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Beyond GPA: The 12 “Other” Most Important Factors in College Admission

You are very likely in the process of completing your applications for University of California colleges, as well as your REA, EA, and/or ED choices. You may be working on your portfolios, your resumes, or even your introductory videos. You may still be scheduling live or virtual visits to your favored colleges. At the very least, you are hopefully requesting information from all the colleges on your list. Alright then! Now, it’s time to move to the other 99% of colleges whose application deadlines fall between January 1 and February 5. If you are applying to 15 colleges, then you have somewhere around 45 essays of varying length to write. And this doesn’t even include the Common App’s Personal Narrative. There’s no better time to start than right now. Why? Because you can’t expect any of your essays to be exactly the way you want it on the first draft.

Also, let’s not forget the all-important activities section of the common application. You can enter up to 10 activities ranging from community service to academic enrichment. Each activity should be accurately described, along with your position or achievements. Also, don’t forget the common application’s optional community disruption/COVID-19 essay to describe how the pandemic or some other disaster has negatively impacted your application. Don’t feel bad about using this space to discuss the hardships you may have faced resulting from any one of several natural disasters or personal disasters that you may have faced. Of course, as with every aspect of your application, it is better to discuss how you have risen above these challenges than to admit how you have succumbed to them.

I used to say that college admission was half art and half science. However, with all the changes that have occurred in the college admission process over the past two years, the equation has swung strongly to the art side. These days, you really have to understand how to finesse the application because you have fewer data points to objectively prove your value. At no time has the need to paint a vivid, holistic portrait of yourself been more critical to your college admission success. For some, this is good news. Those who are not particularly adept at taking standardized tests may still elect not to submit scores to a large percentage of top colleges. But keep in mind that lack of test scores will require colleges to put more emphasis on other aspects of your candidacy. For example, the importance of meaningful community service and leadership skills has never been as pronounced. Nor has the value of a meaningful internship, work experience, or academic enrichment experience ever been more important.

So, what are the most important aspects of a college application other than GPA? Here are the top 12:

  1. Academic rigor
  2. Standardized test scores
  3. Recommendations: teacher, counselor, and other
  4. Extracurricular activities
  5. Character and/or Leadership
  6. Community service
  7. Published works
  8. Significant research or Internships
  9. College essays
  10. Interviews (where offered)
  11. Demonstrated interest (where considered)
  12. A compelling narrative

Each of these 12 “other” factors requires significant thought and planning. Collectively, they should make a strong case that you not only belong at a college, but that you will make a significant contribution to the campus. I would like to stress that when a college application is done correctly, each of its factors compliments all the others. Nothing should exist in a vacuum, and everything should work together to paint an accurate and compelling picture.

by Neil Chyten