Much has been made recently about changing the college admissions process. A drive to attend the best schools has resulted in a frenzy of activity for families pushing their students to attend the best universities possible. Students are being pushed to their limit to find ways to differentiate themselves through hardest classes, the most impactful extra-curricular activities, and the post the best test scores. In the big picture, most would agree that this frenzy of activity is unhelpful for kids and colleges alike.
Some in academia are being seen pushing back against this trend. Colleges and universities want to enroll students that are the right fit for their program, not just a student body most capable of enduring the most stress. To fight the frenzy, there are rumors that admission offices will be changing the game on their acceptance processes. Some top tiered schools have made a splash by declaring they will no longer require college entrance tests for admissions. There are other rumors that schools will start considering non-academic factors more heavily when making acceptance decisions.
While the motive behind these rumored changes are sound, the reality is that any largescale changes are many years away. Renouncing standardized tests and academic factors leaves schools without objective measures to quickly assess a candidate. With the advent of the online application, schools are being swamped with applications. With so many applicants, schools will spend less and less time on each application received. Colleges and universities must continue to process applications more efficiently, or drown in application paperwork.
Despite the desire for it to be otherwise, the massive growth of college applicants will drive colleges and universities to rely more and more on objective quantifiable tools to evaluate applicants quickly. For the foreseeable future, most admissions decision will still be made based on the “Big 3” criteria:
Grade Point Average – Student performance in high school is the best indicator of future performance in college. GPA (and the corresponding class rank) is the best representation of student performance, so it will continue to be a mainstay in the way universities evaluate applicants. It’s important to note, universities understand that all schools use different grading scales. To make sure the playing field is level, colleges and universities employ processes which normalize the applicant GPAs to a standard scale.
Test Scores – College entrance exam scores (ACT and/or SAT) are critical to the job of the admission officer. Test scores is a data point independent of the school the applicant attended. Test scores that are not in line with the student GPA/Class Rank indicate something about the quality of the applicant and/or the applicant’s high school to an admissions officer. For example, students with high test scores compared to their GPA/class rank are probably applying from a much more rigorous and competitive high school program, which will be a factor considered by admission officers.
Coursework Rigor – Students who have challenged themselves in high school are more likely to succeed when challenged in college. Students who have already taken college level courses are the most attractive. Whether Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Dual Credit, colleges love to see applicants striving to take college courses while still in high school.
Even after the “Big 3” criteria are considered, there will still be applicants in a gray area, not a clear admit or deny. Applications in the gray area will get more attention. Gray area applicants will further be evaluated against each other in admissions committees. It is in these admissions panels that some non-“Big-3” criteria can earn a candidate admission. These are things like the college essays, extracurricular activities, and reference letters.
For completeness, we must also note that there are other factors universities use to determine who gains admission. The job of the admissions office is to shape the admitted class based on the stated goals of the school. In shaping each class, the admissions officer may consider things like class demographics, need for financial aid, and athletics. You will see applicants earn admission over more qualified peers because they met shaping goal for the incoming class.
Don’t be confused by all the noise about changing college admissions processes. For the foreseeable future, colleges will be making most of their admissions decisions based on the “Big 3.” If you want to be competitive for admission, focus on your Grade Point Average, Test Scores, and Coursework Rigor.
The Tenney School is a private school in Houston delivering an individualized education for all students. Contact us to learn more about our program.