The Most Important Application Criteria for Admissions Officers

In its annual survey of college counselors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling asked college admission officers to rank the top criteria in their assessment of applicants.

Below are their top 10 criteria and the percentage of counselors who say they are of “considerable importance.”

1. Grades in college prep courses: 79%
2. Grades in all courses: 60%
3. Strength of high school curriculum: 60%
4. SAT or ACT scores: 56% (Increasing numbers of colleges are becoming “test optional.” Here’s a list.)
5. Essay or writing sample: 22% 
6. Counselor recommendation: 17%
7. Student’s demonstrated interest: 17%
8. Teacher recommendation: 15%
9. Class rank: 14%
10. AP or IB test scores: 7%

Interestingly, there is some variation when comparing assessment of domestic and international students. For international students, the factor of single most importance is English proficiency. For moderately important criteria, the NACAC survey findings state "decision factors also were similar to those for domestic students, with a few exceptions worth noting. Twenty-two percent of colleges rated the essay/ writing sample as considerably important for domestic students, compared to 37 percent for international students. For international students, the essay can serve as another indicator of English proficiency in addition to offering information about student experiences and academic interests."

Below is the full chart on what is considered when looking at international applicants. 

The above chart can be compared to the qualities that are prioritized in the applications of domestic students, below.

What to make of all of this information? Only 5% place considerable importance on extracurriculars? Does this mean you can abandon the orchestra you belong to? Probably not. The most selective colleges need more information to be able to distinguish very, very small tests and grades differences between students, and when it gets to that point, they will be going through all of the various factors to weed anyone out. This does at least keep things in perspective and remind us what at the heart of the application process does matter the most. It is certainly helpful to know what "counts." However, this is still generic and general. In order to know how to personalize and present your own case to selective colleges in the US, it requires additional digging, diving, and finessing that goes much deeper than these weighted criteria. Get in touch with us to get started on improving your odds for success in the college application process!