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Students Ask, College Counselors Answer

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This week's question from Peter O'Grady, Newton, MA asks:

What are the most important components of the application?

Academic performance is the most important component of an application

George Mills | Vice President for Enrollment
The most important components of the application are: the transcript of high school coursework and the grades achieved in these courses, followed by recommendations that provide a sense of the student’s values, strengths and weaknesses, and an essay that supports the intellectual promise exhibited on the transcript and in the recommendations. Extracurricular activities illustrate the candidate’s interests and successes outside the classroom follow. Finally, standardized test scores are an indication of academic “horsepower.” They provide an independent check on a student’s ability but are no substitute for the extended performance over the high school career demonstrated by the transcript.

All Parts Play a Role in Telling Your Story

Janet Rosier | Independent College Admissions Consultant
While your high school record --your grades and the rigor of your curriculum--is the most important factor for admissions, you do want the entire application to be your best work. Every part of the application serves a function and requires your thoughtful attention. Take your time and follow directions. Online applications do not have spell check so you need to proofread all parts. List your extra-curricular activities in the order of importance. Write all of your essays and short answers well in advance so they don’t read as if you rushed through them at the deadline.

Be Thorough With That College Application

Lana Klene | Counselor
Many are interested in knowing what are the most important components of the college application. All applications require a transcript and this grade and test score information is by far the most important criteria that colleges use to determine admittance. Beyond that, if an essay and/or a recommendation is required, quality documents in these areas can mean the difference in admittance, particularly when a student is borderline admit or applying to a selective college. There will probably not be a spell-check on the online application so proceed carefully to avoid errors. Attaching an academic resume, even if it is not required, can also make one stand out among the competition.

Can components on a college application be prioritized?

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
The entire application and how it is presented is important. Generally the most important thing is the GPA and challenging high school curriculum. That is followed by test scores for those colleges that require them. Quality extracurricular activities and outstanding essays are extremely important as well in that they can distinguish a student from other viable candidates. Recommendations are carefully evaluated and if an interview is offered, the student should have one. The interviewer writes a report that goes in the student admission file. It’s important not to underestimate any aspect of the application.

College Applications: What Do Colleges Look For?

Susie Watts | College Consultant
Colleges are looking for students who stand out from the rest. Many applicants have excellent grades and test scores, but schools are not evaluating you only on your academics. They are interested in how your teachers compare you to other students in their classes. They want to know whether you have shown a real interest in their school through a college fair, campus visit, or an interview. They want to see if you have been an enthusiastic participant in some extracurricular activities and community service. They want to read unique college essays that will help them find out more about you.

Concentrate On the Whole Pie, Not Just a Slice!

Patricia Young | Independent Counselor
Imagine a pie-shape form that signifies your application. Half of the pie represents your coursework and your grades. The rest of the pie constitutes other aspects of your credentials: SAT's, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, essays, various supporting evidence of who you are. These "slices" make up the whole pie and represent you. College admission counselors take in the picture of who you are by looking at the whole pie. Do not underestimate any portion. All components are important in showing you as a potential successful candidate for college admission.

Every Part of an Application Matters!

Lynda McGee | College Counselor
When you are filling out that application, you can’t skimp on any part of it. Different schools have different components that they may focus on, but you will have more than one reader looking at all of it. One thing that does really matter: if you are using the common application, pay attention to those supplement essays! Questions that ask for you to state why their school is a good match is their way of seeing if you understand what they have to offer. So fill out every line with care, and try to let your personality shine through.

Give them what they want: Prepare great detailed college and powerful applications

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
Each application is different, so keep track of what information you must provide. View each section as critically important. Decide how you can share the most positive information about what you have to offer. Often grades and test scores are the top factor, so make sure to send in transcripts and test scores as requested. Other applications or supplements require essays, recommendations, and activity summaries. Use these sections to provide as many powerful pieces of information about yourself as possible. Leave no section unfilled. If the college wants to read it, then the college values that information.

It all matters more than you might think!

Peter Brass | Director of Student Services & University Advisor
Simply put, everything. First, applications are judged in their entirety as every part says something about the candidate that the college finds important. Otherwise, the college wouldn't waste its time asking for the information. It is not the job of the applicant to judge what might be important. Second, on a college application the devil is in the detail as well as the transparently substantive. Sloppy grammar and spelling can tell a compelling story about applicant carelessness, or worse, ignorance and indifference that can undermine the forcefulness of the most compelling essay. A lack of attention to detail or following the instructions properly says something important about the applicant's inability to understand and execute simple directions or indifference to following directions. In the competitive world of college admissions, success invariably goes to those who take the time to do the substantive job right and take care of all the details. You'd be surprised how many applicants make it extremely easy for an admissions officer to reject their application. Don't be one of them! Pursue perfection in everything you submit.

It All Starts with the Transcript

Gael Casner | Founder
Far and above any other piece of the application, your transcript is the most important component. This one document is a snapshot of four years of work. It tells the admissions committee the kinds of decisions you made about courses, your ability to be successful, whether you pushed beyond the expected, and if you have areas of strength or interest. A second important piece is your writing, reflected in the essays and supplements. Here is a chance to share your motivation, to explain the impact of your environment, and to convince the college that you will take advantage of its unique opportunities.

It depends on where you apply

Robin Groelle | Founder
College admissions offices differ in the components that are most important. All colleges will take a close review of a student's transcript noting the rigor of the courses taken in the 5 core subjects and the progression of marks earned. Many will also review the SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subject Tests or AP exams. However, a growing number of colleges will review applicants without testing thus enabling the readers to focus on other aspects of the application including the essay(s), resume of activities, and letters of recommendations. For the most highly selective colleges, these factors will "get you to the starting line" and it's the distinguishing features that can make the difference (noteworthy talents, accomplishments, leadership, connections to the college - the "it" factor - that helps an applicant stand apart).

