You don’t need to dive into college stats and research to know how competitive admissions have become. The college admissions landscape only grows more complex each year – and with that, more shrouded with misconceptions. Different sources sometimes point to different facts and conclusions about the application process. We understand the frustration all too well, and have put together an FAQ on college admission requirements to clear up the confusion.
What if my grades are below the college’s published grade range? Should I still apply?
Those grade ranges that colleges publish are only averages – not cutoffs. On top of that, colleges also look at grade trends. For instance, if your grades are not yet within range but are trending upwards, they'll take that into account too. So don’t look to those ranges as a deciding factor on where to apply. Colleges also recognize that it’s a holistic process and have moved away from using grades to filter down applicants. With that being said, if you’re far below those average grades, you’ll need to put in the work to pull your grades up.
Many top colleges don’t make the SAT/ACT a requirement, does that mean I don’t HAVE to take it?
Different high schools have different grading systems – colleges look to standardized tests to make grade assessments. Most, if not all top colleges will highly recommend the SAT/ACT as well as SAT subject tests. Savvy applicants should look at all ‘highly recommended’ application criteria as ‘REQUIRED’.
How should I plan my courses? Are more AP courses better?
A common mistake we see students making is to take every AP course under the sun – more is not always better. Don’t take too many courses to the point where you don’t have time for anything else, like say, lunch – or to the point where your grades start slipping. It’s always a good idea to take four years of selective core courses, but it's also always a good idea to strike a good balance between rigor, performance, and of course, capacity.
How much importance do colleges place on foreign language courses?
While colleges won’t write you off if you don’t have a foreign language course under your belt, you are at a big disadvantage without one. Colleges look for intellectual individuals who demonstrate global awareness, cultural respect, and a genuine curiosity that could someday lead to reform in the world. Following through on a foreign language course also demonstrates perseverance through a difficult process.
In a time where every applicant seems to have a comprehensive list of extracurricular activities, how do I stand out?
Having too many extracurricular activities could actually hurt you. Colleges are not looking for students who dabble in a little bit of everything. Colleges look for students who have demonstrated focused interest in a specific field. Think about it this way – if asked to speak about your extracurricular activities, will you be able to speak passionately about them or will you simply be reciting a list of things you do outside of class. It’s not about the quantity or titles you hold, it’s about the impact you create within those activities and how well they align with your actual interest.
What are some of the most critical admissions criteria to get a head-start on?
Completing your testing and finalizing a college list should ideally be done by fall or winter of your junior year. This allows you to fully focus on your application come January of your junior year. Many students make the mistake of underestimating the process and waiting to start in summer. A college application is not something you want to rush.
How many colleges should I apply to?
We break up schools for our students into 4 categories – dream, reach, target, and likely. Typically, you should apply to somewhere around 12 colleges and make sure to balance out those 4 categories of schools. However, if you’re shooting for highly selective schools, you’ll want to apply to more than 12.
How do I make my application essay truly stand out?
A common mistake we see students making is to underplay or underestimate something they’ve done. You don’t need to have started a business or overcome poverty to have a worthy story to tell – one of our best pre-med students even wrote an essay about making a cheesecake!
Think about an experience that means something to you, the effect it had on you, and the impact you made. Think about the character trait you want to showcase in your essay and connect it to what you want to study. And before you write your essay, be sure to take a step back to look at the big picture - determine what exactly you're trying to convey through your essay before putting pen to paper.
How do I get great letters of recommendation?
Students underestimate how much they can affect the quality of their own letters of recommendation. You may think that the person you’ve approached knows you well and will remember your accomplishments, but it’s up to you to ensure the person highlights the details about you that will complement your application. This is not the time to be shy – be meticulous about your brag sheet. Make sure that it brings into focus your skills, behaviors, and accomplishments. This will help the person writing your letter to not only remember positive attributes, but also inform them of things they might not have otherwise known about you or your experiences.
Are there any changes in the admissions process in 2019 and beyond to keep in mind of?
The admissions process is quickly becoming more and more character-based. Test scores, while still important, are being emphasized less. Colleges have new screening procedures that cut through bias. Committees are moving away from the days of having one initial reader filter out applications.
It’s become a more holistic process that evaluates many interrelated criteria. Colleges can now predict outcomes better than they used to. When evaluating applications, they look for indicators of character such as reaction to setback, grit, maturity, compassion, and curiosity to name a few. Focus on finding opportunities to showcase traits that indicate future success.