After talking to a few educational consultant friends, I can confidently say that there is no “standard recipe” to making a strong college application. The factors that determine a guaranteed admission differ between schools and even between years. There are however, 5 main categories that colleges will consistently take note.
GPA & Academics
These of course, are always reviewed and valued. High GPA’s and high level courses shine brightly on any application. The more prestigious of a school, the more this criteria will hold weight.
Test Scores (SAT/ACT/AP)
Grades won’t get you into college alone. Test scores are almost as important. SAT, ACT, SAT II Subject Tests, and AP/IB scores are another assessment tool for admissions directors. Scores are wanted within the 75th to 85th percentile of SAT/ACT scores amongst other applicants. SAT II, AP and IB scores show aptitude and capability in a specialized field. For instance, if the student is applying as a chemistry major, she would want to have taken AP Chemistry and the SAT Chemistry Subject Test.
More does not equal better. Extracurriculars include and are not limited to, sports, music, film, art, dance, clubs, volunteer work and jobs/internships. Admissions directors want to see a focused application – the exams taken for your major and consistency in your passions. It looks good for an English major to be involved in a book club, volunteer at a library or publish his own blog. It is best to have 3-5 activities to show. It is not a good idea to include extracurriculars in order to “beef up” the application – that could work against you. Stay focused and committed to your passions and skills.
The personal statement and essays are the areas to expose your history, personality, uniqueness, passions and goals. Usually, you may write about anything as long as it relates to the prompt. Show determination, commitment, interest and of course good writing skills. It is a good idea to spend some side time researching each school to which are applying and extrapolate the kind of candidate for which they are looking.
Teacher recommendations help to give admissions an opinion of how you interact with peers and authorities. This category is important for giving the human vision of you. In addition, colleges always want to know about awards, accolades, and any circumstances that show that you are extraordinary.
Strong college applications will have all 5 of these categories – at the least. College applications are not something to rush. You must give a shining first impression through paper. This is a time to get some help from a teacher, tutor, professional, or family member. Be detailed, re-read and edit several times before sending to your colleges of choice. A well written application with passion, dedication and responsibility will be a great start.
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