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This ranked list is based on a 2018 nationwide survey of IECA member Independent Educational Consultants

Just as every college is different, so too, are the criteria and priorities for evaluation in each college’s admission process. In fact, one of the great advantages of working with an IEC is their personal knowledge of these differences, helping students to navigate the process. In other words, all colleges do not value each of these elements equally.

I have bolded #10 because it is easily overlooked: all colleges value intellectual curiosity-the desire to learn about one or more topics without a main focus on grades. Applications featuring high GPA's and test scores, but little passion for learning, do not stand out.

  1. A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes.

  2. High grade point average in major subjects. However, slightly lower grades in a rigorous program are preferred to all A’s in less challenging coursework.

  3. High scores on standardized tests (ACT, SAT). These should be consistent with high school performance.

  4. A well-written essay that emphasizes insight into the student’s unique personality.

  5. Passionate involvement in a few activities that are meaningful, inside or outside of school.

  6. Strong counselor/ teacher recommendations that provide personalized references.

  7. Ability to pay. As state budgets tighten and the costs at colleges rise, some admission offices are increasingly favoring those students who can contribute to the school’s bottom line.

  8. Leadership inside or outside of school. Depth, rather than breadth, of leadership is valued.

  9. Demographic and personal characteristics that contribute to a diverse and interesting student body.

  10. Intellectual curiosity exhibited through reading, research, and extracurricular pursuits.

  11. Special talents that could contribute to campus life.

  12. Student’s character and values are seen as conducive to being a good community member.

  13. Demonstrated interest and enthusiasm in attending (through campus visits, etc.)

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