There are seemingly innumerable factors that go into every decision, whether it is an acceptance, deferral, waitlist, or rejection.
Many of these factors, however, are outside of a student’s control. Just a few examples include what high school a student attends, whether that student is the first generation in their family to attend college, if the student can be “full pay”, and a student’s racial or ethnic background.
The college preparation process can already be stressful enough without worrying about these factors that are beyond a student’s control. That is why we always encourage students and parents to focus on what is in a student’s control.
There are really five factors in a student’s control.
- Academic grades and rigor
- Standardized test scores
- Extracurricular pursuits
- Recommendation letters
- Applications and Essays
Our goal is to briefly summarize and highlight the importance and role of each of these factors.
Academic Grades and Rigor
By far and away the most important factor in college admissions is a student’s academic grades and rigor. Not only are admissions officers looking for students who have excelled in their coursework, but they are looking for students who have challenged themselves by taking rigorous courses (AP, IB, and Honors courses).
This means that course selection is an important conversation each year. Students must find the optimal balance in earning as high of grades as possible while also challenging themselves.
Standardized Test Scores
While there has been a trend towards Test-Optional admissions policies in recent years (hastened by the pandemic), standardized tests still have a significant value in college admissions. Like higher grades, higher test scores not only increase a student’s chances of being accepted, but also qualify the student for more merit scholarship money.
The SAT and ACT are the primary standardized tests that students will need to focus on, but AP exams also play a role in adding context to a student’s grades.
When so many students applying to the most competitive colleges all have similar grades, rigor, and test scores, factors like extracurricular pursuits, recommendation letters, and applications/essays are where students can stand out.
Extracurricular pursuits include everything from afterschool activities to community service to internships/jobs to hobbies to family obligations — and more. What is most important is that students embrace their authentic selves. At Ivy Experience, our mantra is “Better Person, Better Applicant.”
While 9th and 10th grades are prime times for exploration, by 11th grade students will hopefully be diving deeper into what pursuits matter most to them, such as by engaging in more meaningful ways or taking on leadership roles.
Generally, students will need a recommendation letter from their guidance/college counselor and two teachers. The common sentiment is that these teachers should be from academic subjects during 11th grade.
Applications and Essays
This is the one opportunity for students to share their voice with a college admissions officer.
Admissions officers are people — and people accept other people. The essays and other written components of college applications are students’ opportunities to open up with personal insights that allow admissions officers to connect with them and envision them on their college’s campus.