What College Admissions Officers Look For: Part 1

College admissions: confusing, complicated, not fun…

These are just a few ways to describe the college admissions process. To help you out, we’ve created a three part series that will give insight into what colleges actually look for when deciding who they want attending their school. Enjoy!

Every year, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors sends out a massive survey to college admissions officers. In this survey, they ask about the most important factors in admissions decisions.

Care to take a guess at the most important factor?

Your grades.

Year after year, college admissions officers – the very people who decide who gets in and who doesn’t – say that a student’s grades in college prep courses are the most important factor in admission decisions.

Why are grades so important?

Colleges don’t just want smart students – they want students who can succeed in college. There are plenty of brilliant people who simply don’t perform well in college; they often drop or fail classes, take years longer to graduate, or drop out altogether. These students don’t reflect well on the colleges they attend; they lower graduation rate and retention numbers. Instead, colleges want smart students who also have the motivation, study skills, organizational skills, and time management skills to perform well in their classes.

And that’s where grades come in.

Grades are the best indicator of how a student performs on a daily basis. A pattern of good grades shows colleges that you care about how well you do in class, you do your homework, you study for tests and quizzes, and you’re pretty consistent in your efforts. Grades don’t just show how smart you are – they show the effort you put in.

The Good News

There is good news here for a lot of students. Students who perform well in class but who struggle with standardized testing often agonize over disappointing SAT or ACT scores – test scores are still important, but know that grades trump test scores. Students who generally get good grades but who got one or two disappointing grades during high school can also breathe a small sigh of relief – those bad grades won’t exactly help, but college admissions officers are generally looking for a pattern of good performance, and an anomaly here or there probably won’t bomb your chances of admission.

The Bad News

One bit of bad news is that colleges consider grades in college prep classes to be of the utmost importance – not grades in typing or current events or whatever other so-called “easy-A” courses. College prep courses are usually limited to English, math, social studies, science, and foreign language courses. In other words, you can’t just pad your GPA by loading up on super easy classes.

The other bad news is that by the time many students seriously start thinking about college, most of their high school grades are set in stone. Colleges look at grades from all four years of high school; if a student didn’t bother putting in the effort in class until junior year when college suddenly seemed very real, those bad grades from early on won’t just go away.

It’s Never Too Late

Even if you’re one of those students whose overall GPA is dragged down by a few years of zero effort as an underclassman, know this: it’s never too late to try to turn things around. Colleges look at patterns in grades. Consistently bad grades certainly don’t tell colleges anything good, but bad grades followed by a pattern of marked improvement can show colleges that you’ve grown and matured. Those bad grades don’t go away, but a few semesters of upward trending grades can indicate that you’ve become more motivated and more mature. That helps!

The Takeaway

If you’ve got good grades already – great! You’re off to a good start towards college admissions success. If you ever find yourself struggling in class, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You want to maintain that good GPA, and it’s easier to bring up a slipping grade if you address the problem early on.

If your grades are less than stellar, there’s no time like the present to make a change. Establishing a pattern of improvement will help to balance out some earlier bad grades, even if you’re not able to bring your overall GPA up to where you’d like it to be.

If you think you might need help maintaining or boosting your grades, contact your local C2 Education center to schedule a consultation. C2 Education’s teachers have experience helping students boost their grades in a wide range of subject areas.

Read Part 2: Course rigor and college admissions

Read Part 3: SAT and ACT scores and college admissions

How are your grades doing? Need homework or exam help? Contact your local C2 Education center to schedule a consultation.