College admissions in the United States


College admissions in the United States refers to the process of applying for entrance to institutions of
higher education Higher education is tertiary education leading to award of an academic degree. Higher education, also called post-secondary education, third-level or tertiary education, is an optional final stage of formal learning that occurs after completion o ...
for undergraduate study at one of the nation's colleges or universities.Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde, College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, Three Rivers Press, 2011, Retrieved January 6, 2016 For those who intend to attend college immediately after
high school A secondary school describes an institution that provides secondary education and also usually includes the building where this takes place. Some secondary schools provide both lower secondary education (age 12 to 15) and upper secondary educatio ...
, the college search usually begins in the
eleventh grade Eleventh grade, junior year, or grade 11 (called Year 12 in Wales and England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. ...
with most activity taking place during the
twelfth grade Twelfth grade, 12th grade, senior year, or grade 12 is the final year of secondary school in most of North America. In other regions, it may also be referred to as class 12 or Year 13 Year Thirteen is an educational year group in schools in man ...
, although students at top high schools often begin the process during their
tenth grade Tenth grade or grade 10 (called Year 11 in England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwe ...
or earlier. In addition, there are considerable numbers of students who transfer from one college to another, as well as adults older than high school age who apply to college.


Millions of high school students apply to college each year. There were approximately 4.23 million in the high school graduating age group in 2018–19, with an estimated 3.68 million high school graduates (3.33 million in public schools and 0.35 million in private schools). The number of high school graduates is projected to rise to 3.89 million in 2025–26 before falling back to 3.71 million in 2027–28. From within this cohort, the number of first-time freshmen in post-secondary fall enrollment was 2.90 million in 2019, divided between 4-year colleges (1.29 million attending public institutions and 0.59 million attending private) and 2-year colleges (approx 0.95 million public; 0.05 million private). The number of first-time freshmen is expected to continue increasing, reaching 2.96 million in 2028, maintaining the demand for a college education. High school students will typically begin the college admissions planning process in their
junior year A junior is a student in their third year of study (generally referring to high school or college/university study) as coming immediately before their senior year. Juniors are considered upperclassmen. Education in the United States High school I ...
, with applications due in October of their senior year (for Early Decision or
Early ActionEarly action (EA) is a type of early admission process offered by some institutions for admission to colleges and universities in the United States. Unlike the regular admissions process, EA usually requires student A student is primarily a ...
) or in December of their senior year (for Regular Decision) although the application timetable for each college may vary. For example, many public universities such as the
University of California The University of California (UC) is a public university, public Land-grant university, land-grant research university, research university system in the U.S. state of California. The system is composed of the campuses at University of Californ ...
system have a November deadline. Because the admission process places much weight on a student's high school transcript, admissions planning in the broader sense might take place much earlier in a student's high school career. Students can apply to multiple schools and file separate applications to each school. Recent developments such as electronic filing via the
Common Application The Common Application (informally known as the Common App) is an undergraduate college admission application Application may refer to: Mathematics and computing * Application software, computer software designed to help the user to perform spe ...
, now used by about 800 schools and handling 25 million applications, have facilitated an increase in the number of applications per student. Around 80 percent of applications were submitted online in 2009. About a quarter of applicants apply to seven or more schools, paying an average of $40 per application. Most undergraduate institutions admit students to the entire college as "undeclared" undergraduates and not to a particular
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major Major is a military rank of commissioned officer status, with corresponding ranks existing in many military forces throughout the world. Background When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicators, major is one rank senior to ...
, unlike many European universities and American graduate schools, although some undergraduate programs such as
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engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad rang ...

