Want To Stand Out In the College Admissions Process? Read On.

 The following post was written by our Director of Client Services, Deb Coco.

What makes a student an appealing candidate?  The answers might surprise you . . .and it’s a very good reason to hire an independent college admissions consultant!

There was a time when  good grades (and I mean just “good”), solid SAT scores and a sport created a competitive college applicant.  Add legacy status to the equation and a solid student  becomes a “shoe-in.”  Those were the good old days.  The landscape has changed.  Applicant numbers are higher than ever before (not to mention costs) and the criteria for being a top candidate is not only more competitive than ever, but the list of what admission committees are looking for has shifted.

According to the IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association), the number one reason to hire a college counselor is that every school is looking for something different  . . . there is no one recipe that satisfies every college admissions professional.  And to complicate the strategy, some items that used to carry weight no longer matter as much.   The top factors that diminished in importance: being a legacy and having a huge array of extracurricular activities.  This comes as a shock to many families!  So what do they want?   It’s actually back to basics.

1.  Strong grades in a rigorous high school curriculum.  Still the most important factor.  The classes should, if possible, include AP or IB, (if students can handle them) and grades should always show an upward trend as a student progresses through high school.  If AP or IB courses are not available, then Honors courses are a must.

2.  Strong standardized test scores; this means the SAT and SAT subjects tests.  The ACT is still foreign to some families, but has become recognized by more and more schools.  It is often accepted in lieu of SAT, and it is important to note that students who don’t see stellar results on their SAT scores (but have high GPA’s) will often see a better result on their ACTs.

3. A well written and compelling essay.  This is another solid reason to work with a college counselor.   It is important to note the value of this component increased significantly over the past several years.  Even students who excel at writing struggle with this essay;  it’s entirely different from anything they will ever have written and is a far cry from a research paper.  Heed this warning to not rely on an English teacher’s critique of this crucial piece of writing.

4. Passionate involvement in a FEW activities.  This is another change. For years student were  told to be involved in “anything and everything.”  Schools are now very suspicious of clubs joined in senior year.  They want students with “authentic passions” who are leaders in whatever passion they pursue.

5.  Strong teacher recommendations.  These should come from teachers in core classes who know you well.  We always advise that students stick to the number a school requests – don’t overdo it with multiple letters from everyone you know!  Here, it is quality over quantity.  If they ask for two, give them two from teachers with whom you have built a strong rapport in your top classes.

There you have it.  Now get busy on each of these 5 factors, and you’ll have some excellent college options!