Out of the 3,500 accredited American colleges and universities, only about 50 are considered “highly selective”, meaning they regularly admit less than 25% of their applicants. A couple of hundred colleges are deemed “selective”, generally defined as those which admit less than 50% of their applicants. Selective universities tend to utilize a holistic admissions process in which they consider and evaluate the student as a whole. They are looking for more than excellent grades and test scores. Although these are certainly important, distinctive personal accomplishments, and community involvement and service are also weighed heavily. Selective schools are inundated each year by applicants with strong grades and testing; so what sets the admitted ones apart from those who are denied?
Most importantly, schools want to see that you would be a good fit and that you will be able to positively contribute to their campus. Leaders, well-rounded students,and those with extracurricular accomplishments and interesting talents have a competitive edge. Strengths in athletics, the arts, and/or academic accomplishments and recognition in such areas as poetry and journalism are helpful. Taking challenging high school coursework, demonstrating a passion for learning, and being consistently active in your school and community show your engagement. It is important to take an active role in demonstrating your talents and commitment.Throughout high school, work to make a difference by having an impact on your school and/or community. Make it clear in your application that you intend to continue to contribute your special skills and/or passions in a particular area once admitted to their university.
Additional factors evaluated by selective admissions departments may include legacy status and strong letters of recommendation from high school counselors and teachers (don’t forget to request these during the first few weeks of senior year, or even at the end of your junior year). Also significant are a strong application essay written by YOU and clearly stating your reasons for wanting to attend; athletic accomplishments, special skills and/or talents; active participation in college visits, fairs and interviews; and your capacity to contribute to the college’s diverse community It certainly doesn’t hurt to have made recognized contributions to your community or culture. Involvement in two or three activities throughout high school, such as community service and sports, will demonstrate that you are well-rounded. Demonstrated leadership in a group, interesting summer experiences such as a foreign exchange trip, community service and internships are also important. Demonstrated interest in your prospective major, such as through volunteer work, can also show your sense of purpose and dedication.
The most competitive applicants to selective schools have a high weighted GPA (3.8-4.6) focused on challenging coursework, high SAT (750-800 per test section) or ACT (>30 Composite) scores, high AP test scores (4s and 5s), ongoing participation in extracurricular activities, and solid essays and letters of recommendation. Consistency or steady improvement in your grades, along with an explanation of a bad semester, should be highlighted. More and more schools are turning to social media as an “online resume”, so make sure you are using sites such as Facebook to highlight your strengths. You also may want to consider creating a resume, further explaining accomplishments such as academic honors and awards, along with any interesting activities you are committed to both in and outside of high school. Some colleges will allow you to submit a resume, as long as it shares new information and/or provides more detailed information about what matters deeply to you. Above all, demonstrate your interest, and showcase all the reasons you feel you would be a perfect fit for colleges to which you are applying.