may require a separate application at some universities. As a general rule, applying to two-year county and community colleges is much easier than to a four-year school, often requiring only a high school transcript or minimum test score. Recent trends in college admissions include increased numbers of applications, increased interest by students in foreign countries in applying to American universities, more students applying by an early method, applications submitted by Internet-based methods including the
Common Application The Common Application (informally known as the Common App) is an undergraduate college admission application Application may refer to: Mathematics and computing * Application software, computer software designed to help the user to perform spe ...
and Coalition for College, increased use of consultants, guidebooks, and rankings, and increased use by colleges of waitlists. These trends have made college admissions a very competitive process, and a stressful one for student, parents and college counselors alike, while colleges are competing for higher rankings, lower admission rates and higher yields to boost their prestige and desirability. Admission to U.S. colleges in the aggregate level has become more competitive but most colleges admit a majority of those who apply; the selectivity and extreme competition has been very focused in a handful of the most selective colleges. (Total freshmen enrollment at the top 100 most selective schools where an admit rate is below 35% is below 200,000 out of 2.90 million total freshmen in all post-secondary institutions). On the other hand, colleges have increased outreach to attract applicants who have been historically underrepresented in their applicant pool and admitted classes, such as applicants from lower income neighborhoods (which may not be well served by knowledgeable college counselors) and applicants who are first-generation college students. In 2018, there was a probe by the United States Department of Justice, Department of Justice into whether colleges practicing Early Admissions violated antitrust laws by sharing information about applicants.Erica L. Green, April 10, 2018
Justice Department Launches Probe of College Early Admissions
'The New York Times'', Retrieved April 11, 2018''
The case ''Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College'' proceeded to trial, alleging that Harvard's race-conscious admissions practices discriminate against Asians and putting affirmative action in the context of college admissions again into the judicial arena. In 2019, there was a 2019 college admissions bribery scandal, widespread bribery and cheating scheme in which affluent parents used devious methods to get their children into competitive schools, involving cheating on standardized tests as well as bribes paid to college coaches and admissions personnel.Moriah Balingit, Nick Anderson, Susan Svrluga and Devlin Barrett, March 14, 2019, ''Washington Post''
Rescinded admissions, a class-action suit: Fallout from college scandal spreads
Retrieved March 15, 2018.



Applying to colleges can be stressful. The outcome of the admission process may affect a student's life and career trajectory considerably. Entrance into top colleges is increasingly competitive, and many students feel immense pressure during their high school years.Anthony Zurcher, July 25, 2014, BBC News
Ivy League miseducation
Accessed July 26, 2014


The college applications process can be stressful for parents of teenagers, according to journalist Andrew Ferguson, since it exposes "our vanities, our social ambitions and class insecurities, and most profoundly our love and hopes for our children."

High school counselors

Some high schools have one or more teachers experienced in offering counseling to college-bound students in their junior and senior years. Parents often meet with the school counselor during the process together with the student. Advisors recommend that students get to know their school counselor. The counselor usually works in conjunction with the guidance department which assists students in planning their high school academic path. School counselors are in contact with colleges year after year and can be helpful in suggesting suitable colleges for a student. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that it is improper for an admissions counselor to tamper with a student's "authentic self." According to their view, ideal counselors have experience with college admissions, meet regularly with college admissions officers, and belong to professional organizations. Counselors do not complete interviews, write essays, or arrange college visits. Most counselors have responsibility for helping many students and, as a result, it is difficult for them to provide individualized help to a particular student; one estimate was that the average ratio for all high schools of students to counselors was 460 to 1. Only about a quarter of public high schools have a counselor devoted to college counseling issues full-time, while almost three-quarters of private schools have a dedicated college counselor. Private school counselors tend to have substantially more contact with university admissions staff than public school counselors.


Fee-based consultants, some available entirely online, can be hired to help a student gain admission, although there are some free programs to help underprivileged youth learn how to fill out applications, write essays, get ready for tests, and work on interviews. Generally, when hiring a college admissions consultant, parents and students try to understand the consultant's philosophy, learn what services are provided, and whether any help will be offered regarding advice about financial aid or scholarships. Consultants can help a student select schools to apply to, counsel them on test taking strategies, review scores, help with essay preparation (but not writing), review applications, conduct mock interviews, provide logistical planning, and collaborate with others such as athletic coaches. Consultants try to keep a low profile; however, one admissions dean explained that she can "sniff out when there has been some adult involved in the process," and admissions personnel may detect varying quality regarding writing samples when one part of an application is polished, while other parts are less polished. Assistance by consultants or other adults can go to extremes, particularly with hard-to-check variables such as the college essays; according to one view, plagiarism on admissions essays has been a "serious problem," particularly on applications to private universities and colleges. Another risk in hiring a consultant is ''overpackaging'': the applicant appears so smooth and perfect that admissions officers suspect the person is not real but a marketing creation.

