Top 5 Important Things for College Admissions in the US

Unlike other countries like India, UK, Singapore, where the colleges put maximum emphasis on grades and test scores, the US colleges follow a more holistic approach. Earlier, I have covered what do top colleges look for in applicants. In this post, I am focussing on the top 5 aspects important for college admissions in the US; especially the Top 25 US colleges.

US College Admissions

Millions of students and parents aspire to apply to the top colleges in the US. These colleges are some of the elite private universities such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Duke, UPenn, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, Caltech, USC, NYU, and many other national private universities.

Some students may only target the premier public research universities such as Georgia Tech, UMich, UT Austin, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Univ of Washington, UNC, University of Illinois Urbana, etc. While other students may prefer some of the top Liberal Arts colleges such as Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona, Colgate, Wellesley, etc.

There are a number of great options but all these universities are highly selective and highly competitive. Read how to make a college list.

So, what should students do in their high school years if they want to improve their chances of admission to these great universities?

Here are some of the things admission teams look for in the application process.

Top 5 Important Aspects for US College Admissions

Grades, Grades, and Grades

Whatever anyone tells you about the holistic admission process, one thing is for sure that all of these competitive schools look for top students in their respective classes and high schools.

You need to make sure that you have an unweighted GPA close to 4.0 (straight As) or a weighted GPA between 4.2+ to stand a chance for being considered at these schools. Public colleges focus a lot more on your grades, class rank while Liberal Arts colleges may give some more weight to your holistic profile.

If you have a few “Bs” in your high school, better to have them in freshmen/sophomore year than junior year.

Many colleges like students who show an upward curve in their grades than a downward slope of deteriorating grades. But all of them do look at your grades very closely and only select students who are academically strong and can cope with the rigor of courses at these top colleges.

The rigor of your coursework in high school

All the top colleges in the US have enough data on high schools, different countries, and education systems from the last 50 years to know which high school offers what courses, curriculum, and rigor.

These colleges like to see students who have taken advantage of the opportunities at their school to push themselves in their learning and development.

Even if they get a “B” in a rigorous class, it is seen as a positive in the application. A “B: in a higher-level class is better than an “A” in a lower-level course.

So, never shy from taking the tough classes if your high school offers them, and don’t be afraid if you get a lower grade in the toughest of the tough classes.

Quick Tips

  • Students entering college with an attitude of hard work, determination, and taking challenges are always more successful than the ones that try to take an easy path.
  • While you are looking at taking harder classes, make sure you do not overwhelm yourself where you struggle and end up having a disaster year.
  • A fine balance between rigor and load work is critical to talk to seniors, counselors, and teachers as you make the decision on your classes.

Need College Admissions Advice?

Book a Counselling Session with Ajay Singh

Spike in 1 – 2 areas of your profile

Since every school wants to build a diverse class among the entering freshmen, think hard on what you enjoy and focus on developing a profile that makes you stand out among applicants.

This spike can come from one of the academic areas (i.e. Math, Physics, Biology, Arts, etc.) or it can be from Sports (Rowing, Golf, Soccer, Basketball, Tennis, Fencing, etc.) or can be from theatre, community service, music, dance, etc.

Make sure this spike is so strong that it can be noticed at a state, national or international level. Just having a strong spike or stand out among your high school class will not work as there are tens of thousands of high schools around the world where students from each of these high schools are applying to these selective schools. 

Quick Tips

  • Many students mistake being a sports team member or being part of student government as the spike. Nothing wrong with these activities but they do not differentiate you enough on their own basis.
  • Also, no point in having a laundry list of activities in your profile unless you are a student who genuinely enjoys doing a number of things and can balance it with your school course load.
  • Finally, make sure that the spike ties well with your story, aspirations and who you are, and what you want to do during your college years.

Complementing and differentiating your profile with “optional” data points

Many colleges and universities may have standardized test scores as optional. If they ask for anything on the application, see that as not optional but necessary. If the college did not care about it, they would not ask for it in the application.

This is a subtle and trick way of seeing which students have taken extra steps in their high school journey to learn, push and develop themselves. To build your profile, take AP exams and show them how you shine with high scores among your applicant group.

These optional data points sometimes are the difference between an “admit” and a “reject”.

Strong Story through engaging Essay(s) and LOR

This is the last thing though not the least part of the application. This is all about packaging the top 4 points mentioned above in a manner that the admission team somehow gets attracted towards your application among the thousands out there.

This story has to be engaging, persuasive, connected, and tell them more about you that they cannot glance at from other parts of your application. If you have worked hard throughout high school, don’t let this part of your application bring you down.

Make sure you tell the admissions committee a strong story on why you are the student who deserves to be part of their school body and how you will add to the diversity, strength, and engagement.

Need College Admissions Advice?

Book a Counselling Session with Ajay Singh

Featured Image Source: U.S. News

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