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What Criteria Do Colleges Consider When Evaluating First-Year Undergraduate Applications?

Here is a typical evaluation checklist used when reviewing a prospective applicant:

Academic Rigor: Colleges will compare your transcript to your school profile to determine the rigor of your course load and whether you have taken advanced courses or challenged yourself with college courses. Not all A's are equal - An A in an AP course is different from an A in photography.

GPA: Every college has its own method for recalculating GPA - Students need to find out what that is by contacting their Admissions for every college. For example, the University of Washington does not consider Weighted GPA. So every applicant is evaluated based on their Unweighted GPA. Students must ask each Admissions Counselor specifically, Will your school:

  • Consider my weighted or unweighted GPA.

  • Consider 9th - 11th-year grades

  • Recalculate my GPA using 10th - 11th-year grades.

  • Recalculate my GPA using 10th - 11th year and 12th first semester grades

  • Recalculate my GPA using core class grades only (Science, English, Math & Social Sciences)

Test Scores: AP as well as SAT and ACT. Colleges will look at sub-scores, for example, Math, if you plan to study computer science, engineering, business, or science.

Extracurricular Activities: Evaluate the student's involvement in extracurricular activities, including clubs, sports, community service, and work experience. Look for evidence of leadership, initiative, and a well-rounded approach to life.

Essays and Personal Statements: Read the student's essays and personal statements to gain insight into their character, values, and aspirations. Consider their writing style, creativity, and ability to express themselves clearly and effectively.

Recommendations: Review the student's letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, and other adults who know them well. Look for evidence of the student's academic potential, personal qualities, and character. LORs from a philanthropy or job will stand out.

Demonstrated Interest: Contact with Admissions Counselors, Campus Tour, Virtual Information Session, Virtual Tour, Open House, Special Department Session. Also, colleges track if you have read their emails or deleted them without reading them, and they track how long it takes an applicant to set up their college portal after they receive the email confirming their application has been received.

Interview (if applicable): If an interview is part of the admissions process, evaluate the student's communication skills, enthusiasm, and ability to articulate their thoughts and ideas. Students should reach out and request, at minimum, a Zoom appointment with every Admissions Counselor.

Background and Context: Consider the student's background and context, including their socioeconomic status, family situation, and any obstacles or challenges they have overcome.

Fit with the College: Evaluate whether the student is a good fit for the college, taking into account the school's mission, values, academic programs, and institutional needs ( do they need another lacrosse player or cellist). Consider whether the student's interests, goals, and personality align with the college's culture and community.

Overall, evaluating a college application requires a holistic approach that considers multiple factors and considers each student as an individual with unique strengths and challenges.

Remember, Admissions Counselors/Admissions Readers skim applications and essays and make decisions every 5 to 15 minutes - not a lot of time. So, students must use demonstrated interest to set themselves apart. Many Admissions Counselors will ask to be the First Reader on applications for students they know and have had multiple interactions with.

So focus on what you can control.

You can control writing and finalizing your admissions essays over the summer before the start of your senior year, having multiple contacts with each Admissions Counselor and submitting all your college applications early.

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