Essays, extracurricular activities, and teacher recommendations all go a long way in showing admissions committees the talent, curiosity, and engagement a student would bring to campus. But grades and test scores still take the lead.
According to a recent report by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, grades, academic rigor, and standardized test scores are the most important factors in admissions decisions (and have been for the last 20 years).
What does this mean for your patrons?
- Aim for good grades in challenging courses. Advanced math, honors, AP, and IB classes all signal to admissions officers that a student is ready for college-level course work. Colleges look at overall GPA, too!
- Make a plan to prep for the test of your choice. Colleges accept both the SAT and ACT, so students should explore both to see which test is best for them.
Great grades and stellar test scores do more than just help a student get into college—they can also factor into financial aid decisions. Some colleges offer full scholarships based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores, while others give out large merit-based grants for academic achievement. Even at schools where awards are based solely on financial need, applicants with impressive transcripts receive optimal aid packages—those with a higher percentage of grants and a lower percentage of loans.
The Path to College
Here are a few tips for college-bound students as they build their transcripts.
- Start early. Students should ask themselves, “What is the most rigorous schedule I can take and be successful?”
- Look at the big picture. Students should be aware of the prerequisite courses they need to take first so that they’ll be ready for more challenging courses later.
- All four years of grades matters. Sophomore and junior year grades are of particular interest to colleges, both for GPA and rigor, but admissions officers will see them all.
- Even if your student had a rough school year, there’s still time to turn their grades around. Many colleges will reward their upward trajectory.
- Honors or AP courses? Colleges like them both. The bottom line is that admission committees want to see that students are challenging themselves with the course options available to them.
- Don’t forget to leave room in the schedule for test prep. Most students take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the fall or spring of their junior year. Plan to start a study plan as many as 8 to 10 weeks before your student takes the test.
Taking a challenging workload that will appeal to colleges does not mean students have to feel perpetually overwhelmed. A key component of a smart high school plan is knowing where to go when you need help. At Tutor.com, our experts are online 24/7 to give students a hand whenever they get stuck. In fact, 95% of student who work with us report improved grades, giving them a better chance to get into the college of their choice.
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