This is the question that I get asked the most by clients and parents. It is not a simple answer but there are some trends that have emerged. While it has always been assumed that you must have good grades and test scores, how exactly do those factor in admissions decisions? Colleges are looking at how rigorous the student's coursework has been in high school and did that student continually challenge themselves. The best advice to a student, take the most rigorous course load that you can do well in, i.e. receiving a grade of B or better. Does this mean a student must have all AP courses? Not necessarily, a college wants to see that a student is exhibiting intellectual curiosity. Examples: a student did well in a math class their Sophomore year are they willing to move to an Honors or AP math class their Junior year? Will a student continue to study a foreign language after the required two semesters so they can become as proficient as possible?
Great essays providing insight into a student are important as well. Students should know though, the essay is less about perfect grammar
and more about helping an admission officer understand who you really are by allowing your personality to come through.
The most significant trend that has emerged is how admission officers look at a student's extracurricular activities. In the past, the emphasis might have been on the number of activities a student was involved in and did students exhibit some time of leadership role in those activities. Now, admission officers are looking for involvement in activities that demonstrate an authentic, personal, even passionate involvement in one or two things that are meaningful. Although your student may have attended a week long mission trip, so have many other students and admissions officers have literally read thousands of essays about those trips. Likewise, joining 10 different clubs in your junior year may seem meaningless to the admissions officer because they seem meaningless to the student. Instead, a student who has had some life changing event that challenges them to become involved in a specific activity can be significant because it helps admission officers understand the student. The focus should be for students to pursue individual interests instead of checking boxes you think colleges want you to check.
Recently the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) surveyed IECA members and asked about the criteria that they find are most important to colleges in their admissions decisions.
2018 IECA Rankings
1. Rigorous high school curriculum
2. High grade point average
3. High scores on standardized tests
4. Great essay providing insight into student
5. Passionate involvement in a few activities
6. Strong counselor/teacher recommendations
7. Ability to pay
8. Demonstrated leadership in or out of school
9. Personal characteristics that contribute to campus life
10. Demonstrated intellectual curiosity
11. Special talents that contribute to campus life
12. Demonstration of student's character and values
13. Demonstrated interest in attending