As far back as the 15th century, the lovelorn and frivolous alike consulted the Daisy Oracle or effeuiller la marguerite in order to divine whether their affections were requited. Asking a flower whether she loves me or loves me not instead of questioning the lady in question herself may strike modern sensibilities as primitive or passive aggressive (note the petal pulling) but we’re not so different today. In the high stakes game of college admissions, some applicants and their families consult every oracle under the sun to pierce the veil of mystery and prognosticate the true desires of admissions professionals. Luckily, other more rational parties simply survey them 😉
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conducts both an Admission Trends Survey and a Counseling Trends Survey every year to track various factors related to the transition from high school to postsecondary education in the U.S. along with information pertaining to transfer and international students. NACAC received 493 responses to the 2017–18 Admission Trends Survey, the results of which are presented in a fascinating report entitled the 2018 State of College Admissions. From this magical document, all manner of secrets may be plundered, not the least of which is the truth about factors in the admission decision for first-time freshmen. Believe it or not, the truth looks a lot like you’d expect.
Everyone says that, in the absence of enormous sums of money being splashed about, grades represent the single most influential factor in college admissions. College reps agree. According to the survey, approximately 81% of colleges rated grades in all courses as considerably important, followed by 71% considerably importance for grades in college prep courses. Course selection and academic success really matters.
As we consistently maintain, grades don’t always tell the full story of a student’s college readiness, which is why test scores matter in college admissions. Many colleges agree, with about 52% ranking SAT & ACT scores of considerable importance (the highest rating) and another 31% deeming scores of moderate performance. While score policies change month by month at schools across the country, more than 80% think test scores matter.
KIND OF IMPORTANT
Surprisingly, the next most influential factors at a majority of schools are application essays and counselor recommendations. With combined considerable and moderate importance rankings of 16.7 + 36.9% for essays and 10.8 + 46.1% for counselor recommendations, more than 40% of respondents signaled that they found these classic admissions staples of limited or no importance. Teacher recommendations carried slightly less weight than those from counselors in this survey. Surprisingly, extracurricular activities only carried considerable importance at 3.6% of schools, even lower than class rank at 9.3%. However, almost 80% of respondents considered extracurriculars at least somewhat important.
NOT VERY IMPORTANT
All factors matter in admissions, particularly at the most competitive schools. However, elements like AP or IB scores (as opposed to taking the classes themselves), portfolio, interview, work, SAT Subject Test scores, or state test scores carry limited weight at most schools, quantified as no importance ratings of 39-72% on a declining scale. Obviously, some schools value portfolios or interviews far more than others, but the overall field focuses on the more general parts of the application.
The dramatically different requirements from school to school obviously complicate an already involved–and stressful–process. Be sure to research target schools thoroughly to understand what they prioritize, and don’t be afraid to seek out professional guidance. Rest assured, though, that most colleges attach importance to the items identified in this report. A commitment to strong grades, test scores, recommendations, and extracurriculars will carry most applicants very far.