How Do Universities Evaluate Applications for Admission?

The college application that you submit provides valuable information to universities that they use to determine whether you will be offered admission to their campus. The application consists of a lot of information, but the weight that each of the components carries is different. This guide helps explain what universities consider when they see the different data points and pieces of information you have submitted. 


1. Academic Achievement

Colleges will initially evaluate the high school transcript, first paying attention to the strength of a student’s schedule and then to grades earned in each academic course. Colleges and universities do understand that, at times, a student’s grades may falter. However, they are expecting a student to do progressively better academically. 

2. Rigor of the Curriculum

Has the student taken honors, advanced, or Advanced Placement courses? How does the student’s academic coursework compare with peers at the same school? Does it look like the student challenged him/herself? Did the student take advantage of the rigor offered in the curriculum at the high school? Remember that universities will not penalize you for courses that the high school does not offer students or limits when students can enroll in rigorous classes. If your school does not offer students AP classes, it will not reflect negatively against you. 

3. Testing

At most colleges and universities SAT or ACT scores (and Subject Tests when applicable) are also a factor in admission when evaluated with the strength of schedule and high school grades. Over 1000 universities, prior to Covid-19, were test-optional schools. For students applying to university for the fall of 2021, most of the remaining universities are waiving the requirement that students submit ACT/SAT scores. However, there are caveats to this policy. If you submit the scores, universities will take the scores into consideration. Only the California State Universities have clearly stated that they will not consider those test scores. The scores can be used to decide merit scholarships as well. The test-optional policy does not mean that it will become easier to get into any particular college or university.

4. Teacher Recommendations

Students should choose only academic teachers who know them well and can offer insight into who you are as a student, a citizen in the classroom, your intellectual abilities. When colleges ask for a teacher recommendation, they are not just looking for information about your classroom grades. The universities would like the teachers to speak about whether you contribute meaningfully in class, do you collaborate with others, what are the teacher’s observations of your abilities and you as an individual. Colleges want to understand what type of a student you will be on their campus. A student cannot see what is written about them by the teachers, but they can ensure that the teachers have all the necessary and relevant information that they need to write a good letter of recommendation for you.

5. Your Personal Statement and Supplemental Essays

The essays are your opportunity to show the universities who you really are as an individual. They want to get to know you – something beyond what you have already put down in the application. They already have a list of your grades, test scores, activities, your demographic information, and preferences in majors. What they want you to show them is who you are and why you belong on their campus. They should be able to visualize you on their campus – a student who would be a great addition to their incoming class. 

6. Demonstrated Motivation

Does your application reflect your intellectual curiosity and motivation? Does your application show that you have the characteristics needed to pursue the major you have declared or at least have the intellectual curiosity and skills needed to be a student on their campus if you are going in undeclared?  If you are declaring a major, does your application and do the recommendations demonstrate your interests in a particular course of study?


7. Activities and Interests

How do you spend your time after school? During the weekends? And during your summers? What have you done to improve yourself, your school, and your community? Universities are not looking for a litany of activities that do not reflect who you are as a person or as a student. It is better to have two or five well-developed activities that you have done over the course of your time in high school, 10-12 activities that did not strike a chord with you. Remember you have to be able to show why these activities meant something to you. 

8. Demonstration of Leadership Skills. Did you have an impact in the organization as a result of your involvement? Did you contribute in a significant way? If you did not achieve a leadership position in school clubs, did you find a way to demonstrate leadership skills in other ways? In other circumstances.    

9. School Counselor Recommendation

What does the school report (along with the counselor’s letter of recommendation) tell the university about the student’s academic and non-academic interests, ability, and motivation? How does the student’s coursework measure up against other students in the graduating class? A student cannot see what is written about them, but they can ensure that the counselor has all the necessary and relevant information that they need to write a good letter of recommendation for the student.

10. Demographics

Demographic and personal characteristics that contribute to a diverse and interesting student body. This information is sought on all college applications. 

Please be aware that there is no formula that gets you admission into any particular university. No one can guarantee admission to any university for any student. What the student needs to do is to make sure that they have taken the opportunity to bring to light their story and why they belong on each university campus they have applied to in the college applications.

@Copyright 2020 The Summit College Counseling, LLC


Ready To Work With An Experienced College Counselor?

With the ever-changing admissions landscape, you will have an experienced counselor who will guide the student through high school, and help the student put forth a strong college application.