The following article was authored by Emma Perley and Leonardo Briceno. Briceno is a former admissions officer at Patrick Henry College where he reviewed and met hundreds of college applicants.
It’s May—high school graduation month across America—and the same question is asked at everyone’s graduation party over a slice of cake and soft drinks: "So, where are you going to college?" For many of them, the answer is the same: "I don't know yet!"
In the process of submitting applications, every high school senior has had that moment of panic when sorting through college applications. What is this college looking for? Am I the right fit? What exactly do I need to do to apply? How will my application compare to other students'?
Fortunately, much of the information for college admission criteria are available online at the click of a button. We've collected our favorite admissions insights for you.
Here's the bottom line of college applications: colleges and admissions offices want to know if you will be a good fit for their university. Your SAT/ACT, high school transcript, and GPA, will tell a college whether you can handle the academic rigor and excel at the school. Extracurricular activities and essays will boost your application. All these elements should demonstrate why you're a well-rounded candidate.
Let's break those components down.
SAT/ACT scores indicate whether you are academically ready to attend a specific college or university. GPA and high school transcripts reflect what classes you took in high school and how well you performed in those classes. Whether you want to go to an art college or a STEM university, the classes you take in high school can shift in your favor and demonstrate how passionate you are about your potential degree.
In most cases, a higher SAT score will speak louder than your grade point average. GPA standards can vary depending on the difficulty of classes or the quality of a school, but SAT or ACT scores are a great way of comparing applicants across the board. That's not to say that GPAs don't matter—they absolutely do!
If you have a class or two in which you had a noticeably low grade, be prepared to offer an explanation of what happened or what might have caused a difference in performance. This is something that's likely to be asked during a college interview. In these situations, it's important to take ownership of past mistakes rather than attempting to deflect all blame. If you can, offer up what you learned from that situation and how you might have changed your behavior to overcome the problem.
It is important to know what the standard SAT/ACT scores are at the college to which you apply. Many colleges have a threshold SAT score for applicants and will only consider students who meet that score or higher. Note that this score is often a college secret and may be difficult to find. Also, the average SAT score for any given college will be different for their threshold for admissions. It's important to recognize that even if your SAT score is below the school's average, it could still meet college admission requirements. Those two things are not synonymous.
If you do fall into the average score, that will increase your chance of getting accepted. Top tier colleges also look for Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in your transcript, as these classes demonstrate your willingness to take on more challenging subject matter. Even if your scores don’t meet the average, don’t worry. In many cases, colleges will assess other activities—such as sports, clubs, and leadership experience—and you may still get accepted based on your extracurriculars. An important part of vetting college applicants is recognizing that the whole person is often more than the sum of its parts.
Said another way, demonstrating leadership ability, volunteering, or being a finalist in a Bible Bee championship reveal important factors of mission-fit that will not be captured in a transcript or a standardized test.
If you feel insecure about one portion of your application you may want to emphasize a different aspect that you feel make you a stronger applicant. Most of the time, standing out in an admissions officer's mind is a matter of having a unique story or trait that sets you apart from other applicants.
These interests can range from hobbies to defining characteristics or passions. Admission offices want to see that you're an eager candidate who is pursuing a goal or a dream. They may inquire about your ability to contribute to the ethos on campus. Most of the time, they want to see you succeed, so be sure to give them a reason to help you achieve your goals!
Class rank is also a consideration in college selection. According to Prep Scholar, Harvard specifically looks for applicants who are in the top 10% of their class.
Letters of recommendation and personal essays may also help you rank above other applicants. Your potential to succeed after college is tied to the application process, and many colleges want to know that you are not just another number in their application system. Including a personal essay that details your passions and skills adds a personal flair. A letter of recommendation from a teacher may also add to your reputation as a good student, and how well you are likely to succeed after college.
Interested in applying to Patrick Henry College? Click below to meet a member of the admissions staff. PHC staff would be more than happy to put you in contact with a current student who can better answer what learning is like at PHC!