“What Do Selective Colleges Look For in an Applicant?”
• Selection colleges look for what the student will add to the college; and what kind of impact the student will have.
• The best applicants are interesting, dynamic applicants; the ones who are achieving and contributing in the classroom, pushing their professors; and raising the level of discussion in the classroom.
• Impressive combined scores on the SAT are over 2250; SAT scores of 750CR, 630M are more impressive for highly selective colleges than a 640CR, 780M–even though the latter score has a higher combined total by forty points; because the math section is easier than the Critical Reading section. To stand out on the SAT a score of 740 and over on each section is needed; or at least a Critical Reading score over 730.
• SAT Subject Tests give a standard that can be applied across the entire country; for this reason the Subject Tests are equalizers in the admissions process. The function of Subject Tests is either to back up all the evidence present in the file or to contradict the evidence. With the Subject Tests admissions officers see how strong the high school is, how qualified the teachers are, and how well the student has covered the material. Doing well shows academic strength against the national pool of applicants.
• Students should take as many AP or IB courses as possible so that it looks like the student is choosing the most challenging curriculum possible.
• Top students will not be seen as competitive if they take only three AP or honors classes; even if they have higher grades than a person taking a more demanding schedule of classes. Some high schools count all their coursework as honors and therefore limit the number of APs a student can take. Officers consider a student against the context of what is available.
• The high school transcript is the single most important piece of the application. Students with very high standardized test scores and C grades are turned down by highly selective colleges.
• Admissions Officers prefer a concise recommendation; letters are important because they let colleges see the student behind the grades and numbers. Officers ask: What would this student add to the classroom? If a student has high scores and a top rank but both teacher recommendations say that the student doesn’t work up to potential the student will likely be rejected. Many students are rejected because they are diligent, but do not show extra spark that sets them apart. In half the letters it’s clear from the boxes and the comments that the student is fine, but not a standout. Officers look at the student’s academic side and intellectual potential. The purpose of the teacher recommendations is to give a snapshot of the student’s participation in class, interest in learning, level of achievement relative to other students, and overall academic ability compared to other students. They are also used to confirm or deny academic trends seen in other parts of the application, such as testing, grades, rank, and other recommendations. Teacher recommendations can make or break a close case.
“How Do Colleges Make Their Decisions?”
• Colleges look at high school rank in class and combined averages of SAT Is and IIs scores.
• Most selective colleges use two ratings for each student; an academic ranking and an extracurricular/personal rating. This is written as a fraction, academic over extracurricular -personal. For example, if a school has a 1 to 9, with 9 representing the highest rating, a student could receive a combination from a 1/1 to a 9/9. Using this 1 to 9 scale, a 5 would be the average applicant in the selective college pool.
• Selective colleges give more weight to the academic ranking than to the extracurricular- personal rating–between 70 and 85 percent of the final decision will be based entirely on the academic ranking. This academic ranking is directly proportional to high school achievement and standardized testing scores.
• A highest ranking student, for example a 9 out of a 9, in other words the best applicants, represents the top 1 percent of the total number of applicants and show a love of learning and the pursuit of intellectual endeavors in school along with academic initiative outside the classroom. These students take college courses or follow up on their interests by means of special projects, research, and independent study involving extensive reading and writing. They explore a wide range of subjects, from astronomy and classical archaeology to zoology, impelled by their curiosity. They are valedictorians or salutatorians and have taken challenging honors/AP classes. They have the potential to become leaders in the academic/intellectual fields after college.
• Extracurricular-personal ratings of 8 and 9 are extraordinary students who have overcome extreme hardship to attain a high level of leadership and involvement, or just have truly extraordinary accomplishments for a senior in high school