How Are Admission Decisions Made?

At most colleges, admission decisions are made holistically. But what does that mean? Learn from our experts.

CounselorRhiannon Schade
Director of College Counseling
Collegewise of Millburn

At most colleges, admission decisions are made holistically. But what does that mean? Essentially, it’s assessing a combination of factors to determine your academic readiness as well as your overall “fit” at the school.

Typically your high school classes, academic rigor, and grades are the most important factors in college admission decisions. What classes have you taken, exactly? To what degree have you pursued all core academic areas (English, math, science, social studies, foreign language)? Have you taken those courses at the most challenging level that is manageable to you (keep in mind you will not be penalized if AP or honors courses are not offered at your high school)?

Scores from standardized tests (like the ACT and SAT) also play a role in admission decisions at most colleges. When it comes to your academic credentials, it’s probably no surprise that the stronger they are, the more plentiful your college (and even scholarship) opportunities will be.

However, colleges also look at how you spend your time outside of class: Do you invest your time wisely? Do you have the capacity to care deeply about everything in which you are involved? Have you shown initiative? Then colleges look at your recommendations: Are you pleasant and engaged in the classroom? Are you intellectually curious? Are you determined?

Finally, admission officers will read your application essay and ask themselves whether or not you seem like the type of person who would fit in and do well at their institution. Your credentials are discussed and admission officers—sometimes individuals and sometimes by committee—arrive at a decision by considering all of the above factors.

CounselorTimothy Lee
Director of Undergraduate Admissions
University at Albany

When we review an application, a big part of the decision comes down to a few questions, including "Will the applicant be successful here?" and "Will the applicant take advantage of all the opportunities at the university?" Keep these in mind as you're completing your application and essay.

John ChopkaJohn Chopka
Vice President for Enrollment Management
Messiah University

While admission counselors enjoy seeing the common “stats” that a student reports (test scores, grade point average, class rank, etc.), we also appreciate knowing what motivates a student to learn. Behind all of the statistics and lists of activities and achievements is a real person with goals and dreams. Students who are able to articulate who they are and what they hope to become will catch the eye of an admission committee. It is important for students to be genuine and true to themselves in what they present in college application materials. A little creativity does not hurt!

For more advice from our experts, visit our Ask the Experts—College Admission section!

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