Selecting the right college is as much about you finding the school that most closely matches what you want as it is about colleges selecting the students that will do best there. College admission officers have the job of weeding through each application and trying to assess how that student might fit into their freshman class. There are several factors that almost every school considers and while every school may weigh them differently, these are the key criteria used.


Your high school transcript is frequently the most critical factor in admission. Your grades are an indicator of how well you have done in your current setting, which admission officers will use to predict how you might perform in their academic environment. We can’t stress enough that it’s important to take all four years of high school seriously and get the best grades you can in the hardest courses you can handle. GPA stands for grade point average, which means every grade you get is included in this number. As with a test graded on a curve, highs and lows may cancel each other out so it’s best to remain consistently atop the curve.  


The classes you take in relation to what classes were available at your school matters at most competitive schools. Admission officers prefer students who challenge themselves so if you have the choice, take the AP course and do the best you can instead of coasting through an easier class. For those aiming for the highly selective colleges, it’s expected that you take the advanced coursework.

Class Ranking

You’ll often be asked for your class ranking on admission material or websites – if you’re not familiar with this term, it is the mathematical number placed on you based on your GPA relative to the number of students in your class. Many colleges post rankings as part of their requirements – being in the top 20% of your class is common for most competitive colleges.

Standardized Tests

In the last couple of years, many colleges have made these tests optional for admission requirements. For the schools that require them, most have a minimum test score on the ACT or SAT, which will be included as part of the admission requirements. Even if tests aren’t required, that doesn’t mean you should avoid taking them.  Standardized tests are excellent preparation for college work and even where they aren’t required, good test scores can really solidify your application.

What about the essay, extracurricular activities, the interview…? Refer to The Other Criteria for our tips on what else matters in the admittance process. Each college admission process is different so it’s up to you to find out what factors matter the most at the schools you really want to gain acceptance at. The best way to do so is to ask and once you know the answer, tailor your application materials accordingly.