There’s no doubt that stellar SAT scores and straight A’s will position you as a strong candidate for admission to some of the best colleges in the country. However, admissions officers also consider additional factors, such as your application essays, your character and your extracurricular activities when assessing your overall potential as a college student. Familiarizing yourself with the standards that selective colleges use when evaluating applications can help you make realistic decisions about where to apply.

High School Transcript

Your high school transcript is one of the most important parts of your application to top colleges. Your grades as well as the number and difficulty level of the courses you chose to take are used to determine whether you are ready for college-level work at an outstanding school. Taking the most challenging courses available and performing well academically can help you distinguish your application at the most competitive colleges. Although many high schools use different GPA scales, on the standard 4.0 scale, a 3.8 is typically considered a strong GPA at top colleges.

Standardized Test Scores

Colleges usually publish the range of SAT scores for the freshman class on their website. At highly selective schools, strong scores are definitely an advantage. For example, at Stanford, just over 76 percent of the freshman class scored in the 700 to 800 range in Math; roughly 64 percent scored in that range in Critical Reading; and 76 percent scored in that range in Writing. Most top schools now offer the choice between the SAT and the ACT, however, so students can choose which test is better suited to their skills.

Weight of Scores

At top colleges, standardized test scores are generally considered to be very important, along with GPA, class rank, applications essay and recommendations. However, the weight of the scores in the context of the overall application varies from school to school and from student to student. Many highly selective colleges stress that they use a holistic admissions approach when evaluating applications and consider the scores in conjunction with the strengths and weaknesses of individual students.

The Big Picture

Admissions experts at top colleges recognize that test scores can be influenced by students’ socioeconomic background, available educational resources and comprehensive test preparation. In addition to your grades and SAT scores, they often consider your leadership role in your school and your community, as well as any work experience you may have. Students with outstanding talents and those who have overcome great hardship also may find that their experiences and abilities are exceptionally relevant to their potential as future successful students at top colleges.

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