College admissions staff

A typical admission staff at a college includes a dean or vice president for admission or enrollment management, middle-level managers or assistant directors, admission officers, and administrative support staff. The chief enrollment management officer is sometimes the highest-paid position in the department, earning $121,000 on average in 2010, while admissions officers average only $35,000, according to one estimate. Admissions officers tend to be in the 30-to-40 age demographic. They are chosen for their experience in admissions, aptitude for statistics and data analysis, experience in administration and marketing and public relations. They serve dual roles as counselors and recruiters, and do not see themselves as Marketing, marketers or salespeople, according to one view. They are evaluated on how well they "represent their college, manage their office, recruit staff members, and work with other administrators." Michele Hernandez suggested there were basically two types of officers: a first group of personable, sharp, people-oriented go-getter types who were often recent college grads; a second group was somewhat out-of-touch "lifers" who often did not graduate from a highly selective college. Officers are generally paid an annual salary, although there have been reports of some recruiters paid on the basis of how many students they bring to a college, such as recruiters working abroad to recruit foreign students to U.S. universities. Many colleges and universities work hard to market themselves, trying to attract the best students and maintain a reputation for academic quality. Colleges spent an average of $585 to recruit each applicant during the 2010 year. There are efforts to make increased use of social media sites such as Facebook to promote their colleges. Marketing brochures and other promotional mailings often arrive daily in the hope of persuading high school students to apply to a college. According to Joanne Levy-Prewitt, colleges send "view books" not because they intend to admit them, but "because they want multitudes of students to apply" to improve the college's selectivity and to make sure that they have as many well-qualified applicants as possible from whom to choose the strongest class. Colleges get access to names and addresses after students give permission to them after taking the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT or SAT exams.

Information sources

''U.S. News & World Report'' compiles a directory of colleges and publishes rankings of them, although the rankings are controversial. Other sources rank colleges according to various measures, sell guidebooks, and use their rankings as an entry into consulting services. College Board launched a website called BigFuture in 2012 with tools to assist in the admissions process.



For those intending to enter college immediately after high school, the admissions process usually begins during a student's
eleventh grade Eleventh grade, junior year, or grade 11 (called Year 12 in Wales and England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. ...
when a student meets with a guidance counselor, selects some colleges, and perhaps visits a few campuses. The summer before
twelfth grade Twelfth grade, 12th grade, senior year, or grade 12 is the final year of secondary school in most of North America. In other regions, it may also be referred to as class 12 or Year 13 Year Thirteen is an educational year group in schools in man ...
is a time when many applicants finalize application plans and perhaps begin writing essays. Further, they decide whether to apply by early or regular decision. International students may need to take tests showing English-language proficiency such as the TOEFL, IELTS, or Pearson Test of English Academic, PTE Academic. The twelfth grade is when applications are submitted. Over the past three years, the subreddit r/applyingtocollege has been a tool used by high school students to familiarize themselves with the college application process.

Selection of colleges


There are many Rankings of universities in the United States, college and university rankings, including those by ''U.S. News & World Report'', ''Business Insider'', ''Money (magazine), Money'', ''Washington Monthly'', and ''Forbes''. Rankings have been the subject of much Criticism of college and university rankings (North America), criticism. Since much of the data is provided by colleges themselves, schools can manipulate the rankings to enhance prestige, such as Claremont McKenna College, Claremont McKenna misreporting average SAT statistics, and Emory University misreporting student data for "more than a decade," as well as reports of false data from the United States Naval Academy and Baylor University. There is hypocrisy surrounding rankings: some colleges pretend to loathe the guidebooks that rank them, yet if they get a good write-up, they "wave it around like a bride's garter belt." The choices made by colleges to boost their rankings have been criticized as destructive. Rankings may not take a college's affordability into account, factor in the average student indebtedness after college, or measure how well colleges educate their students. Rankings have been accused of tuning their algorithms to entrench the reputations of a handful of schools while failing to measure how much students learn. Some admission counselors maintain that rankings are poor predictors of a college's overall quality. In 2007, members of the Annapolis Group discussed Criticism of college and university rankings (2007 United States)#Presidents Letter, a letter to college presidents asking them not to participate in the ''U.S. News & World Report'' "reputation survey." A majority of the approximately 80 presidents at the meeting agreed not to participate, although the statements were not binding. Members pledged to develop alternative web-based information formats in conjunction with several collegiate associations. ''U.S. News & World Report'' responded that their peer assessment survey helps to measure a college's "intangibles" such as the ability of a college's reputation to help a graduate win a first job or entrance into graduate school. :


