Each year the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) releases a report about the college admission process. One part of that report is “Factors in Admission Decisions,” which ranks different elements of a student’s academic profile based on how much weight admission officers give them. This list includes items such as grades, official test scores, rank/GPA, essays, interviews, and extracurriculars.
So what’s the most important factor?
According to NACAC’s most recent report, “Grades in high school have been among the top decision factors for first-time freshmen for decades. Total GPA and grades in college prep courses were each rated as considerably important by 77 percent of colleges. Admission test scores and strength of curriculum were also rated considerably important by more than half of colleges (54 percent and 52 percent, respectively).”
As always, grades -- and especially grades in college-level courses -- are what admission officers use as one of the key factors to determine admission. That doesn’t mean a bad grade in freshman biology is going to prevent you from getting into Harvard, but it means that if you have shown struggles throughout high school in your AP or IB classes, then you may need to reconsider whether or not reaching the Ivy League is the most realistic goal.
Here is the full list of factors:
Notice that the first four on this list have “Considerable Importance” that rates above 50%, and then there’s a large drop in significance.
Grades, Grades in All Courses, Strength of Curriculum, and Admission Test Scores (SAT, ACT) are the major players when it comes to your academic profile. What this means is that you must be taking advanced courses in your desired major and doing well in those courses to be competitive at the top colleges. And yes, you still have to ace your SAT or ACT exam.
But guess what? You can’t expect to coast on any of these factors. That’s what makes the whole admission process so nerve-wracking and overwhelming in the first place. You have to excel at these things and also maintain the semblance of a personality. If you chug along as a class-and-SAT-acing robot, then you’ll fail to catch the attention of admission officers.
Those top factors definitely should be your main focus, but you need to develop yourself in other ways to set yourself apart from the competition.
Thankfully, we have diverse programs to help you make the right choices inside and outside of the classroom. We have the Steps program to guide students through high school, helping them build their academic profile in a meaningful way, and we have test-prep and GPA management classes to ensure that students are making the grade and ultimately getting into their dream colleges.
There's still time to upgrade your grades.