One word…transcript

Alison Almasian | Director of Admissions
There is no doubt that the most important component of the application is the high school transcript. Admissions counselors are looking at the rigor of the courses taken and the student’s performance in these courses. The transcript provides the best single insight into the candidate as a student. The other elements of the application – recommendations, essays, test scores, activities - will serve to support, explain and/or enhance the story that the transcript tells. High school profiles, provided by guidance offices, are also important, providing further context for the transcript.

Spend time writing your college essay for the strongest application

Todd Johnson | Founder
While all aspects of a college application are important, the most important factors are the copy of your transcript, your test scores and your essays. By senior year the only thing you have much power over are the essays. In writing your essays you need to make sure that you are answering the prompt and that you have no misspellings or obvious grammar mistakes. The best essays will communicate something about you that is not otherwise found in the rest of the application. They will also have a strong opening paragraph to get the reader interested in your essay.

Tell your story

While each piece of an application plays an important role, perhaps the most powerful components are those that allow you to provide a sense of your character, personality and motivations, and illustrate what you have to contribute to the campus community. The opportunity to do so typically comes in the form of an essay, personal statement or supplement, but many applications also provide a space for students to explain any special circumstances or challenges that they may have faced along the path to college. Always take the opportunity to share your story.

The “You” has to shine through

Jon Boeckenstedt | Associate Vice President for Enrollment Policy & Planning
Each piece of an application contributes something to the whole package, and while your grades and academic success are paramount and are usually enough to get you admitted at most colleges, at many very selective places they are not enough. In those cases, it’s your job to tie the separate pieces of your academics, your life experiences, your outside-of-class accomplishments, and your essay together into something that tells the reader who you are and what you’ll bring to the college. So really, it’s not the pieces that matter the most: It’s the way you make them all work together to your advantage.

The Application Has Many Important Components

Rachelle Wolosoff | Founder
The most important components of the college application include the essay, extracurricular activities, leadership focus, and accuracy. The essay is the part of your application that helps you become three-dimensional. You become more than academic statistics of GPA and test scores. Your personality and character should shine through. You get a chance to show the reader who you are and why they would want you on their college campus. Your activities highlight your interests and your tendency to take a lead in them. Accurate applications demonstrate care and thoroughness.

The College Wants to See the Real You

Steve Thomas | Director of Admissions
The most important parts of one's application are the parts that reveal something about you. Your essay, personal statement, and, as well, teacher and counselor recommendations, can all add tone and hue to who you are as applicant. You will only have control over your essay and personal statement, so these are the parts of your application to which you should pay close attention. Worry only about the things over which you have control.

The devil is in the details!

Marilyn Morrison | Founder
ALL of the components of the application are important, even little things like whether you’re capitalizing proper nouns instead of typing like you’re texting. Start the writing process early and craft unique essays that help colleges get to know you. Do your research so that you can convincingly and specifically answer the “why this college?” questions. For letters of recommendation, ask the teachers who know you well and can speak about your intellectual curiosity. Be aware of how your academic record, extracurricular activities, community service, and essays fit together to paint a complete picture and reflect what’s important to you.

The entire application is important; therefore, your character is key

Craig Meister | President
The single most important component of the college application is not your essay, resume, interview, scores, or grades. It’s your drive to succeed. Accepted applications operate on all cylinders – every facet of the application reinforces the others. Someone with the drive to succeed will always try his or her best, seek out support when required, and take the time necessary to achieve. Successful applications can’t be faked and they can’t run on the fumes of either high scores and grades or impressive essays and extracurricular activities alone. Driven individuals leave nothing to chance and understand that anything worth anything takes hard work.

The essay is the most import part of the application

Jill Madenberg | Independent Educational Consultant
The personal statement is the best opportunity for you to tell the admissions officers about yourself. It's a great way for the readers to get to know you as a person; beyond your GPA, rank and standardized scores. Be sure to edit your essay carefully and expect to write several drafts. It's SO important to take your time and not to rush this crucial part of the application. Have fun!

Transcript Trumps All

Jane Shropshire | Founder
Ask admission officers what’s most important to a student’s application for admission, and they’ll quickly focus on the transcript. Why? The transcript tells all: whether a student has persisted with all academic core subjects throughout high school; level of rigor; grades; and rank in class. Test scores, recommendations, essays, activities and interviews all have their place in the review process as well; even a student’s demonstrated interest in the college may be taken into consideration. But each of these components pales when placed beside the credential that speaks loudest about a student’s ability to succeed academically in college.

Transcript, transcript, transcript

Carol Stack | Principal
As I think about my years of reading applications for admission, there is no doubt that the one item in each file on which I placed the most focus was the student’s transcript. Why? Because a transcript reveals so much about a student: motivation, curiosity, enthusiasm, dedication, and willingness to exploit the offerings of her school. To the degree that past performance is the best predictor of future success the transcript is the record of that success. It exposes everything from course selection to attendance – and in a nutshell, serves as the proof points for the way in which a student describes herself in the narrative portions of the application.

You Can Control the Most Important Parts of Any Application

John Carpenter | Founder
The most important components of any application are also the ones that are completely in your control: your academic record, your attention to details such as submitting the application on time, and your essays. Admissions officers look for how you've challenged yourself by the classes you've taken and then they look at the grades you received. They love it when you have paid attention to details and gotten everything right by answering all the questions completely and submitted everything before the deadline. And they really pay attention to what you write in your personal statement--that's the one place where you have 100% control over what they learn about you, so use that part of the application to your advantage.


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