College admissions officers are the men and women who make the final decision regarding who gets an acceptance letter and who gets turned down. When students meet most requirements but just aren't as strong as other candidates, those officers may place students on a wait list and give them a chance at getting in before classes start. Students typically assume that these officers look at their scores from the SAT or SAT and their high school grade point averages without weighing any other factors, which isn't true. Admissions officers look at a number of factors to pick the best students.
High School Curriculum
The reason that admissions counselors look at more than just grades and grade point averages is because they know that some schools are more challenging than others. A student can graduate with a 4.0 because he or she took lower level classes that required little thought or research. If another student has a lower GPA but took more challenging classes, the officer will give more weight to the second student. Taking advanced placement classes or college courses while in high school can help you compensate for lower grades.
According to the College Board, admissions counselors often put a high level of importance on your personal essay. When you complete a college application, you usually need to write some type of essay in response to a given question. Colleges often ask about the challenges you faced in high school or something you overcame that made you stronger. Officers read essays about pets and loved ones dying almost daily and will often rank students who write about different adversities higher. You can also use your essay to explain why you had lower grades one semester or other problems officers might see on your transcript.
Almost anyone can graduate high school with a high GPA, but those who maintained high grades while doing a number of extracurricular activities show that they have good time management skills, which will help them at college. That is why admissions counselors often look at the number and type of extracurricular activities that students did in high school. Some students make the mistake of listing too many things and using one experience like a missionary trip as multiple activities. This will leave officers wondering how students had time to do everything they said they did. You should be honest and list the activities that you did most often in school.
Letters of Recommendation
Not all colleges require that prospective undergrads submit letters of recommendation, but some do because they want to know what others think of those students. You might have great test scores but poor grades, which leaves an officer wondering if you can handle college. Having a teacher or guidance counselor write a letter on your behalf can help the college understand why it should take a chance on you. Some colleges also ask for a letter from a peer to see what other students think of you.
The college application process used today is pretty lengthy. You usually need to fill out an online application and then submit other documents to each college you want to attend. Though college admissions officers look at your grades and test scores, they also review letters of recommendation, your extracurricular activities, personal essay and curriculum to decide if you are a good fit.