The college admissions process is full of exciting, overwhelming decisions. You probably want to purchase a crystal ball along with your copies of test-taking strategies and college reviews. It is impossible to predict the exact combination of factors that result in college acceptance, but the key to any competitive application is using all aspects available -- grades, test scores, activities, essays and more -- to present yourself as a unique candidate.
Separate but Roughly Equal
GPA and test scores are equally important to your college application. The 2012 "State of College Admission Report" states that 59 percent of admissions counselors view grades as a top factor, and 52 percent view test scores as a top factor. Your test scores show that you have the critical thinking skills to succeed in college-level coursework. Your GPA is a more comprehensive record, providing insight into your strengths and passions.
Numbers Tell a Story
Think of your GPA and test scores as a personal narrative. Colleges gather information by comparing them: If you have below-average ACT math scores but top-notch reading scores and straight As in all subjects, colleges might deduce that you have a consistent work ethic and superior language skills. Meanwhile, research the GPA and test averages for specific colleges. Consider what strengths you need to highlight in other areas of your application, such as work experience or a personal statement.
GPA and Class Rigor
Colleges receive more applications than they did ten years ago. Due to the increased competition, each application receives less face time, making test scores and GPA more important. The rigor of your high school coursework has also become increasingly important, so high grades in advanced classes can make you stand out. Selective colleges will compare your transcript with the course offerings at your school, so take AP or honors classes to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity.
Fit is Important
Admissions counselors are looking to create a dynamic, diverse freshman class. They want students who fit their academic programs, philosophy and student body. Do your research and showcase experiences that match the unique programs to which you are applying. If you have advanced coursework, high test scores and relevant work experience in a specific area of study, colleges may see you as a more authentic fit for specific programs than less focused students with higher statistics.
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