Most universities and colleges in the US have an admissions committee of 5-10 people, sometimes more. After the application deadline is over, the submitted application folders are divided between the individual members of the Admissions Committee, for faster sorting. Usually, each member will get a hundred to a thousand applicants to sort through. The admissions counselor will filter out all the applicants that he/she thinks are not good enough based on multiple criteria, given below. He will also identify a list of “Definitely” and others that fall into “Maybes”. The Maybes can also be considered the Shortlisted candidates. After the pool of applicants has been sorted, the admissions committee gets together to discuss all the Shortlisted candidates. Some time may be spent on the Definitelys, but usually the admissions counselors are very experienced in picking the Definitelys, and these cases do not require much discussion or feedback from other members of the committee. However, Definitelys are usually just a fraction of the overall admissions offers that will be made by the committee, and most of the final admitted pool will come from the Shortlisted candidates.
There are 6 main points that a college admissions counselor will look at when making the decision to admit you or not.
- High School Grades of all 4 years: If you think you can slack off your last semester of high school after being offered admission, think again. Most colleges require students to submit the final semester grades as the final condition of admission.
- College application essay
- Recommendation letters
- SAT scores: Most colleges have an unofficial minimum score requirement. Look at the College Rankings to find that information.
- Extracurricular activities
- Personal Interview : Some colleges require personal interviews, which are usually through an alumni living close to you. For instance, MIT interviews all candidates, whereas Harvard interviews only the shortlisted ones. Out of the 10 colleges I applied to I was interviewed by 3 of them all the way in Karachi, Pakistan.
If you excel in all these points, your college essay is what can make you a Definitely. On the other hand, if your SAT scores, or your high school grades are not stellar, then your essay can still pull you into the shortlisted candidates.
I will address the essay and recommendation letters in more detail in my following posts, so keep tuned. For further hints on how to use high school to prepare for college, look at my last post.