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What Do Colleges Look For Besides Grades

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College Admissions 101: What Do Colleges Look For? | The Princeton Review

Applying to college can be an overwhelming process, especially if you’re trying to get into schools where competition is stiff. There are several common factors that most colleges consider when looking at potential applicants however, the key to acceptance isn’t just doing well. You want to show admissions officers what makes you stand out from the crowd.

What Do Colleges Look For Besides Grades

| Jun 21, 2022 10:28 AM

As any parent knows, students are so much more than their GPA. But theres no denying that grades matter when it comes time to apply to college. In a sea of thousands of college applications and countless data points, what stands out besides the grades on a students transcript?

The short answer is: quite a few things. In this post, well walk through key admissions criteria and how your teen can best showcase their skills, interests, and accomplishments on their college applications.

In recent years, the admissions game has become more competitive than ever. Top colleges receive tens of thousands of applications each year, and taking on that challenge can seem intimidating at the outset!

The good news is, there are strategies that students and their families can implement to make sure the application that gets dropped in the mail or uploaded to a university website is the very best it can be. And looking beyond grades alone is the perfect place to start.

What Do Colleges Look For In A Student

  • What Do Colleges Look for in a Student

What do colleges look for in a student? It’s one of the most commonly asked questions by high school students interested in attending a reputable college. But because students often have little understanding of what colleges look for in applicants, much of the stress as a college-bound high school student surrounds the admissions process.

With greater understanding as to what colleges look for in high school students, you can better prioritize your time, effort, and curriculum into the areas that matter most. In turn, you can maximize your potential in getting accepted to your top-choice colleges.

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Move Admissions Committees With An Excellent Personal Essay

Through the college essay, you are given a chance to tell your story and show your personality. With just 250 to 600 words, admissions officers can learn more about what makes you interesting and unique your goals, beliefs, habits, athletic or artistic skills, and personal experiences.

To nail your college essay, choose a topic that captures you in the best light. Then, tell a well-written and engaging story revealing strengths that arent already apparent in your application.

Colleges are looking for students with outstanding qualities and accomplishments, who will help create a rich, diverse campus community the essay is where you can prove thats you!

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Just Before You Submit Your Gpa

Good Colleges For 3.0 Gpa

Your high school may use an unweighted or a weighted GPA. No matter the case, you can rest assured that college admissions officers will not simply look at your GPA and make a decision based solely on the number that they see on your transcript they will also look at academic rigor in order to be able to put your GPA into context.

So, in other words, taking honors or AP or IB classes can make a world of difference in the admissions outcome.

Above, we talked about the key differences between unweighted and weighted high school GPAs as well as the things closely related to them that can impact your college application.

No matter the GPA system your high school uses, the colleges and universities you apply to will recalculate your GPA and consider the rigor of your course load separately. This only means that you should not feel disadvantaged in the admissions process just because your high school uses an unweighted instead of a weighted GPA or vice versa.

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Manage Your Online Reputation

Admissions officers are increasingly checking applicants’ social media presence to learn more about them and to look for red flags that might deter them from extending an acceptance. Make sure your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and are free of content you wouldn’t want colleges to see while you’re applying.

“It is important to have an appropriate email address, and social media accounts should be private,” advised Skeldon. You should also search your name on Google to ensure there’s nothing floating around online that could reflect negatively on you.

Dont Let Senioritis Affect Your Grades

As you get closer to graduating high school, you may become afflicted with senioritis. Senioritis is a term thats used to describe the lack of motivation that students in their senior year may feel.

Although it may be hard to spot if you have senioritis based on your level of motivation, you may notice:

  • A drop in grades
  • That you are skipping class
  • That youre submitting subpar assignments

If you feel indifferent about earning an A or a D , then you may have senioritis. Besides being involved in what youre learning and putting in the effort, knowing the value of your senior year grades can help you overcome senioritis.

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What Grades Do Colleges Look At

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 7/27/22

Which grades do colleges look at the most? If youâre wondering how colleges will evaluate your transcript, read on to learn more!

If you want to attend a top college, exceptional grades can help you get accepted. But the question is: what grades do colleges look at? Simply put, the answer is all of them.

Colleges use your unofficial transcript to review your final grades. Itâs always a good idea to maintain a steady and high GPA throughout high school if you want a high cumulative GPA by graduation. This article will explain which grades colleges look at year by year.

