Nov 2, 2011

15 Key Factors in Admissions Decisions

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annually surveys member colleges and universities to see what admissions factors figure most prominently into admissions decisions. Although grades and strength of curriculum always come out on top, other variables like class rank and standardized test scores change over time.

For example, the proportion of colleges rating “demonstrated interest” as considerably important has risen dramatically from 7 percent in 2003 (the first year in which it was measured) to 23 percent in 2010. And the factor showing the greatest decline over time is class rank, which dropped from 42 percent in 1993 to 22 percent in 2010.

This year, colleges ranked the following factors as having “considerable importance” in the admissions decision (keep in mind that the survey is slightly biased toward private colleges which were most likely to respond):

  1. Grades in college prep courses: 83.4% (86.5% in 2009)

  2. Strength of curriculum: 65.7% (70.7%)

  3. Admission test scores: 59.3% (57.8%)

  4. Grades in all courses: 46.2% (45.6%)

  5. Essay or writing sample: 26.6% (26.4%)

  6. Student’s demonstrated interest: 23% (20.7%)

  7. Class rank: 21.8% (16.3%)

  8. Counselor recommendation: 19.4% (17.1%)

  9. Teacher recommendation: 19% (17.4%)

  10. Subject test scores: 9.6% (7%)

  11. Interview: 9.2% (6.6%)

  12. Extracurricular activities: 7.4% (8.9%)

  13. Portfolio: 5.9% (8.4%)

  14. SAT II scores: 5.3% (5%)

  15. State graduation exams: 4.2% (3%)

Note that every college sets its own priorities within the framework of individual admissions philosophies. For example, the UVa admissions office focuses on

· Excellent performance in a rigorous secondary-school program
· Recommendation from guidance counselor and one teacher
· Extra-curricular involvement and honors
· Writing as demonstrated in the Admission Essays
· Results from the SAT I or ACT (with writing)
· Results from SAT Subject Tests (any two; strongly recommended)

Taking the time to understand what a college considers important in the admissions decision will give you a good idea of how well your credentials are likely to stack up against the competition.

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