’s take a leadership role for an example now. We’ve been doing this for over 40 years and the one thing I can tell you is that Universities are playing the long game when it comes to attracting and admitting their student body. They want a student to be able to be a legacy for the school. They want their graduates to have a Wikipedia page that lists them as their alma mater. They want a student that will eventually do something and make an impact in the world so that they can piggyback on that reputation. Look at our government, most presidents and high government officials have a very healthy collegiate pedigree. Most are coming from the Ivy Leagues or Top institutions which the school can now use as a mark of prestige. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton LOVE the fact that former presidents and top-ranking leaders were products of their school. It solidifies their reputation and allows them to not only have a large list of future applicants but also allows them to increase their prices due to the quality of students they are pumping out of their school. It’s a sneaky game they play. Don’t let the name of the school fool you, even though they would like to have you think it’s because of these schools that students make it to the top of their industry, it’s not. Students with ambition, drive, and vision will make it to the top no matter what school they attend.
2) Well Rounded Student Bodies
Universities look to accept students that are well-rounded and not cookiecutter. This may not be a top priority for college applicants but it is an important factor to consider when deciding which school you should attend. Being smart is only one factor in the equation.
A college admissions counselor wants students that are culturally diverse, talent diverse, and can bring something unique to their campus. Colleges are looking for students that bring something unique to their school and can allow other students to be exposed to different cultures, thoughts, and ideologies. This strengthens the student’s ability to enter life after college with a little more exposure than their local high school was able to provide them.
3) The Legacy Effect for College Admissions
I touched on this topic previously but here I’m going to go a little deeper into the inner workings of Universities. First things first, higher education is big business. They might have a nonprofit status but make no mistake, they are money-making machines. We are not attacking Universities for making money, we just want you to be aware of what is actually going on.
There is a reason that Universities are such profitable institutions. Most have played the long game in their marketing and sales efforts for decades. They have positioned themselves to millions of young, starry-eyed students that they are their ticket to wealth and happiness in the future. Students who have Harvard or Yale as a dream school, yep they got them. They want young students to dress up in their clothes, kill themselves in high school, and dream every night what it would be like to live on their campus. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. Students having dreams and working extremely hard to obtain said dreams is a wonderful thing. I just want you to be aware that this programing is all planned by the Universities. They want to attract the students who are willing to push themselves and jump through the many obstacles it takes to obtain admissions into these top Universities.
Colleges like Harvard, Standford, and Yale, actually any of the top institutions, want to make sure that the students who are being accepted on their campus are going to bring a certain legacy to their school. They want future CEOs, high government officials, Ambassadors, or anything with a name. I said it before and I’ll say it again- they want a student who is going to have a Wikipedia page written about them.
Why you might ask? Well, it’s simple. Certain prestige from alumni gets to be claimed by the universities themselves. When you think of former President Barack Obama, most people know exactly where he went to college. That was a part of his speeches, his daughter now attends, and where his wife went. Harvard University got 8 years of free publicity while he was in office and many more years afterward. Any little boy or girl who looked up to the former president now wants to follow in his tracks. Is it making sense now? These Universities are looking for those future presidents and CEOs while when interviewed will talk about their college experience. This will bring a new generation who look up and idolize these prominent individuals to their school. It brings a string of new eyeballs to their university, all willing to pay their high tuition costs to attend.
So you might be asking why this is all relevant? This is a big opportunity that you must understand while packaging yourself for these high-profile schools. If your goal is to go to a Top Tier school, you must position yourself with opportunities that will catch their attention. It’s wonderful if you volunteer at the soup kitchen every week but what’s even better is if you get a congressional award for that volunteer work. It’s wonderful if you won your school’s debate competition 2 years in a row but what’s even better is being the youngest person to ever have a Ted talk addressing the power of debate. Are you catching what I’m throwing out? You have to set yourself apart, be a mover and shaker, and get yourself really unique opportunities that will give you an edge for these schools. They want to see what you can bring to the table for THEM, remember that! Now that you know the college admissions game, get out there and play!