Dazzle The Dean With Your Talents And Passions

Secrets of College Admissions: A Complete Guide to Make You Stand Out from Other Applicants

Your profile will be more impressive to colleges if you show that youre truly committed to your passion projects.

Admissions committees are curious to see how your personal interests fuel your drive and work ethic. So if youre deeply invested in a video game league, a church event, or a comic book zine, dont be afraid to own it in your application.

TIP: Youll stand out even more if you go that extra mile and add a portfolio or a video that exhibits your abilities to your application.

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Impress Colleges With Your High School Gpa And Class Rank

Like it or not, getting into college is mostly a numbers game. In the eyes of the admissions committee, your high school grades predict your future academic performance. Its likely that your transcript will be carefully reviewed.

Consistently high grades are important because they demonstrate your persistence to excel academically. But dont panic selection committees wont expect perfection. You may not have straight As, but if you took challenging classes and did well, that may be just as impressive to the admissions officer a B+ in calculus will say more than an A in algebra 1.

Along with grades, some colleges look at your class rank because they want to know how you fared compared to your classmates.

Gpa: Are My Freshman Year Grades Important

Ones freshman year grades are important, but not in the way that one might expect. Colleges are generally more forgiving of low grades received in ones freshman year. So, although colleges look at freshman year grades, it is from a more holistic viewpoint. While low grades in freshman year wont drastically decrease your chances of getting into colleges, low grades in other years might. This is especially so during your sophomore or junior years.

So, if you received low grades in your freshman year, your best bet is to show drastic improvement in the next three years . Everyone loves the underdog and colleges do too.

With that said, however, we want to clarify that its in your interest to do your best freshman year. While colleges are generally forgiving of students who show improvement after freshman year, low grades are still not ideal even if a student does improve. So, if you can, certainly try to keep your grades up in freshman year .

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Show Colleges A Real Interest In Their Offering

In your application, express your interest in a specific degree program, the colleges core values, or the extracurricular activities the school offers. Colleges look for students who want to be there, so make it clear why youre drawn to the particular school where youre applying.

If youre an aspiring literature student, you could talk about how the colleges literature program is considered among the best in the country or how a particular professor impressed you with their published work. If a college debate teams great track record piqued your interest then discuss your intentions of joining.

You can also prove your interest by scheduling a campus visit early on, actively reaching out to the admissions officers, and applying for early action or early decision enrollment.

What Do Colleges Look For In Their Applicantsspecifically

4 Secrets to Make your College Application Stand Out

You know that you need to be a good student to get into the college of your choice, but what does that really mean? Its so important to understand what colleges want and what your high school transcript and extracurricular activities say about you. Its also important to know this early so that you can make choices throughout your high school career that convey what you really want.

Virtually all colleges will tell you that there is an important factor in evaluating your admissions application in fact, three, but before sharing those three items with you, its important to understand what the college itself is trying to accomplish. They want to do more than admit good students. Colleges see themselves as communities, and they want students who will strengthen that sense of community. So, to be prepared to do college-level work is not enough. Colleges will want to know what else you bring with you to enhance this sense of community.

They will look at you as a whole person, not just as a student.

Now that you know what colleges want, here is how they will evaluate you to see if you add value to their campus community:

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Detailed Letters Of Recommendation

If you suspect that admissions counselors can tell the difference between a recommendation letter written by a teacher, coach, or community leader who barely knows your student and one written by someone who knows your teen very well, youd be 100% correct.

With that in mind, encourage your teen to get to know the leaders who are in a position to sing their praises in a rec letter. And no, that doesnt just mean knowing their favorite color or beverage from Starbucks.

Teens should show effort and investment, particularly in the areas that matter most to them, by doing things like engaging with teachers during office hours, asking for feedback and pointers from their coaches, and in other words showing their genuinely great qualities in a way that can make a difference in class or on the field. That way, the letter writer will have plenty of specifics to describe, and those make all the difference.

Ap And Honors Classes

Being able to show prospective colleges that you challenged yourself academically is important. Admissions officers will look at AP, honors, International Baccalaureate and other college prep classes you take in high school to see how well you handled the course load as this is a good indicator of how you’ll do in college.

