Some colleges accept nearly everyone applying for admission, while others have exclusive standards that limit admission to a small percentage of applicants. The National Association for College Admission Counseling noted that college admission officials in 2011 used grades earned in college preparation classes, evaluation of the strength of the student's education program, scores from required standardized tests and the student's overall grade-point average as the major factors for admission to the college.
Colleges look at several types of secondary grades in deciding to admit new students. College prep course letter grades, including International Baccalaureate and advanced placement, rank as the most important grades for admissions officers. The applicant's overall point average influences the admission officer's decision, but it is ranked after standardized test scores and the overall strength of the school's curriculum.
Most colleges require students to take at least one standardized test, such as the SAT or ACT, and submit these scores as part of the application process. Students earning rankings as official National Merit Finalists or Semifinalists are given preference for admission over other applicants at many colleges. Higher-education institutions also look at advanced placement and International Baccalaureate exam scores before admitting the student. Perfect scores earn higher ranking over moderate passing scores on these assessments. However, the use of these scores for evaluating a student's college success has been questioned; William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard's dean of admissions, questions the use of standardized tests, including the SAT and ACT, as a predictor of student achievement during college.
Not all colleges demand a personal essay as part of admission requirements, but the National Association for College Admission Counseling noted in 2011 that the essay, along with a student visit to the school, personal contact with the student and an application submitted as part of the early admissions programs played an increasingly important role in admission compared with earlier years. Essays ranked after grades, strength of the secondary curriculum and test scores as a standard for admission. Colleges view the essay as additional information about the student's interests and personal qualities, according to the NACAC.
Recommendations and Interviews
Recommendations submitted for students from teachers and counselors ranked in the secondary category of importance for admission in 2011. The letters ranked with the personal essay, student interest in the school, class standing and extracurricular activities done during secondary school as a grouping for admission, according to the NACAC.
Colleges funded with public tax dollars typically publish formal admission requirements for applicants, but private institutions don't have any formal legal requirements regulating admissions -- with the exception of meeting civil rights laws that outlaw determining admissions based on the race or religion of the student. Laws also prohibit public and private schools from using physical disabilities as a factor in admissions. College admission also doesn't guarantee students earn acceptance to other specialized schools or departments within the university, such as film, theater or music.