What do colleges look for?

The following is a list of criteria that colleges consider when considering an application for admissions:

Grade Point Average (GPA)

Your GPA can be represented on a 4.0 scale and a 1-100 scale. Most universities use the 4.0 scale and it can vary from school to school how they weigh your GPA. Check with the university to see how they convert your 1-100 score.

A higher GPA is always a positive toward getting into the school you want to attend. Higher GPAs will always translate into higher scholarship offers from schools.


Class rank

The higher your class rank, the better your chance of attending the college you choose. Texas has the “Top 10%” rule that allows a student graduating in the top 10% of his/her class to attend any state university they wish, with the excpetion of the Unviersity of Texas at Austin which has the “Top 7%” rule. While you must be admitted to the school if you meet the Top 10% or Top 7% criteria, you may not be admitted to the major you selected. Private schools do not have to follow this rule, but if your class rank is in the top 10% or higher, you will often receive scholarship offers comparable to a state university’s tuition.


Difficulty of course work

Colleges want to know that you can handle a challenging work load and that you have continued your college-preparation coursework through your senior year of high school. Your senior year is not the time to go half-day and take as few courses as possible. Colleges are looking for hard-working, dependable students to bring to their campuses. It may be easier to have a senior year with little to no challenging course work, but this will work against you in the admissions process for most colleges.


Entrance Exams (SAT/ACT)

Many universities have minimum admissions standards that require a certain score on the SAT or ACT before you can be considered for admission into their school.


SAT Test Registration

The SAT covers three areas and is still scored on a scale of 1600.

CR (Critical Reading) = 200-800

M (Math) = 200-800

W (Writing) = 800 (not normally used by all universities)

Writing is required, but not used in scoring for most colleges. Some universities do use it, however, and the total possible score for the SAT will be 2400 instead of 1600.

It is important to report your score accurately as an SAT score of 1500 with writing included is a much different score than 1500 without the writing. Your university application should tell you which way to report your scores.

The questions will appear in order of difficulty.  The highest level of math include Algebra II and Basic Geometry.  Calculators are allowed including most four function, scientific and graphing. Check www.collegeboard.org for specific restrictions. There is a ¼ point penalty for each wrong answers so answer wisely!  The SAT is based less on curriculum and the style of test is tricky which means there are some trick answers.  The test is 3 hours and 45 minutes long and is offered seven times a year.


ACT Test Registration

The ACT covers  English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning and Writing.

English = 1-36 Mathematics = 1-36 Reading = 1-36 Science Reasoning = 1-36 Writing (30 min. essay) = 2-12

The questions do not appear in any order of difficulty.  The highest level of math is trigonometry (4 questions).  Calculators are allowed including most four function, scientific or graphing calculators.  Check www.act.org for specific restrictions.  Skills heavily tested include grammar, reading and math.  There is no penalty for wrong answers so it is safer to GUESS than to skip over a question!  The test is more straightforward and based on curriculum.  The test is 3 hours and 30 minutes long is offered six times per year.

Application essay

Your essay is an important part of your application. Customize your essay for each college to which you are applying. Your essay should provide information that is not included in your transcript or application. Have at least two other people read your essay before you submit it. Essays are vital to your admission to college and scholarship money, so they should not be taken lightly or put off until the deadline. A well written essay can mean admission to the school of your dreams and scholarships galore. A poorly written essay can earn you lots of student loans and a school that you may not have wanted to attend.


Extracurricular activities

Colleges and universities seek students who are well-rounded, however, you do not want to be involved in too many activities. Many colleges prefer applicants who have focused in areas in which they are talented.


Letters of recommendation

Wisely choose the sources for your recommendations because they are important.

You will need to give your letter-writer the following:

  • A stamped envelope that is already addressed to the admissions department of the college/scholarship you are applying.
  • If your college/scholarship requires your references to use a form, include that in the envelope.
  • Time. Your reference needs at least three days, but a week is preferable. Do not go to the person on the day your application is due and expect a stellar reference letter.


Interview, if applicable

Some colleges or universities will want to interview you, particularly if you are applying for a specialized school. If you are asked to interview for admission in person, you need to wear “Sunday dress” to the interviews. Men will want to wear a suit and tie, or at least slacks and a tie if you dont own a suit. Women will want to wear a dress or slacks and a blouse. Do not wear facial jewelry, revealing tops, saggy pants, or tennis shoes to your interview.

Remember that the person interviewing you will give a report to the university as to whether or not you are a good fit for their school and you want to make an amazing impression.