Sticker versus net price

Most colleges and universities, particularly private ones, have an artificially high and unreliable Sticker price#United States, sticker price while charging most students, by awarding grant and scholarship money, a "discounted price" that varies considerably. For example, in 2011–2012, the average sticker price for tuition, fees and living expenses at private colleges, was $38,590 while the average actual cost was $23,060; at public colleges, the average sticker price was $17,130 and the average actual cost was $11,380. The average full-time undergraduate gets $6,500 in grant aid along with $1,000 in tax-based aid to offset tuition and fees. Discounting began in the 1970s and was dramatically expanded in the 1990s. Sticker prices are set at much higher than the real costs for most students, sometimes more than double, sometimes only one and a half times as high. Estimates are that 88% or 67% get some form of discount. The average first-year student may be paying 48% less than the sticker price. Generally, the sticker-to-net price discrepancy is greater at private colleges than public universities. Colleges use high sticker prices to give themselves wide latitude in how to use funds to attract the best students, as well as entice students with special skills or increase its overall racial or ethnic diversity. The most sought-after students can be enticed by high discounts while marginal students can be charged full price. Further, the high sticker price is a marketing tool to suggest the overall worth of a college education by encouraging people to think that "schools that cost more must provide a better education." While there was growing concern about escalating college prices, most Americans believed that their personal investment in Higher education in the United States, higher education was sound. But discounting adds complexity to decision-making, deterring some students from applying in some instances based on a false sense of unaffordability. Students from low-income backgrounds may be discouraged from applying or driven to attend less challenging colleges as a result of undermatching. Many schools now recruit students who pay full cost to subsidize those who can afford to pay much less, resulting in the financial makeup of the student body at some colleges skewed towards mostly affluent students and low-income students but few students from middle-class backgrounds.Nona Willis Aronowitz, October 3, 2014, NBC News
Middle-Class Squeeze: Is an Elite Education Worth $170,000 in Debt?
Retrieved October 3, 2014, "recruiting high-achieving, low-income kids to apply ... 18 percent of Williams students now pay no tuition ... To offset the cost, these schools often aggressively recruit students whose families can pay the full cost"
In 2015, however, there were several instances of private colleges reducing their tuition by more than 40%.NBC News
These Two Colleges Plan 'Tuition Reset' With 40 Percent Cut
Retrieved October 12, 2015, "two small private liberal arts colleges are actually cutting tuition next year — by more than 40 percent. Utica College in New York and Rosemont College in Pennsylvania"

Net price calculators

In the fall of 2011, colleges were required by federal law to post a College cost calculator, net price calculator on their websites to give prospective students and families a rough estimate of likely college costs for their particular institution, and to "demystify pricing." A student or family could go online, find the calculator at a college's website, and enter the required financial and academic information, and the calculator will provide a personalized estimate of the likely cost of attending that college. The first online calculators were started by Williams College. The online calculators look at financial need and academic merit to try to estimate the likely discounted price offered to a particular student from a particular college, using information including details from tax returns, household income, grade point averages and test scores. Schools vary in terms of their pricing formulas; some consider home equity as a factor while others disregard it. There are numerous potential problems with the calculators. Some are difficult to find on a college's website; others require specific financial numbers, possibly leading to errors by parents or students; some are difficult to understand and use; some may be manipulated by schools to increase applications or to make it seem as if a college is "more affordable" than it is. Accuracy of calculator estimates may vary considerably from college to college. Ultimately aid decisions will not be made by calculators, but by humans in the admissions offices. Another tool is the College Board's expected family contribution calculator that can give families an idea of how much college will cost, but not for any particular college.

