GPA and test scores are the most quantifiable aspects of a college application. This makes them easy to compare–and may explain why applicants tend to place so much emphasis on them.
While these ARE important, they’re not the only things that colleges consider when reviewing your application.
In fact, just consider that many schools will receive thousands of applications from academically qualified students–often many times the number they will actually admit.
So, how do they narrow down their list and ultimately decide who will be accepted? They look for students with more to offer than just good grades and test scores.
Many factors come into play during the admissions process:
Rigor of course load
Colleges don’t just want to see that you’ve gotten good grades. They want to see that you pushed yourself to succeed in difficult subjects. AP, honors, and college courses show admissions officers you’re passionate about learning and ready to take on the challenge that is college coursework.
There’s a reason colleges ask you to list all your extracurricular activities on your application. The things you do outside of the classroom show that you’re an interesting, engaged, and well-rounded person. Extracurriculars include activities like music, sports, volunteer work, and academic clubs.
Typically, admissions officers are looking for your dedication to one or two activities. They have gone on record, time and time again, that they would prefer to find a student who is dedicated and passionate about a few things, rather than a student who is only marginally involved in a number of activities.
So, if possible, find your passions early and be deeply involved throughout your academic career; however, everyone also recognizes that young people often make discoveries about themselves and their interests as they get older, so don’t be afraid to go out and try new activities. When you find something you like, pursue it!
Your admissions essays
Essays are a great way to help colleges get to know you. College essays are your chance to make an impression, particularly in an area that might not otherwise be reflected in your application or on your transcript..
Along with your extracurricular involvement, this is the best way for a college admissions officer to really find out what you are passionate about and what motivates you. Choose your essays very carefully, and make sure that they are unique to you as a person.
Letters of recommendation
Admissions officers are interested in what people who know you in an academic setting have to say about you. The most meaningful letters come from those who know you well.
Trends in your academic record
Did you get less-than-stellar grades your freshman year of high school? Don’t worry too much. Showing you’ve matured and improved your academic performance during high school indicates to colleges you’re willing to rise to the occasion. Similarly, if there is a hiccup somewhere on your transcript for a particular reason, take the time to explain it. If you had an illness or other crises in your life that affected your grades, communicate that to the admissions offices.
Your interest in a college
Colleges want to accept students who are interested in them, simply because they are more likely to enroll and be happy, involved members of their campus community.
That’s why showing interest in a college–taking a campus tour, speaking to an admissions officer, or submitting an inquiry form on their website–before you apply can work in your favor. These actions indicate to a college that you’re seriously considering them.
Colleges do care about your academic performance, but they’re also interested in who you are as a person. Instead of stressing about a tiny aspect of your application, try to focus on the big picture and present your strengths to the college.