Key Factors in College Admissions

It's possible to succeed in the college admissions process without being overwhelmed and frazzled. How? Start laying the foundation for a strong high school resume freshman year.

Get the KapMap, your essential college resource! Download


Your grades in college placement (Advanced Placement) and honors courses. These are the number one factor in college admissions.


The rigor and breadth of your courses. Beyond your grades, admission officers are looking at the intensity of your courses and the amount of work you complete.


Your high school grade point average. Be sure to ask your counselor how it is calculated at your high school and how colleges view it.


Your college essay. Learn how to write an amazing essay that is personal and showcases your writing skills.


Teacher and counselor recommendations. Colleges typically ask for one to two teacher recommendations and one recommendation from your counselor. Build solid relationships early, and learn how to line up letters of recommendation .


Your class rank. Public universities place great importance on how you compare to other students in your graduating class.


Outside interests and community service activities. College admissions officers want well-rounded students, so get involved and be active now!


Jobs, internships and volunteer work. Show your desire to learn and grow beyond school, and demonstrate your financial responsibility and time-management skills. Keep track of your experiences with what we like to call your pre-college Brag File .


Your social media presence. Yes, admissions officers do check Facebook. Be mindful of how you present yourself online. Learn more below.

In this digital day and age, it's crucial to take notice of what you publish socially and how you represent yourself online, because it does play a role in college admission.

  • In a recent study, 31% of college admissions officers said they logged onto Facebook to view profiles of applicants.
  • Of those, 46% found something they felt negatively impacted the application.*
  • Social media is also used for recruiting. 76% of colleges use Twitter to recruit applicants

Check out this 2013 Survey of College Admissions Officers for more information about social media and college admissions.

So what can you do? Here are 10 Ways to Manage Your Social Media Footprint .


Find the right school with the College Match Tool. We partnered with Student Advisor to help you sift through a list of colleges based on tuition, major and test scores to match you with the best-suited college. This tool also allows you to compare up to five colleges side-by-side and read college reviews from students and alumni.


Log into your high school's recommended college admissions tool (e.g. Naviance), and begin researching the types of colleges you prefer.


Create a College Fact Chart. Keep a detailed College Fact Chart of your target schools to help you compare and contrast each college. You can also determine what characteristics describe your ideal college completing this quick Selecting Your Target Colleges assessment.


Cast a broad net. Have a good mix of dream, target and safety colleges on your target list. Keep your options and opportunities open.


Visit websites of potential colleges for admissions guidance:

  • Admissions test accepted (SAT/ACT)
  • Average test scores accepted
  • Acceptance of the Common Application
  • Tuition, room and board costs
  • Deadlines for applications, including financial and grant aid


Attend college fairs. Check out this College Fair Checklist to prepare for the fair and learn what next steps to take afterwards.


Visit as many colleges as possible. Use this Campus Visit Checklist to help you prepare, ask the right questions, and help stay organized.


Meet with current students or alumni. Many colleges encourage you to meet with their students. Take advantage by thinking of questions ahead of time you can ask about their experience.


When you have lined up your college target list, it's time to apply. Here are some useful tools and College Application Tips to help you get started.

The Wait List

You've been wait-listed. What does this mean for you? These candidates are not yet accepted, but are still being considered. This allows colleges to manage their enrollment process and to take their time carefully selecting from the wait list.

Next Steps:

To better understand your options, search online to learn the wait list acceptance rate of a given college.

Better yet, take matters into your own hands!

  • Make sure a college knows it is your first choice.
  • Continue to submit and update test scores with your latest grades and accomplishments.
  • Be sure to stay connected with the Admissions Office.
  • Find out whom you should be in contact with and check in often with emails and phone calls.

Of course, be sure to have an alternative college option if your efforts are not successful with your first choice.

Acceptance & Decision Time

Congratulations, you're in! Now comes the most important part of the application process – choosing a school. The strategies that worked for you during the first part of your school selection process can be helpful again now:


Revisit your College Fact Chart to review the list of factors you were considering when you decided where you would apply for admission.


Take another trip to the college, stay overnight in the residence hall, eat in the dining hall, talk with students and faculty, visit a class, read the bulletin boards.


Resist the temptation to make a hasty decision until all of your options are known to you.


Colleges aren't going to wait passively while you decide. They are going to inundate you with invitations to teas, receptions, campus "admission days," and other events designed with one purpose in mind - to convince you to accept their offer of admission…Learn more .

Now we're getting into unchartered territory, so here's a list of next steps to make the transition from high school to college smooth and exciting:

First: Keep studying. Remember, your acceptance to college is conditional upon good final grades!

Notify the other colleges that have accepted you that you've enrolled elsewhere, and thank them for their consideration.

Make sure that your high school sends your final transcript to your college.

Send the tuition deposit to reserve your place in the incoming class.

Fill out all of the housing forms, including the freshman questionnaire, so that the residential life office can match you with a roommate.

Connect with alumni and other students who have been accepted to start connecting to the college community. Often times, there are social networks created by your college that you can join even before you start.

Start to develop good habits now, using this Time Management Checklist .

Take the stress out of packing with this College Packing List , provided by our partners at

Ready to prep now?

SAT Prep ACT Prep PSAT Prep