What Does it Take to Get into College?

Each year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) publishes their industry report: “State of College Admissions.” This is a fantastic resource for parents and their college-bound students. NACAC solicits feedback from high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers in an effort to find out how, exactly, universities make their admissions decisions. In other words, what does it take to get admitted to college in 2018? With the Harvard case making recent headlines, more and more counselors, parents, teachers, and students are wondering what colleges consider when determining which students to accept and which to deny; is there a magic formula? The NACAC Admission Trends Survey asked responders to rank criteria for admission. Here are the top seven factors (the % is the number of colleges indicating “considerable importance” for the criteria):

  1. Grades in All Courses 80.9%
  2. Grades in College Prep Courses 70.8%
  3. Admission Test Scores (ACT & SAT) 52.3%
  4. Strength of Curriculum 51.2%
  5. Essay or Writing Sample 16.7%
  6. Students Demonstrated Interest 15.5%
  7. Counselor Recommendation 10.8%

Other factors all weighed in at less than 10% including: work, interview, and extracurricular activities. It should come as no surprise that the major factor for admission is academic performance. When it comes to more personal factors, the survey notes that first-generation status weighs in at 4.2%; this is equal to race, ethnicity, and gender combined. It is interesting to note a few trends in the last decade of NACAC’s findings between 2007 and 2017: “Grades in All Courses” increased in importance by 30%; “Class Rank” decreased by more than 50%; and “Teacher Recommendation” decreased by 66%. Clearly, academic record increasingly trumps all other factors. Ultimately, there is no magic formula, unless we consider that formula to be consistently strong academic performance, solid test scores, a stellar admissions essay, and an applicant who demonstrates interest. Of course, every institution has different standards and metrics by which they judge these criteria and students need to find the school that best fits their abilities, interests, and personality.


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