Answers to Some of the Most Common College Admissions Questions
Recently, IvyWise CEO and founder Dr. Kat Cohen stopped by the TODAY Show to talk about what college students should include in their college applications. A lot of great questions came up, and we want to make sure families are armed with the knowledge they need to succeed. Many of these questions and concerns stem a lack of clarity or understanding of the college admissions process. At IvyWise, we strive to help families demystify the college application process and guide students on how to put their best foot forward when it comes time to apply.
Here are some frequent college admissions questions and answers that can help you better understand and navigate the college admissions process.
What’s the most important factor that colleges look at when evaluating college applications?
Arguably, every part of your application is extremely important, as all components come together to paint a picture of who you are as a person and student. However, according to a survey by NACAC, grades are most important to college admissions officers. After all, you are going to college to learn, and they want to make sure you can thrive in a demanding academic environment. Strive for an upward grade trend, meaning your grades improve (or remain As) each year as you take more challenging courses.
Admissions committees also evaluate students on the relative rigor of their courseloads. Of course, if you’re a student who tends to favor the humanities, but struggles with math, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should enroll in AP Calculus next semester, but rather, schools are looking to see that you’re challenging yourself, to the best of your ability, in your areas of academic interest.
I have good standardized test scores and grades, but I keep hearing that it’s not enough. What else do colleges look at?
When applying to college, it’s important to know how applications are evaluated. Colleges look at a variety of factors, including essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and more. Do your research and make sure you know what the colleges you’re applying to require.
More and more, colleges are also tracking a student’s demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest can come in many forms, including college visits, correspondence with the admissions office or your regional admissions counselor, and attendance at college fairs. The best way to show demonstrated interest in a school is to apply early.
Some schools will even track informed interest. For example, if you’re writing the “Why this college?” essay, talk about a specific course you’d like to take or a professor you would want to talk with. Show colleges that you’ve done your research. Treat every application like it’s for your top-choice school.
How do schools evaluate extracurricular activities?
Generally speaking, college admissions committees are looking to build a well-rounded student body made up of students with varying interests and specialties. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking for individuals who dabble in dozens of extracurriculars, but rather students who demonstrate a maintained and impactful involvement in the activities they’re most passionate about. Finding an area to specialize in is all about exploring your interests. It’s fine to test the waters with different activities during freshman and sophomore years, but as time goes on, deepen your commitment to the activities that really resonate with you by taking on a leadership role, or by seeking out related internships, community service opportunities or summer opportunities.
What is holistic review?
This means admissions officers place emphasis on the applicant as a whole person, not just his or her academic achievements, so soft factors may be given just as much consideration as the empirical data present in hard factors.
The different components of your application will be used to piece together a complete picture of who you are as a person and student. Colleges want to see how students will contribute to the community of the college, so admission isn’t not strictly about your grades or standardized test scores, though those are important. Letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, service and volunteer work, jobs, internships, interviews, and of course the college essay all help admission teams paint a complete picture of you – one that goes beyond test scores.
How much weight is placed on essays in the admissions process?
Essays are an excellent way for students to allow colleges to get to know them on a personal level. Key word: personal. When you’re writing your college essays make sure it sounds like you! Too many students treat it like a formal paper – or don’t take it seriously enough. Admissions counselors want to get to know you, so your essay should be very thought-out and reflect your voice.
In addition, make sure you’re giving admissions committees some new information that they can’t find elsewhere in your application. For colleges that don’t allow interviews, the essay is the only chance for them to get to know you, so use it wisely!
Essays are also a great way to demonstrate interest. When answering school-specific supplemental essays on the Common Application, make sure you’ve done thorough research and provide specific examples. Also, don’t forget to really put some thought and effort into those usual essay prompts!
I hear that colleges check on students through social media. Is that true?
A Kaplan survey found that 29% of admissions officers surveyed have used Google to search for an applicant and 31% visited an applicant’s Facebook or other social media profile. While some colleges do check on a student’s online presence, not all have the time or resources to check up on everyone – but it does happen.
Regardless of whether or not some of the schools you’re applying to will check on your online presence, it’s always a good rule of thumb to be conscious of what you’re posting. Does your online presence present you in the best light possible? Be sure to use
the “Grandma Test”: If you woudn’t want your grandma to see it, don’t post it! If you look through your social media profiles and notice some things that wouldn’t pass the Grandma Test, it’s time to clean up your profiles and be more aware of what your social media presence is saying about you.
What are some other common college admission questions you have? Tell us in the comments below!