Financial aid

There are many reports that many applicants fail to apply for financial aid when they are qualified for it, with an estimated 1.8 million students in 2006 qualifying for aid but failing to apply. Applying for financial aid is recommended by almost all college admissions advisers, even for middle- and upper-class families applying to private colleges. Each college has its own criteria for determining financial need and loans. One advisor counseled against letting the sticker price of a college dissuade a student from applying, since many of the top colleges have strong endowments allowing them to subsidize expenses, such that the colleges are less expensive than so-called "second tier" or state colleges. College advisers suggest that parents keep financial records, including tax forms, business records, to use when applying for financial aid, and complete the FAFSA online, using income and tax estimates (usually based on previous years), early in January of their college-bound student's twelfth grade. Admissions officers can see the names of up to nine other colleges a student has applied to. According to several reports, some colleges may deny admission or reduce aid based on their interpretation of the order of colleges on the FAFSA;Ry Rivard, October 28, 2013, ''Inside Higher Ed''
Using FAFSA Against Students
Accessed December 12, 2013, "Now, some colleges use this FAFSA position when considering students' applications for admission, which may affect decisions about admission or placement on the wait list, said David Hawkins"
CBS News, Lynn O'Shaughnessy, October 30, 2013
Be careful what you share on the FAFSA
Accessed December 12, 2013, "The order, however, could also be hurting students who list their favorite school as No. 1. If a teenager shows too much interest in a school, the admission office may decide to offer the applicant a lower award because it is assumed that the child will enroll anyway"
Liz Weston, Reuters, November 11, 2013, Daily Finance
Colleges May Penalize Students Over Preference on Financial Aid Applications
Accessed December 12, 2013, "Students can list up to 10 schools to receive their financial aid information, and the ones they list first strongly predict which enrollment offers they're likely to accept, college consultants say"
accordingly, several sources recommend that colleges be listed alphabetically on the FAFSA to obscure any preferences. The earliest that the FAFSA form can be filled out is January first of twelfth grade; in contrast, the CSS Profile can be filled out earlier during the preceding fall. There are reports that many parents make mistakes when filling out the FAFSA information, and mistakes include failing to hit the "submit" button, visiting an incorrect FAFSA website, leaving some fields blank instead of properly entering a zero, spelling names or entering social security numbers or estimating tax data incorrectly. Since FAFSA formulas assume 20% of a student's assets can be used for college expenses as opposed to 6% of a parent's assets, advisors recommend moving funds from student to parent accounts before filing the FAFSA, including moving funds to a parent-controlled 529 plan tax-advantaged account. Filing taxes early is recommended, but using estimates for FAFSA from previous years is possible provided the numbers are updated later after taxes are filed. There are no fees for applying on the FAFSA site. According to one source, the best time to begin searching for scholarships is before the twelfth grade, to guarantee meeting deadlines. Several reports confirm that it is important to file aid forms such as the CSS Profile early in the school year. In addition to cost factors, increasingly colleges are being compared on the basis of the average student debt of their graduates, and ''U.S. News & World Report#America's Best Colleges, U.S. News & World Report'' has developed rankings based on average student indebtedness. A report in the ''Utne Reader'' chronicled substantial student indebtedness, and suggested that 37 million Americans in 2009 held student debt, and that nine in ten students used an average of 4.6 credit cards to pay for some educational expenses.Student Debt, by the numbers, Utne Reader, July–August 2012, page 39 The report chronicled an increase in average indebtedness from an average of $2,000 in 1980–81 to over $25,000 in 2009, as well as substantial decreases in Federal aid and Pell grants during that time period. ''U.S. News & World Report'' and others suggest another factor overlooked in terms of financing college, which is the length of time it takes to earn a degree. Finishing a year early (in three years) lops off a substantial portion of the overall bill, while taking five years compounds the expense and delays entry into the workforce. Jacques Steinberg suggested that many college-bound students calculate how much student debt, debt they were likely to incur each year, and he suggested that debt for all four years of college should total less than the graduate's expected first year's salary after college, and preferably under $40,000. A handful of schools have "free tuition" policies for low income students, so that they graduate loan-free.

