What Do Colleges Look For in Students?

By CollegeData

It may seem top secret, but colleges are perfectly willing to reveal their most important admission factors.

Colleges typically consider grades in tough courses most important in admissions. But what else do colleges look for? According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), colleges list the following admission factors as the most important.


What are the Most Important Factors in College Admissions?

Grades in college prep courses

It’s no surprise that whether or not a student is admitted to college has a lot to do with grades and test scores. Most colleges will consider your grade in college prep courses the strongest sign of your ability to do well in college. If you perform well in your AP courses, it suggests that you have the ability to take on the college workload. Even if you struggled early in your high school career, colleges will look favorably upon strong improvement in subsequent years.

Strength of curriculum

Colleges look for students who took the most challenging courses available to them and how well you perform in each class. Some high schools don’t offer many college prep classes. If that is the case for your high school, admissions officers will take this into account.

Admission test scores

Your SAT and/or ACT scores usually count highly if the college requires them. Scores from SAT Subject Tests, AP tests, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams may also be important, especially to more selective colleges. To best prepare for your tests take a college test prep course or buy a prep book. This will help you study and determine the best way for you to conquer your test and receive the best score possible.

Grades in all courses

Your overall GPA also serves as an indicator of your academic success in high school. Colleges may look at your transcript to get an idea of how you performed in your classes. A transcript is a list of every class taken throughout high school and the grade received in each class.



How to Get Into a Good College: The Next Most Important Factors

Extracurricular commitment

Colleges pay attention to your involvement in extracurricular activities. But what counts most to colleges is how long and how deeply you have been committed to one or two of those interests. This could be sports, clubs, music groups, or various other activities. They take into account the leadership roles you have held, what you accomplished, and how much time you committed to the activity.

Letters of recommendation

Many colleges require recommendation letters from your teachers and high school counselor. Other colleges may require additional letters from individuals who know you well and can provide insight into your academic abilities, character, and personality.

Essay or writing sample

Many colleges will ask you to submit an essay or personal statement and some will require you to answer additional questions with shorter essays. Here is your opportunity to put your personality into your application. A well-written essay can tip a decision in your favor and a poorly written one can do the opposite.

Demonstrated interest

Going on a college visit, talking with admission officers, or doing an enthusiastic interview can call attention to how much you really want to attend. Applying for an early decision may also make a good impression.

Class rank

Colleges that use this factor want to see how much competition high school students had to face to achieve rank. Fewer and fewer colleges are giving class rank much importance. There may be many reasons, but fewer than half of high schools now track class rank.



Do all colleges use the same criteria when admitting students?

Colleges don’t all consider the same factors when deciding whether or not to admit prospective students. Talk to a college counselor to learn about what your school of choice considers before accepting students. This can help you be prepared for college applications and interviews. Listed below are some examples.

  • Liberal arts colleges, which encourage students to study broadly, may give factors such as essays and demonstrated interest considerable weight.
  • Highly selective colleges attract thousands of outstanding students. These colleges typically look to the "moderately important" factors to make their decisions.
  • At very large universities, some admission decisions may be made solely based on GPA and test scores.

Colleges consider many factors when admitting students. Remember that different colleges take different factors into consideration during the admissions process. After learning these college admission secrets, do some research about the schools you are applying to and find new ways to stand out!

Search 2,000+ colleges by name or personal preferences, including location, size, cost, acceptance rate, majors, diversity, graduation rates, and more!

Related Blog Posts

The CollegeData blog is for general informational purposes and may or may not apply to your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content contained in, on or in connection with the CollegeData blog without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content in, on or in connection with the CollegeData blog.

1st Financial Bank USA, the provider of the CollegeData website and blog, does not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above, on its official social media channels, or elsewhere. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

Due Dates Matter!

Download our mobile app to help you organize and remember them.

Apple download on the app store icon Google play download on the google play store icon