How Will Colleges Evaluate Me?

How colleges pull all these parts together and weigh them varies. For most colleges, the order of importance goes something like this:

  • Your academic record—the rigor of your curriculum, the grades you've earned, and the pattern of grades over four years

  • SAT or ACT scores (and to a much lesser degree SAT Subject Test scores)

  • Your personal qualities and extracurricular record as revealed in your application and essay (as well as through

  • comments in recommendations and interviews)

  • Letters from the school (teachers and counselor)

Any one of these factors, if unusually strong or unusually weak, can become more important than it might otherwise have been. Intellectual curiosity, motivation, discipline, creativity, originality, warmth of personality, self-awareness, maturity, thoughtfulness, and concern for others are all qualities that can be factored into a committee decision. In the end, however, it is subjective synthesis of all these factors, not a predictable formula that will determine admissions decisions.


One of the most difficult and frustrating things to accept about the world of highly selective admissions is that the schools are not just looking for qualified candidates. At the most selective schools, the vast majority of applicants are “well-qualified.” Many other factors, beyond the control of the individual candidate, can come into play in an institution’s final admission decisions. Perhaps over-enrollment in the previous freshman class means that a school must accept a smaller class this year. A dramatic increase in the number of applications this year means that the school must become even more selective. Each institution has enrollment goals that it tries to meet, whether it’s replacing a horn section in an orchestra, finding a goalie for the socc