Colleges by type

Most educational institutions in the U.S. are nonprofit. Colleges and universities in the U.S. vary in terms of goals: some may emphasize a vocational, business,
engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad rang ...

or technical curriculum while others may emphasize a liberal arts curriculum. Many combine some or all of the above. Another consideration is the male-female ratio; overall, 56% of enrolled college students are women, but the male-female ratio varies by college, year, and program. Admissions guidance counselors can offer views about whether a public or private school is best, and give a sense of the tradeoffs. Two-year colleges are often county- or community-oriented schools funded by state or local governments, and typically offer the associate degree (AA). They are generally inexpensive, particularly for in-state residents, and are focused on teaching, and accept most applicants meeting minimum grade and SAT score levels. Students commute to school and rarely live in dorms on campus. These schools often have Articulation (education), articulation arrangements with four-year state public schools to permit students to transfer. Consultants suggest that community colleges are reasonably priced, and after two years with solid grades and academic performance, many colleges are willing to accept Transfer admissions in the United States, transfers. Four-year colleges offer Bachelor of Arts (BA or AB) or Bachelor of Science (BS or SB) degrees. These are primarily undergraduate institutions, although some might have limited programs at the Graduate school, graduate level. Graduates of the tuition-free United States service academies receive both a Bachelor of Science degree and a Officer (armed forces), commission. Universities have both undergraduate and Graduate school, graduate students. Graduate school, Graduate programs grant a variety of master's degrees as well as the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Medical school in the United States, Medical schools award either the Doctor of Medicine, MD or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, DO degrees while Law school in the United States, law schools award the Juris Doctor, JD degree. Both Public university, public and private university, private universities are usually research-oriented institutions. Liberal arts colleges in the United States, Liberal arts colleges are four-year institutions that emphasize interactive instruction, although research is still a component of these institutions. They are usually Residential college, residential colleges with most students living on campus in dorms. They tend to have smaller enrollments, class sizes, and lower student-teacher ratios than universities, and encourage teacher-student interaction with classes taught by full-time faculty members rather than graduate students known as teaching assistants. There are further distinctions within the category of liberal arts colleges: some are coeducational, Women's colleges in the United States, women's colleges, or Men's colleges in the United States, men's colleges. There are historically black colleges and universities, historically black colleges; in addition, while most schools are separation of church and state in the United States, secular, some stress a particular religious orientation. Most are private school, private colleges but there are some Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, public ones. Public university, State colleges and universities are usually subsidized with state funds and tend to charge lower tuitions to residents of that state. They tend to be large, sometimes with student bodies numbering in the tens of thousands, and offer a variety of programs. They are generally less selective in terms of admissions than elite private schools and are usually less expensive, sometimes half or a third as much as a private institution for in-state residents. There are reports that due to recent budget shortfalls, many state schools are trying to attract higher-paying out-of-state residents. In the past few years, competition for spots in public institutions has become more intense, with some state schools such as the State University of New York reporting record numbers of students accepting their offers of admission. There are reports that tuition at state universities is rising faster than at private universities. Flagship#University, Flagship state universities are usually the most prominent public schools in a state, often being the oldest and most well-funded.

Methods of college entry

Test preparation courses

There are conflicting reports about the usefulness of test preparation courses. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that "most students don't need a coach or a class" and that the single largest factor was "familiarity with the test." Another report agreed that SAT/ACT prep courses were a waste of money and that taking a few practice exams, and understanding how each test works, was all that was needed.

