If you do not know your chances of getting into your top choice colleges, you absolutely should! Shrouded in mystery, the College admission process can produce so much stress and anxiety because it often seems unfair, illogical and sometimes even downright random. This is not true, but to a certain extent, the colleges want it like this.
For your own sanity and strategic planning, understanding how Selective Colleges really evaluate applicants and what your chances for admission are, or are going to be at specific colleges, is imperative. While there is no exact formula, most selective colleges use a “holistic” review system, so the good news is that what goes on inside the admissions committee is NOT random. Each application is reviewed quickly at first, sometimes you have as little as 15 minutes to make a good impression, but then, if you are a reasonably competitive candidate, your application will be read very carefully.
To understand the strength of your college applications, you must first evaluate yourself across these four separate, but interrelated criteria.
1) Course Selection
You can tell a lot about a student from reading his or her transcript. Colleges want students who like to challenge themselves with advanced courses when they are available, but this does not mean you must take every AP class your School offers. In fact, colleges usually see right through those applicants that do. Try to map out the right progression of courses given your developing attitudes, intellectual interests, and future personal or professional goals. Don’t forget courses may come from outside your high school as well!
2) Performance (Grades)
High school grades are a major predictor of success in colleges. There are many GPAs to watch, but pay particular attention to your unweighted GPA (4 point scale) in the 5 core subject areas. Don’t think those extra weighted grade points and those A’s in gym are fooling anybody into believing your GPA is higher than it actually is.
3) SAT or ACT Scores
While some colleges are making these tests “optional”, most selective colleges continue to place a lot of weight on them. Because all colleges accept both and value them equally, make sure you carefully evaluate your strengths and weaknesses relative to each test and create a preparation method and schedule that is most effective and efficient for you. Also, do your research, but watch out for those 25th -75th percentile scores that every school publishes. They can be misleading in both directions.
4) SAT Subject Test Scores
While only 30 or so colleges “require” these tests, we generally consider “suggested” to mean almost the same thing as required. Because grading at every school and between teachers within the same school can vary, these tests are an opportunity to confirm a high grade, or demonstrate what a tough grader your teacher was. Students interested in particular majors or programs should check to see which subjects are required or most preferred.
These four areas comprise the foundation of your application. Admissions officers are mostly trying to determine if you can be academically successful at their college. These areas are important for sure, but not what will ultimately differentiate you from other applicants or display the level of authenticity and intellectual vitality colleges are really looking for. Understanding your chances of admission earlier in your high school education can help you improve your odds when it's time to apply. Want to know your chances right now? Take our College Admissions Index Calculator and see where you stand!