Recently, I interviewed a college admissions director regarding the top things his admissions office looks for when deciding whether or not to admit students. His candid answers to my questions are captured below. Again, this is straight from the mouth of a Division I NCAA University Assistant Admissions Director.
Question: What are the most important things you consider on college applications?
Answer: Good grades are the most important thing, especially for first generation college students. Additionally, mostly A’s is preferred. I always encourage students to be realistic about the courses they take in high school. If you take regular courses, an A is the goal.
Note: For his institution, the average weighted GPA is 4.5 and unweighted is 3.7.
Question: Should students focus on taking all honors and AP classes offered by their high school?
Answer: Students should choose courses in which they can be successful. They should NOT choose AP and honors courses just because of their friends and parents recommended it to them. If students take these courses and earn C’s and D’s, they will not support their college application positively. When all students’ transcripts are presented during admission, those with more A’s have more favor over those with B’s and C’s.
Note: Scholarships are mostly merit based (GPA, SAT/ACT scores, Essays) therefore, GPA is more heavily weighed in some institutions moreso than any other criteria.
Question: What are some common mistakes made by high school senior athletes?
Answer: Common mistakes include the following:
- Choosing an unrealistic major (some schools admit students directly into their major rather than for general admission)
- Waiting too late to apply for admission
- Not knowing the difference between early action versus early decision. Early action is applying to the college/university early with no commitment of a decision. Early decision is applying to the college/university with a commitment to attend if admitted to the school.
- Not realizing that competitive schools see your senior year and if there is a downward trend, this is not favorable for admission.
- New grading scales that indicate grades based on 10-point scales rather than 7-point or other scales does not matter. You are compared to the other students in your admission class and based on what they have done, a decision will be made about your admittance.
- College admission is about 85% academic performance in high school.
- Parents: Sending your kids to “good high schools” can backfire. Kids can go to “non-good schools” and thrive but at a “great” high school they can be just average. Now they are a little fist in a big ocean.
Question: How much do extra-curricular activities really matter?
Answer: Admission counselors prefer longevity in activities. Don’t jump around from activity to activity. Activities are really overrated as we are looking for academically qualified students more so than at their activities. Unique activities and clubs do stand out however and students with certifications really make a positive impressions. Certifications can include Microsoft Office, Word, and PowerPoint, National Academy Foundation (NAF) Academy, Java, HTML, Various coding certifications, Nursing certifications, and any others wherein a certificate is granted.
Question: What is the last word on your perspective regarding the SAT/ACT?
Answer: The new SAT mirrors the ACT more so either is appropriate. Scores mean very little in the admissions decisions. Last year, our school’s average ACT score was 29.8. Do not struggle to obtain college admissions based on trying to take the SAT/ACT multiple times. Choose a college where you can be successful and enjoy a nice financial package offer to cover school costs.