How to Increase Your College Admission Chances

on September 14, 2017

How do you increase your chances of getting accepted into college?


An excellent way is to focus on colleges that represent a true admission fit. In other words, do you have a realistic chance at getting into the colleges on your list?


A growing number of students view the admission process as a lottery. They figure if they apply to enough trophy universities, they will win a golden ticket.


This belief helps explain why most four-year colleges are receiving applications from students who are applying to many places.


The college admission process, however, doesn’t work like the Powerball. You must be qualified or your application never will survive the first round.


Here are five things to keep in mind as you assess whether the colleges on your list represent an admissions fit:


1. Understand what colleges care about the most. Each year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) asks its college members what admission factors are the most important. Every year, the answer is the same: An applicant’s grade point average in core college prep class is No. 1.


In the latest available survey, here are the most important admission factors:


  1. Grades in college-prep courses                       79%
  2. All grades                                                        60%
  3. Strength of high school curriculum                 60%
  4. SAT and ACT scores                                     56%
  5. Essay or writing sample                                 22%


I’ve talked to plenty of parents who think their teenagers have a shot at highly selective schools, even with less rigorous transcripts dotted with B’s and C's along with A’s.


Why? Here are some reasons: Their teens have a tremendous extracurricular record, they are capable of writing an awesome admission essay or they have an interesting backstory.


Those factors, however, aren’t going to be important enough to get a student past the first cut if they can’t satisfy the academic requirements.


2. Look at how many tough classes are on your transcript. Colleges want to know that you are doing well in your hardest classes and that you are challenging yourself.


Of course, this requires a balancing act.  You don’t want to take too many Advanced Placement or honors classes, for instance, if it will damage your GPA.


The importance of college-prep classes inevitably leads to the question of how many Advanced Placement courses do you need to take. Unfortunately, there is no set answer to how many classes to tackle.


Several studies have suggested that beyond a certain number of AP courses (most studies say five), additional AP classes no longer predict academic success.


Strictly for admission purposes, however, the number of AP classes you take partially depends on the caliber of colleges on your list.


Parke Muth, a former associate dean and director of international admissions at the University of Virginia, says students aiming for elite institutions should be taking at least as many AP classes as the other accomplished students from their own high school, who are applying to these academic alpha dogs.


Muth says that admission staffers will compare an applicant’s load of AP courses with those of the other applicants from the same high school. This can be much more of a burden from students who attend highly competitive public and private high schools.


Unless you are aiming for the most prestigious universities, the number of AP classes isn’t going to be as important or even an admission factor.


3. Compare yourself with the competition. When determining if a college is an admission’s match, you’ll need to determine how your academic credentials stack up with other teenagers. Cappex can easily help you research that admission angle with its tool called What Are My Chances Calculator?


With this tool, you can compare your GPA and test scores with other teenagers who applied previously. After supplying the figures into the calculator, it will instantly tell you your college admission chances.


With the tool, you will see a scattergram that displays all the acceptances and rejections that teenagers voluntarily shared with Cappex.


4. Check your class rank. Class rank isn’t a major factor for many colleges, but it is for highly competitive ones. Even with a stellar academic record, you could still get eliminated from consideration if you aren’t at the top of your high school class.


You can read more about the class-rank reality here: Does High School Rank Matter in College Admissions?


5. Pay attention to an application’s supplemental questions. Here’s an overlooked way that qualified applicants can slip up: spending little time on the short-essay questions.


This is a common supplemental question that can trip you up on admission applications:


Why are you interested in our college?


Here is a variation of a response that admission offices at popular universities hear all the time:


I want to attend your university because it’s got a great reputation and it’s located in an amazing location.


This common answer doesn’t suggest that the applicant knows anything about the university that isn’t incredibly obvious.


When answering this question, it’s important not to provide vague or superficial answers. Instead, be as detailed and thoughtful as possible.


For instance, you can mention that you are impressed with a particular academic department, undergraduate research opportunities or the honors programs. Try to connect your answer to relevant aspects of your background, so your response demonstrates why the university and you are a good fit for each other.


Betty Randall said her daughter Sophie, who is a freshman at Yale University, studied each university’s website to determine what each institution thought was special about itself. “She wrote to what each university was most proud of and she was very enthusiastic with her answers,” said Randall, who is a nurse in Southern California.


Sophie, who earned a 4.8 GPA, was accepted into all 11 of the universities on her list including, Notre Dame, Penn, Brown and UCLA.


The answer to that supplemental question can be an eye-opener for admission officers who are on the look out for applicants who are truly serious about their institutions.


Admission officers can be sensitive to the answer to this question since it is so easy to apply to many colleges with the Common Application. These institutions want to limit the acceptances of students who will hurt the institution’s yield.


Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, speaker and journalist. Her book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, is available on

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