College Admissions 101: What Do Colleges Want? (repost)

College Admissions 101: What Do Colleges Want?  (repost)

Attention high school sophomores and juniors and your parents!  The prospect of preparing for and applying to college is daunting.  During the fall of 2020, we hosted our webinar, College Admissions 101: What Do Colleges Want?  We think this webinar will be a good start!

According to,  “it may seem top secret, but colleges are perfectly willing to reveal their most important admission factors. You just need to know where to look.”  We are reposting this hour-long video hosted by our member Susana MacLean (with a special guest appearance by Tim Lear, Director of College Counseling at The Pingry School) to gain more insight into the process.

Click below for details, which include our zoom presentation and powerpoint presentation. 

Webinar recap:

Presentation of College Admissions 101

Here are final thoughts from our presenter, Susana MacLean:

Colleges and universities are trying to build a community of many different types of students, including historians, philosophers, scientists, athletes, activists, leaders, musicians, dancers, and artists.

When selecting applicants, colleges look first and foremost at a student’s academic achievement. They primarily determine this through a student’s transcript, particularly their grades in academic subjects (math, science, social studies, English, world languages) and their course rigor (college prep, advanced, honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate). In normal, pre-pandemic, times, most colleges also look at standardized test scores, the ACT or the SAT.  

But very selective colleges look beyond course rigor, grades, and scores. They also try to assess a student’s extracurriculars and community engagement and their character and personal qualities. These characteristics are revealed in a student’s activities list, their application essays, and their counselor and teacher recommendations. 

During COVID-19, standardized test dates have been cancelled and many opportunities for students to participate in extracurricular or community activities have been halted. College admissions officials fully understand this and are changing the way they evaluate applicants. A large proportion of colleges are allowing students to apply without test scores. Students should only take standardized tests if they feel they will perform very well (at or above the median of scores of admitted students to the particular colleges where they plan to apply), AND if they are certain that the test site will administer the test safely and if the community where it is has a very low COVID- positivity rate. 

Students should try to find ways to adapt their extracurricular and community engagement activities safely, and/or look for new ways to explore their interests. They can also explore an entirely new subject or activity that they might not have pursued pre-COVID-19. 

Colleges are adapting to COVID-19 circumstances and will continue to look for interesting, engaged, thoughtful students.