At first glance, colleges’ admit decisions can be tough to figure out. It is not uncommon for an applicant to get into a “hard” college but be rejected by an “easier” college.
That being said, colleges are actually pretty predictable in the factors they consider when making their decisions. Most selective colleges in the U.S. use a holistic admissions process that looks at several aspects of an applicant’s life. (Admissions “randomness” is largely the result of different colleges weighing these factors differently.)
What factors do colleges consider? The Philadelphia Inquirer recently observed the application review process at Lehigh University, a selective college in Bethlehem, Penn. It found that Lehigh’s admissions staff consistently evaluated applicants in the following areas:
- School performance. Applicants were expected to earn excellent grades throughout high school and finish strong. Bad senior-year grades were particularly detrimental to an applicant’s chances.
- High school rigor. If an applicant’s high school offered lots of AP and honors courses, he or she was expected to take many of them. An applicant with a relatively easy schedule was seen as ill-suited for college-level work.
- Standardized test scores. A high or perfect test score would get admission officers’ attention; however, it wasn’t enough to generate an offer if the applicant was otherwise objectionable.
- Legacy status. Applicants with a close family member who graduated from the college had an edge.
- Geography. It helped to hail from a state that was underrepresented among students at the school.
- Demonstrated interest. Applicants who were likely to accept an offer were often admitted ahead of “superior” applicants who seemed unlikely to enroll.
- Intangible qualities. An applicant’s character (as evidenced in his or her recommendations, essays, and community service) factored into many decisions.