Seven Key Points

  • Every student wishes to maximize their opportunities for admission to the college of their choice, but far too often their applications are based on misplaced priorities.
  • Selective colleges look at seven elements of a student's application, and those elements are specifically ordered in importance!


  1. CHALLENGING YOURSELF — Selective colleges want to know if you challenged yourself in the classroom, or were more concerned with grades than with learning. For schools that offer AP courses, ten or more APs on a student’s transcript sends the most positive signal. IB or college classes can also be ranked highly.
  2. ESSAYS/PERSONAL STATEMENTS — To a greater degree than ever before, colleges need to know as much as possible about prospective candidates, and by far the best information comes from your essays, not from numbers on a standardized test. If you cannot find a way to show that you are unique, it is unlikely that they will either!
  3. GPA — Of course, your grades still matter because they represent to some degree a year’s worth of effort and skill development. There are many reasons for variation in grades, and that’s why you have personal statements. Nevertheless, the first semester of senior year is definitely important, and performing well in that semester can make a big difference.
  4. AP SCORES — Challenging yourself is crucial, but mastering a subject at a college level also shows a lot. While most colleges respect the ability of students who earn 5s or 4s, all passing scores show that you will have a real head start when you enter college.
  5. SAT/ACT SCORES — Still required for most colleges, but not nearly the crucial priority that many parents, students, and counselors believe. If you spend time practicing your writing and your reading comprehension, then your scores will certainly be high enough, and even better your essays will shine!
  6. EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES — Enjoyable! Fun! But not nearly as crucial for college admission as you have been led to believe. Did you immerse yourself in one activity that impacted your life significantly? Great, that’s what they would like to know about. Were you in 17 clubs, 5 teams, and volunteered at 6 hospitals and 3 elementary schools? Humanity thanks you — but the colleges don’t care.
  7. TEACHER RECOMMENDATIONS — Since every teacher recommendation describes you as the wisest person since Confucius, smarter than Einstein, and more generous than Gandhi, you get to feel great! Unfortunately, everyone else’s recommendation says the same thing. Teacher recs are tiebreakers, still required in many cases, but not exactly crucial.

With these priorities in mind, you can begin to frame your applications and maximize your college opportunities. There are many strategies to help you achieve your goals, as long as you emphasize what is most important.




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