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Ap Exam Scores And Admissions Tests

If you apply to a more selective college, however, you should also focus on achieving high AP exam scores. The College Boardâs AP exam table shows the college course grade equivalent for each score:

Your SAT or ACT scores are also crucial if the college requires them. Hiring an expert SAT or ACT tutor can help you achieve the best score possible.

Are Grades All That Matter For College


The grades that universities look at are a huge component of your applications, but they arenât the only thing that matters. Some colleges donât even require SAT or ACT scores anymore either.

When applying to colleges, other factors can help increase your chances of getting accepted. Itâs crucial to show your personality in your application, as it shows that you would make a great addition.

Itâll help if you come across as capable, hard-working, and kind. Some other things that colleges tend to take into consideration are as follows.

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Criteria Weighed By Admissions Committees

Now that you know the standard that graduate faculty are looking for in selecting new graduate students, let’s look at how faculty weigh the various criteria for admission. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer each graduate admissions committee is a bit different. Generally speaking, the following criteria are important to most admissions committees:

  • Undergraduate GPA
  • Recommendation letters
  • Personal statement/essay

Sure, you knew these things were important, but let’s talk more about why and the part they play in admissions decisions.

Opt For An Early Admission Plan

If you’re committed to attending a specific college, research shows that applying early can raise your admission chances. That’s because colleges generally admit a higher percentage of students during their early decision and early action rounds.

“Early action is beneficial for so many reasons, and I always push my students to apply this way if the school offers it,” said Skeldon.

Both plans require you to apply early, usually sometime in November. You can expect to receive an admission decision earlier as well, typically in December. Whereas early decision is a binding agreement meaning you are committing to attend that institution should you get admitted early action does not bind you to a single school.

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Secure Strong Letters Of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation hold a lot of significance because they reveal aspects of your character that your grades and test scores can’t. This is why you should aim to ask people who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and attitude with positivity and enthusiasm.

Most colleges require 1-3 recommendation letters, typically from teachers and a high school guidance counselor.

Be polite when making the request. In addition, be sure to ask at least a month before your college application deadlines. You want your recommender to have ample time to compose a strong letter on your behalf.

What Do Colleges Care About Most

Weighted vs Unweighted GPA

While its safer and preferable to do your best in each area, maintaining good grades in all classes should be your primary focal point. To really make your application sparkle, maintain those high grades even in difficult courses. Colleges want to see that you can excel in challenging situations.

To give you an even clearer idea of what colleges are looking for, have a look at the top five admissions factors that the universities consider:

  • Grades in all courses
  • Grades in college prep courses
  • Strength of curriculum
  • Standardized test scores
  • Personal essay or writing sample
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    Nothing Will Ever Beat The Value Of Hard Workperiod

    Do what you enjoy, find your interests, and pursue them with some depth. You will never be able to guess what particular colleges want or need. However, if you define yourself as someone who is passionate and hardworking, rest assured there are schools out there that will value that and want you to join their community.

    The information on this page will hold true almost no matter where you go and what type of school you seek.

    Earn Good Grades In Challenging Courses

    A high GPA, combined with a challenging curriculum, is by far one of the most important admission factors for colleges.

    According to a 2019 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling , around 3 in 4 colleges surveyed considered grades in courses considerably important when making admission decisions.

    “A good GPA gets you through the first round,” said Christina Skeldon, college consultant and executive functioning coach at JBG Educational Group. “After that, I like to see something that makes the student stand out. What did they do outside the classroom? Who are they other than a student?”

    Over 80% of schools also considered rigor of curriculum at least moderately important, so try to take as many challenging courses as you can, especially during your junior and senior years. AP, honors, and IB courses are all solid options.

    ” like to see that students challenged themselves and took higher-level courses in areas that they are strong in,” explained Skeldon.

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    Myth : Essays Aren’t That Important

    After Time published a 2014 article on why college application essays don’t actually matter all that much, students began to fear that all their hard work on their statements wouldn’t mean much in the end, if at all.

    But while some colleges don’t require personal essays, most colleges do require at least one or two essaysand will place a decent amount of emphasis on it, especially if it is being used as a deciding factor between two otherwise equally qualified applicants.

    Even though you should approach the essay seriously, it’s still generally rare for an exceptionally well-written essay to make up for tons of low grades and poor test scores. On the flip side, if you have a great application but a badly written essay, that essay alone could get you rejected!

    Therefore, make sure that you are following all the steps listed above so you can craft the perfect statement for your application.

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