Grades are the bulk of your application by far because they represent four years. They’re something you’re constantly working on, and it’s what really matters in your application more than anything else. It evaluates you on more than one day.
AP, SAT, and ACT scores are all numerics. They are an important index against a national average. An “A” in one school could mean something completely different than an “A” in another school. An 800 on the SAT Writing section means the same thing to everyone taking the SAT. Grades matter, scores matter more for the international population. It’s considered the “equalizer” across the entire applicant pool.
And if you took any of the tests more than once, don’t worry. Many schools will Super Score the tests and take the best of the best. And, if you totally bomb a test, you don’t even have to even send in those scores. It really doesn’t matter. Even if schools see all of the scores, they always give you the benefit of the doubt. They understand that things happen. Maybe you’re sick one day or not at your best or uncomfortable about wherever you’re taking the test. It’s tough to evaluate someone on a single day, so they understand that naturally fluctuates your score.
3. Extracurriculars, or activities
What you’ve done outside the classroom is the third most important part of your college application. Everyone does something, but to get into the top colleges, you need to assume the roles of a leader. Doing something you love and being excellent at it is key. But you can’t just say that you’re good at something. You need external validation, like awards, competitions, or published work as a way for admissions to know that someone else thinks that what you do is good. It’s like a tree falling in a forest. If no one else is there to hear it, does it matter? If no one validates it, it doesn’t matter to admissions. It’s about how you get recognized, not just what you do.
Recommendations give the admissions officer a better understanding of who you are as a person. Everything up to now has been grades, numbers, and a resume. They don’t know who you are. This is where they really get to understand you. They’re looking for well-rounded students to come into their school, and they want people who contribute to their communities and work hard for their success.
Make sure you ask people who are really going to advocate for you on your behalf. Everyone will say good things, but what admissions is really looking for are superlatives. Recommendations are also qualitative and quantitative, which means recommenders fill out a multiple choice survey about you, where you stand, and if you’re one of the top students of the year or of their career.
5. The Application
The application itself is where you get to explain yourself. Your essays, supplements, and everything else tends to get left for the last minute. But these are the parts you can start working on yourself before you get busy with school.
The bottom line
There are a lot of things that admissions counselors look at on college applications when deciding who gets accepted and who doesn’t. But the important thing to remember is to just put your best foot forward and let the chips fall where they may. If you are realistic and apply to schools that are within your reach and a couple that are a little bit of a stretch, chances are at least one school will accept you and in the end, that’s all you need.