Standardized admissions tests

In 2003, according to one estimate, 1.4 million students took the SAT and 1.4 million also took the ACT test, paying about $50 per test. Generally counselors suggest that students should plan on taking the SAT or ACT test twice, so that a low score can possibly be improved. One advisor suggested that students with weak SAT or ACT (test), ACT scores could consider applying to colleges where these measures were optional. One suggested retaking the tests if there are "subpar test scores" in September and October (if applying early admission) or November and December (if applying regular admission.) Generally over half of eleventh graders retaking the SAT or ACT tests during the twelfth grade saw improvements in their scores. Colleges vary in terms of how much emphasis they place on these scores. A consensus view is that most colleges accept either the SAT or ACT (test), ACT, and have formulas for converting scores into admissions criteria, and can convert SAT scores into ACT scores and vice versa relatively easily. The ACT is reportedly more popular in the Midwestern United States, midwest and Southern United States, south while the SAT is more popular on the Eastern United States, east and Western United States, west coasts. Regarding whether to choose the SAT or ACT, the consensus view is that both tests are roughly equivalent and tend to bring similar results, and that each test is equally accepted by colleges. Reporter Jacques Steinberg in ''The New York Times'' suggested that admissions deans repeatedly inform him that colleges view the ACT and SAT tests equally and do not have a preference. At the same time, small differences between the tests may translate into a slight benefit for the test-taker. One report suggested that the SAT favors "white male students" from upper income backgrounds. Another report suggests that the ACT has more questions geared to higher levels of high school mathematics, suggesting that students who do well in math may perform better, but that the SAT is a better choice for students with an excellent vocabulary. According to one view, the SAT is more focused on testing reasoning ability while the ACT is more of a content-based test of achievement. In addition, according to this view, some SAT questions can be trickier and harder to decipher while some ACT questions may be longer; question difficulty progresses within each SAT section while difficult questions are randomly interspersed in the ACT; the SAT has a separate vocabulary section while the ACT has a separate science reasoning section. In 2016 the SAT was updated to remove the penalty for random guessing; the College Board advises that test-takers will benefit by guessing.

SAT Subject Tests

Many colleges require, recommend, or consider SAT Subject Tests in the admissions process. One described them as "true equalizers" in admissions, suggesting how strong a high school is, and elaborated that some admissions officers consider them to be a better indicator of academic ability than high school grades. Another suggested that selective colleges emphasize SAT Subject Tests, while public colleges place less emphasis on them. The SAT Subject Tests were discontinued by the College Board at the beginning of 2021.

Advanced Placement tests

There was a report that scores on Advanced Placement exams could be helpful in the evaluations process. One report suggested there was a limit on the number of AP tests that should be taken, such that taking 12 AP tests was not as helpful as taking five and doing well on those five.


There are differing recommendations about the importance of interviews, with the consensus view that interviews were overall less important than college admissions essays, but should be done if they were offered. One advisor suggested that visits by college admissions personnel to the high schools were a waste of time for colleges, since there was not enough time to get to know specific applicants. In addition, she felt that personal interviews were generally overrated, though she noted that many Ivies have alumni interviews, which can help in borderline situations. One counselor suggested that if an interview was offered by a college admissions program, then it was not really optional but it should be seen as a requirement, that is, not going to such an interview could be detrimental to a student's chances for admission. Another suggested that a student should try to get an interview, even if it was not required, since it might help "exhibit character strengths" that might not show up via grades on high school transcripts. Several reports noted that most Ivy League schools have abandoned the interview requirement, but that if there is an opportunity for an interview, even with an alumnus of the college, then it is a good idea to do it since not doing it signals a lack of interest in the school. Knowing a college can be helpful during an interview, so that an applicant can say something specific about the school, or a professor who teaches there, or a subject or internship opportunities, since it shows sincere interest. Interviews (if offered) may be more of a factor at small liberal arts colleges: One suggested that a goal of interview preparation should be to present oneself as "comfortable with spontaneous conversation" and be able to talk about interests without sounding like the answers were prepared in advance, and suggested it was important to show intellectual passion and a love of learning with a deep excitement, and show "social maturity" with sensitivity, empathy for others unlike oneself, and concern for issues larger than personal career ambitions. An applicant should have an attitude that was not be what can the college offer but what can the student offer the college, and he or she should avoid asking questions about facts better answered elsewhere, and show an openness to new ideas, an ability to work cooperatively with others, ambition, and caring about others. Interviewees should be ready for sometimes provocative questions to test social sensitivity; if an interviewer asks a "baiting or leading question," an applicant should respond by laughing while politely disagreeing with the perspective, and to keep trying to enjoy the conversation with the interviewer. Another advisor suggested that students must be prepared to answer the question ''What is your biggest failure'' in an interview.Sanjay Solomon, January 30, 2015, The Boston Globe
Can a Failure Resume Help You Succeed?
Retrieved January 30, 2016, "Asking 'what is your biggest failure?' is an opportunity [for an interviewer] to get a reality check and to put a little pressure on this person"
Applicants should avoid sounding snide, annoyed, contemptuous, and avoid describing oneself as humiliated, bored, depressed, angry, shy, inhibited, anxious, frightened, and frustrated, and should be upbeat but avoid going for the hard sell. Another report suggested that shy or timid applicants were at a disadvantage. Another advisor suggested that a student try to find a common bond with the interviewer, and send a brief follow-up letter afterwards. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, colleges began offering interviews over video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.


