Building the right college list requires knowing your precise chances of admission to colleges of varying levels of selectivity. Every year we are amazed at how many students base their chances of admission entirely on Naviance’s Scattergram function. While it plots where students stand on 2 data points relative to other students who were accepted or denied to a particular college, the first 4 foundational criteria colleges will consider may be more important.
To fully understand your chances for admission at highly selective colleges, you need to be thinking holistically across all 11 distinct yet interrelated criteria you will be evaluated on within your college applications. The first four will determine if you are in the game for admission, and the next 7 areas that are the keys to standing out in the admissions office.
5. Extra-curricular Resume
Colleges want intellectually curious, socially conscious and active students. Because they are interested in a well-rounded class, they actually prefer students who are “pointy” and develop a commitment to a few areas of deep interest (passion is the buzzword) as opposed to those who dabble in many.
Students should strategically prioritize their activities during upcoming school years and summers, but that does NOT mean trying to “look good for college.” This bears repeating: anything you are doing strictly for the purposes of building your resume will be more likely have the opposite effect of the one intended. Believe it or not, colleges are not going to care much about that 1 hour every other week you spend volunteering at the local hospital!
6. Application Essays
The essay required on the Common Application, also known as your personal statement, is a huge opportunity to show off your unique personality and character. The most compelling personal statements often sound more like mini short stories where we see the main character (that’s you!) in action. There are some topics that are cliché and probably best avoided, but students are often surprised to learn the amount of latitude they have. One essay partially responsible for a student’s acceptance
Additionally, most selective colleges have supplemental applications that ask students to write additional essays. Common topics ask students to write thoughtfully about their intellectual passions, ambitions, community, most meaningful activities and why they are a good fit for a particular college. These essays can add up fast (Stanford has 4, UC Berkeley 4, University of Michigan 3, Yale 5, Brown 8) and unfortunately, it’s not unusual for our students to have 25-35 all totaled.
7. Letters of Recommendation
Because you will never read these, it is one of the most frustrating aspects of the application process. Most high performing students receive good letters of recommendation, but it is easy to spot the ones that truly stand out. So much more than mastering the material, there are actually 16 different aspects of a student that teachers are asked to evaluate (maturity, respect of peers, reaction to setbacks to name just 3).
In any one of those areas are you one of the best in your class, the actual best in your class, or, one of the best your teacher has seen in his or her entire career? Inquiring admissions officers want to know! The good news is there are multiple ways to influence the quality of your LORs. Don’t underestimate the power of those forms they ask you to fill out, and choose wisely. If you think literature teachers write better letters than calculus teachers, that's because they usually do!
We know this is a lot to consider, but there are two words, above all else, to keep in the front of your mind when it comes to college admissions: Authenticity and Intellectual Vitality. When you have
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, covering the last 4 criteria that colleges consider when reviewing your application. In the meantime remember we are here to help, and you can generate an estimate of your probability of admission to your top choice college fill out the College Admission Calculator!