How to Determine Your Chances of Getting Into a College

Written by Nicole Swanberg
Published on March 5, 2023 · Updated on May 13, 2023

How to Determine Your Chances of Getting Into a College

Written by Nicole Swanberg
Published on March 5, 2023 · Updated on May 13, 2023

Looking for a way to determine your chances of getting into your dream school? We’re here to dive into some top things that admissions reps usually look for when reviewing applications. Now keep in mind there is no 100% fool-proof formula that admissions representatives stick to, but these are factors that colleges look at when deciding to offer you a spot in their incoming class.

Things to research about your top school:

Average GPA and Test Scores of Admitted Students

Usually, you can find this on a college’s website. If you can’t find it right away, simply Google “[insert College] class profile”. This will pull up data on the most current freshman class and their enrollment, financial aid, GPA, average test scores, and more! 

Knowing the average GPA and test scores of students who have been admitted in the past can really help you in your journey. If your test scores are lower than the average, is your GPA higher than average? Could you write a better essay or source more personal recommendation letters to make up for your lower stats? It helps to know where you stand when it comes to the numbers before you decide to move forward with applying.

School’s Acceptance Rate

Again, the school’s acceptance rate is usually publicly available on their website. The acceptance rate is how many students they accept per admissions cycle. 

  • For example, if the acceptance rate is 59%, they accept about 59 out of every 100 applications. 
  • Similarly, if the acceptance rate is 7%, they accept about 7 out of every 100 applicants. 

The higher the acceptance rate, the more likely you’ll be accepted. While this may seem obvious, it’s good to keep the acceptance rate in mind when selecting schools to apply to, especially if you’re planning to apply to a competitive Ivy League school.

The Factors

What are the factors that colleges look at when determining admission status?

In a survey conducted by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, 81% of colleges surveyed marked grades in college prep courses and grades in all courses as “considerably important.” 

Many experts say that your high school grades (and similarly, your GPA) are the single most important factor when determining admission at a specific college. Now, good grades show schools that you’re a diligent, hardworking student, but it’s not all about getting straight As or aiming for a 4.0 or 5.0 GPA. 

Colleges also consider the rigor of your high school course load. Getting a B in AP Psychology may be viewed just as highly, if not more, than an A in a regular psychology class. Colleges like to see that you’re challenging yourself, so if you have the bandwidth for picking up advanced classes, it can’t hurt your admissions chances! 

According to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling’s 2019 State of College Admissions report, 56% of schools rated an applicant’s personal essay or statement as either moderately or considerably important for admission. 

It’s safe to say that your essay is critical to your overall application, so ask a friend, family member, or English teacher to look it over for grammar, spelling, and general flow before you submit it. Remember, your essay is the one shot you get to showcase your unique skills, talents, and/or background in a way that doesn’t come through in numbers, like your GPA, grades, or test scores. 

Talk about a challenge you overcame, a special accomplishment you’re proud of, a trip that changed your life, volunteer opportunities that are meaningful to you – anything that will give the admissions reader a glimpse into who you are as a person (not just a number).

Many colleges require submitting two personal letters of recommendation from a non-family member. This could be a favorite teacher, club sponsor, your boss at your part-time job, high school counselor, or someone else who knows you well and can speak to your strengths.

Let them know well in advance what you need and when you need it by so they have enough time to put some thought into it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for edits if you don’t think it’s strong enough or exemplifies the information you’re looking to showcase.

Some may say that test scores are also critically important for admission. But now that many colleges have become “test optional”, that may not be the case. 

The significance of your test scores really depends upon the school you plan on applying to. Some colleges, especially highly selective and competitive ones, do place an emphasis on applicants’ scores that fall into a certain range. For example, if you want to attend Harvard, aim for a 1580 SAT or a 35 ACT score. That’s not to say that if your SAT score is less than 1580 that your chances of going to Harvard are shot. You’ll just have to make up in other ways on your application, like having a higher GPA, more leadership in extracurricular activities, an amazing essay, etc.

Again, many colleges around the world have become test-optional in the new COVID world, which means the admissions process is more focused on your character, your essay, your involvement in high school, and your recommendations. 

If your ACT or SAT score is not where you’d like it to be, it might be better to apply without your test scores at all!

You may be asked to submit a list or resume of any and all extracurricular activities you are involved in. This ranges from athletics, clubs, volunteer work, scouting organizations, part-time work, internships, etc. Colleges like seeing student involvement, because it gives them an idea of who you are and what you’re interested in. But before you go joining 10 different activities, it might be good to focus on one or two and commit to them. Try to secure a leadership role within the organization, which will help you stand out!

According to the 2019 State of College Admissions, each types of institution focuses to different factors:

  • Private colleges usually place more importance on the following:
    • Essay
    • Interview
    • Student involvement
    • Demonstrated interest in the school (that can be communicated through your essay)
    • Recommendations
  • Public colleges tend to value test scores more highly, in addition to the list above.
  • Smaller colleges tend to put an emphasis on legacy or alumni relations in their admissions decision (like if your mom or dad attended there).
  • Larger colleges place more weight on the state/county of residence as well as first-generation college student status.