College Admissions Process: 5 Most Important Areas of the Application

January 3, 2015 

The college admissions process can be confusing, even for parents who have been through it with an older child. What factors do colleges look for most on applications? college_admissions_process_5_important_areas_applicationDo they care more about a student’s GPA or her standardized test scores? Should a student strive to get straight As in basic-level courses, or is it better to take some college prep classes and risk getting Bs in them?

Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources that can guide parents and students on these and many other issues. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has created a helpful list of decision factors in the college admissions process, ranked in order of importance. Here are the top five considerations in the college admissions process, according to a recent survey done by the NACAC:

1. Grades in College Prep Courses

Success in AP, IB, dual enrollment, and other college prep courses is a huge indicator of possible success at a college or university. More than 84 percent of colleges attributed grades in college prep courses to being a considerably important factor in the college admissions process, according to the NACAC survey.

2. Strength of Curriculum

Colleges and universities want to see that students are challenging themselves, and not taking the easy way out. Admissions officers would rather see a student get a B in a college prep course than an A in a basic-level course. It’s also impressive when a student has taken three or four years of foreign language coursework.

3. Standardized Test Scores

SAT and ACT test scores are a big part of admission decisions, and they rank high on the priority list of the college admissions process. The NACAC survey shows that more than 59 percent of colleges ranked admission test scores as being considerably important in the decision process.

4. Grades in All Courses

A student’s overall GPA and grades give admissions officers a sense of how much effort the student puts into his or her schoolwork. They want to see that your student has worked hard, because that’s a good indicator he or she will continue to work diligently in college.

5. Essay or Writing Sample

College admissions essays serve multiple functions. The essay component lets applicants show off their writing skills and express themselves in ways that their GPA and test scores can’t. In turn, essays allow the colleges to evaluate applicants on a more personal level.



For more insight into the college admissions process, listen to our free podcast series in which we interviewed Joe DeFrancesco, a guidance counselor at Council Rock North High School in Newtown, PA. Below are links to each of the podcast parts, with a list of questions addressed in each segment: 

    • (2:37) What do you consider the most important question each student should ask himself or herself upon starting the college admissions process?
    • What is the first thing parents and student should do in this process?
    • What are some common mistakes that students and parents make in the college admissions process?
  • Part 2
    • Which questions should students ask when visiting colleges?
    • What are some things parents and students can do to ease the transition from high school to college?
  • Part 3
    • How do extracurricular activities fit into the college application process?
    • What are the latest trends in college admissions?
  • Part 4
    • In your years as a college counselor, what is the one most important thing that you have learned about the college admissions process?

Related Article:

Top 12 Things Colleges Look For in the College Admissions Decision Process 

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