What Matters Most in College Admissions Decisions

October 2, 2014


Essays? Grades? Test scores? Activities? What matters most when an admissions officer sits down to review your application for admission? I often get this question from families and many are surprised by the answer. 


So what matters most? According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselor’s 2011State of College Admission report, the three most important factors (as rated by admissions officers surveyed across the country as “considerably important”) are: 

1)      Grades in college prep courses—83% 

2)      Strength of curriculum—66% 

3)      Admission test scores—59% 


Regardless of the selectivity of the college, these three factors will always be weighed most heavily in an admissions decision. However, a second set of factors including essays, recommendations, activities, and demonstrated interest were rated as “moderately important” in the admissions review. These factors can help admissions officers at highly selective institutions to differentiate between the often very well qualified applicants. The report also finds that interviews and AP/IB scores, while ranked of “moderate to low importance”, can also help to provide more information for comparing candidates of similar academic qualifications. Finally, factors such as SAT Subject Tests were rated as having “little or no importance” and are often simply used for placement purposes. 



So a word to wise students—work hard in a rigorous curriculum while ensuring that you are prepping for standardized tests, but also ensure that you take the necessary time to research and visit colleges of interest and give your essays the time they deserve to show an admissions officer why you are a good fit for their campus.


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