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What Colleges Look For

Each year, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) surveys colleges and universities to determine the top factors influencing admission decisions. According to the 2003 Admission Trends Survey, the following factors, in order of importance, were:
  1. Grades in college prep courses and rigor of curriculum
  2. Admission test scores
  3. Grades in all subjects
  4. Class rank (We rank by decile)
  5. Essay/writing sample
  6. Counselor recommendation
  7. Teacher recommendation
  8. Interview if requested
  9. Community service
  10. Work/Extracurricular activities
A word about GPA
  • Most colleges/universities look for an upward trend or consistency in GPA.
  • If there’s a dip in GPA it should be explained (usually by college counselor).
  • Course load matters on the transcript. A 3.5 with many honors and AP courses matters more to selective schools than a 3.5 without them. Bottom line: colleges want to see that the student made the most of the curriculum offered at her/his high school.
  • Judge Memorial does not weight GPAs or rank numerially. We submit a decile ranking. We now also recalculate GPAs giving more weight to AP and Honors classes and have posted that on the student's transcript. A student's weighted GPA WILL appear on transcript for scholarship qualification.

Rank: We report the student’s place in deciles (e.g., top 10%) instead of assigning a specific number.

Test Scores: Must be sent by the student directly from the agencies. ACT: SAT:

The College Application Essay:  Admissions officers use the all-important personal statement or college essay to get a closer insight into aspects of the student that does not show up somewhere else in the application. 

Recommendations: The common application usually requires two teacher and one counselor letter of recommendation. For some state and public colleges, to help admissions committees distinguish among similar GPAs in the applicant pool, one letter is recommended. See web site or Family Connection to determine requirements.

Recommendations should balance out the application (if one from science, then one from math or English). Shows ability in multiple areas. (See Family Connection and under the About Me tab on the left side are the forms you should fill out to request counselor and teacher letters of recommendation.

Well-rounded: Admissions officers now seek the "well-rounded class" vs. the "well-rounded student." Students who have focused on one or two passions and followed through with a long-term commitment in them, perhaps attaining leadership status or a level of expertise, will make up a well-rounded class. It is not a good idea to join a multitude of activities to simply "pad the resume."

With these factors in mind, here are ways you can prepare yourself for the application process.

  • Seek out courses that challenge you. Colleges would rather see you get a lower grade in a more challenging course than go for the "easy A," although the most selective colleges will expect the best grades in the hardest courses.
  • Get to know your college counselors (Ms. Koles and Ms.Sawaya) and teachers on a more individual basis. These are the people who will be writing your recommendations!
  • Establish good study habits. Grades in the academic core areas (English, math, science, social studies, and foreign language) are the best predictors of success in college.
  • READ! Studies have shown that one of the best preparations for the college admission tests (ACT and SAT I) is to read as much as possible.