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The Admissions Officer: What do they look for?

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Admissions officers are looking for students who are competitive as well as compelling. GPA, testing, teacher evaluations, extracurricular activities, essays and personal qualities are evaluated individually and then given an overall rating. This final rating is often the deciding factor. These individual factors are ranked in order of importance.

  • GPA. Admissions officers look at a student’s transcript first and foremost. Colleges believe that the transcript is the best predictor of future success. As admissions officers are analyzing the transcript, they are asking themselves two questions: How will this student perform in a college classroom? Has the student stretched themselves in the subjects that are most interesting to them?
  • Standardized testing. Some colleges today want to see all a student’s test scores. However, most colleges superscore which means that if a student takes the SAT three times (which is standard), then the college will look at their highest subscores – for critical reading, math, and writing. For the ACT, colleges look at the highest subscores as well which are the combined composite and combined English/writing subscore. These two tests are the most important though admissions officers will pay close attention to AP subject tests as well as SAT II subject tests.
  • Teacher Evaluations. For the most competitive colleges, these evaluations give admissions officers great insight into how a student will perform in a college classroom. Does the student raise the level of discourse in the classroom? Does the student seek out the teacher during office hours? Does the student read proactively outside the course syllabus? Admisssions officers are looking for those natually curious, inquisitive students who will add richess and color to the classroom environment.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Colleges are very interested in what students love to do outside the classroom. It doesn’t matter what your student loves to do. They could be a juggler, musician, athlete, or writer. Depth is more important than breadth. Think about a pyramid. Students in middle school start out with a wide array of activities. As they enter high school, these activies begin to narrow and focus. Students begin to go deeper into those areas they care about. Leadership roles enable a student to stand out.
  • Essays. For competitive students, essays can often separate the wheat from the chaff. When I worked at Stanford, I often saw an admit or deny decision based upon the strength of one 250 word essay. Admissions officers are looking for students who write well but more than that, they are looking for a glmpse into the life of the student. Who are they? What do they enjoy doing? What can they bring to campus? A unique story told in an interesting way makes for a compelling read.
  • Personal Qualities. Admissions officers get a very good sense of who a student is throughout their application. From teacher recommendations, they can determine if the student is a team player and helpful to fellow classmates. From their own essay, students can reveal more of their personality. Are they humble, confident, involved, and helpful to others? And interviews offer great insight as well.

I hope the above information gave you some insight into how your student’s file will be analyzed.

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