The Big 3 of College Admission, Part 1 of 3

What does it really take to get accepted into the college of your choice? Truthfully, there are numerous variables that factor into the college admissions formula and affect the outcome of whether or not a particular student gets admitted. In fact, there are so many individual factors and possible unique combinations of factors that we could easily become overwhelmed trying to manage a student’s file as a means to fabricate the perfect college applicant. But for those planning to apply to college, especially to a selective college, the good news is there is a way to identify which factors carry the most weight in the admissions formula and to strategically improve those variables that are always the most important.

In this series of posts, I will identify the three most important components of the college admissions formula, explain why they matter most, and share a few tips to help all students improve their chances of earning admission offers.

Let’s address the most obvious factor first – high school grades. Just to be clear, colleges will consider all grades earned for courses that qualify for high school credit. At GCS, some students begin earning high school credit in 8th grade when they take Algebra 1, and the grades in that class are included in the student’s overall average (and GPA), along with all high school classes that earn a number grade. Students must submit an official transcript of their high school grades along with their college applications, and colleges want to see that students consistently demonstrate both the ability and motivation to perform well in the classroom; thus, good grades are important.

While we all know that higher grades improve a student’s chances of college acceptance, what most families do not realize is that a student’s choice of high school courses can sometimes matter as much as the grades themselves. While excellent grades may be impressive to some extent, most admissions officers want to see that students are willing to challenge themselves with more rigorous coursework and still maintain strong grades. Here is where finding the right balance is key. Rather than taking the easiest courses in high school and earning high grades, or taking all the most difficult courses and earning mediocre grades, the best strategy is for a student to take the most difficult courses where he or she can be successful. This requires knowing his or her strengths and making wise decisions about course load from year to year. We recommend that high school students meet with their current teachers and guidance counselor each spring to evaluate how the year has gone and to discuss the most appropriate level of challenge for the following year.

And before you get anxious about a student’s grades being less than perfect, let me try to add some perspective. For students who dream of attending a highly selective college, then near-perfect grades really are essential (meaning mid-90’s or above throughout high school). For the somewhat selective colleges that some Grace students pursue, an overall average in the lower-90’s is sufficient. And for the vast majority of colleges and universities in our nation (over 90% of the schools out there), a student with grades in the 80’s will be competitive for admission. My point is there are literally thousands of reputable colleges in the nation and hundreds in our region that are quick to admit an “average” graduate of GCS. So work hard and give your best effort in the classroom, but also know your personal worth or value can never be quantified with anything as simple as a GPA.

For your family and God’s glory,

Joshua Webb
Director of College Guidance
Grace Community School