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What Do Colleges Look At?

When colleges are reviewing applications, they look to find students who can and will succeed in college and beyond. Colleges use your scores to judge your readiness to attend their school. Can you handle the rigor of their courses? Colleges also look to see if you could be notable alumni of their school. Are you someone who could win an Oscar or become a President? Below I’ve included factors that colleges look at closely when reviewing applications. Bare in mind, however, that individual colleges vary in the weight they give these factors. Not all colleges look at applications the same.

SAT & ACT Scores
Your score on the SAT or ACT is an important part of your application. These tests exist to give colleges a standard way to evaluate students because high schools have different curriculums, grading scales, and ways to evaluate students. With these tests, every student can be evaluated on the same scale. Colleges use your score to judge whether you can handle their courses or not. For most colleges, aim for a score above the 50th percentile SAT/ACT score of admitted students. Look at a school’s admission profile to figure out what that score is. However, for some colleges, these tests are optional and are not required for admittance. A test-optional admissions policy means applicants can choose not to submit SAT or ACT scores. The rules vary from college to college. You can usually find a college’s rules on its website. There are also schools that are test flexible. Schools that use a test-flexible admissions policy allow applicants to submit a variety of standardized test scores in support of their application. Students can submit scores from the SAT, the ACT, the SAT optional essay, or three exams of their choice from a given list provided by the school.

GPA & Transcript
Colleges look at your GPA and transcript to see what classes you chose to take and to see how well you did in those classes. To see if you’re ready, check out the admissions profile for your target school. For students interested in top tier colleges (like Harvard), when admissions officers look at your transcript/GPA, they’re hoping to see that you took the most difficult courses at your high school and that you exceeded in those courses. If you’re aiming to be accepted to a top tier school, try taking some AP courses. Top college admissions officers would rather see that you got a B in an AP course than an A in a non-AP course. Even if you’re not aiming for a top tier school, try taking some difficult courses so you stand out from the rest of the applicants! They want to see that you’re challenging yourself and taking classes that you find interesting!

Getting involved in extracurricular activities shows the school that the applicant has diverse interests. All colleges like to see that you got involved in extracurriculars and especially like to see that you had a leadership role in your extracurriculars, like being an officer for a club. This shows that you can take initiative. Top tier colleges (like Harvard) want to see that you have a passion. It doesn’t matter what that expertise is, but whatever you choose, explore it deeply. If you like theater, join the drama club and if you like foreign affairs, join Model UN. Clubs like Model UN and DECA show that you not only have a passion, but that you’re learning in your extracurriculars as well.

Letters of Recommendation & Applicant Essay
Your letters of recommendation and personal essays show that you have the potential to succeed during and after college. You need to have great letters of recommendation that showcase who you are and what your passion is. Ask for your letter of recommendation early so that it is completed on time and ask teachers you know well to write your recommendation. That way your letter of recommendation is more personal than generic, which will make your letter of recommendation stand out from the others. It’s also important to have a variety of teachers writing your letters of recommendation, the best way to achieve that is having an academic professor write a recommendation and having a elective teacher write a recommendation. For example, you can ask your history teacher to write a recommendation and ask your drama teacher write a recommendation. That way admission officers see different perspectives of you. You want your personal essays to reveal who you are and what your passion is.