Positioning Your Student For Success – How Colleges Evaluate Applications

how colleges evaluate applicationsColleges have a defined demographic and budget they strive to achieve. By knowing these criteria in advance you can position yourself to be exactly what the college is looking for. There is no way to know exactly what requirements each school is looking for, but most schools fall into three basic categories. Each category has a range for the type of student their looking for. Let’s take a look at what type of student one needs to become to fit in those ranges.

  • Entry Level Schools– These schools usually will accept anyone with a high school diploma.  That doesn't mean however, that they lack the potential to provide someone a good education.  These are often trade schools and community colleges.  They often provide 2 year degrees that will be just fine for those looking for a mid-level job.
  • Mid Level Schools – Most schools fall into this range.  They are often your public colleges and state universities.  Most students will need a GPA from 2.5 – 3.5 and an SAT score between 1100 – 1400 to be competitive.  Because most students fall into this range, the need to demonstrate character and additional talents come into play.  Your curriculum, extracurricular activities, and personal achievements will help set you apart.
  • Private and Ivy League – These schools are highly competitive and tend to carry a hefty price tag.  A min GPA of 3.5 and SAT score above 1400 are usually benchmarks for acceptance.  Be assured that your level of character, writing ability, and devotion to education will need to be demonstrated.  Don't let that scare you off though; these schools are well worth it.

Decide what type of school you want to attend and become the type of student they are eager to except.

How Do You Know What They Are Looking For?  Just Ask!

They best way to determine what kind of student a school is looking for is to ask.  They will be happy to let you know who their preferred student looks like.  Tell them what kind of student you currently are and then ask for suggestions on how to better position yourself.  How is THAT for a competitive advantage?

Choosing A High School Curriculum

While GPA is the often the most important indication of a student’s success in college, the kinds of classes you take are not far behind. Students who challenge themselves by taking on the honor and AP classes are far more likely to be accepted over a student who has a slightly higher GPA with an easy class load. It is also important to look back at the chart above and consider what the schools minimum requirements are. The elite schools are looking for at least 3 years of science, 4 years of math, 3 years of foreign language, and advanced social studies courses. In fact, many mid-level schools are starting to require more advanced classes. As a general rule, don't be lazy and take the more challenging course when given the opportunity. This includes you Seniors! There isn't a single college out there that likes a senior who slacks off their last year. Colleges do see your last semester grades and view slack courses as a slack student.

How Colleges Evaluate Your GPA

Your GPA is the single greatest indicator for how you will weather a college curriculum. Protect your GPA at all cost.  I know many of you have stricter grading scales and are concerned colleges will only consider the score.  That is not true.  Colleges hire professionals to research the grading scales and quality of high schools across the country.  If you have a 92% grade average but only a 3.5 GPA, the school will recognize the gap difference. What is important is that you make sure this number is as high as possible.  If you have to give up shifts or quite the drama club to maintain excellence, do it.  Your rate of return will be far greater.

The Low-Down On Standardized Tests

Because the value of an education ranges from high school to high school, colleges use standardized test to determine how students compare to other students throughout the country. DO NOT take these tests lightly. There are two main tests that colleges often look at, the ACT and SAT.  In terms of positioning yourself, do whatever it takes to own, dominate, and crush these tests. Also, make sure you know what the average scores are for the colleges your applying to and which test they prefer. Some schools prefer the ACT over the SAT because they test for different things.  The ACT tests your accumulative knowledge while the SAT tests your logic and reason ability.

Extracurricular Activities and Community Service

These two areas help determine the type of character a student has. It is not enough for colleges to recruit academically qualified students. Colleges are determined to recruit students with exceptional character and integrity. These can also help them determine other characteristics such as how disciplined you are, your leadership abilities, and your desire to make a difference. When considering what activities to participate in, keep in mind that colleges are not looking for students who do a little of everything. They prefer students who participate in a few activities for an extended period of time and who rise to leadership positions. They would rather see commitment than a laundry list of clubs you signed up for.  Strive to hold leadership roles whenever possible and be active in your community.  Many organizations will provide you with hour vouchers to put on your resume.  Be sure to ask for these when you’re doing volunteer work.

Special Talents

If you have a special talent you wish to pursue in college such as athletic skills, drama, or music ability, be diligent and committed to excellence.  Contact schools early and let them know who you are.  Many schools have summer programs you can take or help run that will get you familiar with the right people.  We also recommend using technology to demonstrate your talents.  Record your music or video tape your sports games and send them to the appropriate people.  Get a website!  There are many free social media sites that let you put your talents on display.


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