There are differing opinions about the importance of the admissions essay, college essay. The consensus view is that the essay is less important than grades and test scores, but that an essay can make a difference in some instances, often at highly selective colleges where they can "make or break your application." There was one report that essays were becoming more important as a way to judge a student's potential and that essays have supplanted personal interviews as a primary way to evaluate a student's character. The
Common Application The Common Application (informally known as the Common App) is an undergraduate college admission application Application may refer to: Mathematics and computing * Application software, computer software designed to help the user to perform spe ...
requires that personal statements be 250 to 650 words in length. Although applicants may strive to reach the word limit, college admissions officers emphasize that the most important part is honing and rewriting: Advisors suggest that the essay should be concise, honest (with no embellishments), coherent, not boring, accurate, and visually evocative. The essay should reveal a likeable and intelligent individual. It should approach humor and controversial topics with caution and balance. Other tips include avoiding jargon or abbreviations, overly emotional appeals, profanity or texttalk (example: Schools H8 2 C texttalk), or artiness (e.g. poetry in an application) or cockiness. Former guidance counselor for students at Phillips Academy, Andover and college admissions authority Donald Dunbar suggested that essays must emphasize personal character and demonstrate intellectual curiosity, maturity, social conscience, concern for the community, tolerance, and inclusiveness. He advises to not merely "be yourself," but show your "best self." Dunbar furthermore claims that demonstrating class participation suggests a "willingness to go beyond selfishness" and shows enthusiasm for learning. Alan Gelb suggests that the only "no-no" is "shameless self-promotion." Topics to avoid include babysitting experiences, pets, encounters with illegal drugs or alcohol or criminal activity, excuses to explain a low grade, stories about a former home or big brother or sister, a simple listing of achievements, expressing thanks for being chosen as a leader, talking about a "wilderness leadership course," general complaining or whining, racism or sexism or disrespect for groups of people, bad taste or profanity or vulgarity or bathroom humor, early love or sex experiences, criticism or disrespect for parents, telling only jokes, excessive bragging or too many instances of the "I" pronoun, personal health information about yourself or a friend or a family member, and copy-and-pasting a term paper in the essay form such as about global warming or the European debt crisis. Applicants should refrain from express opinions too strongly as if no counterviews were possible. The topic should be something the applicant cares about, and should show ''leadership'' in the sense of "asserting yourself to help others have more success." According to Dunbar, leadership is not necessarily about being in charge such as being the team captain or school president. Applicants should present a broad perspective and avoid simplistic words such as ''never'', ''always'', ''only'', or ''nobody'', which suggest narrow thinking. Dunbar advised against the standard "tell 'em what you've told 'em" essay formula but doing something different, interesting, and exciting. Former admissions director Michele Hernandez agreed, and suggested that the best essay topics were a slice-of-life story with poignant details, in which the writer ''shows'' and does not ''tell''. She suggested that a student show their essay to a literate friend and ask if would they admit this person to the college. She recommended that applicants not try to come across as a "preppy well-off kid" but downplay parental status. Advisors Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that students proactively try to explain an unusual grade, such as a low grade in a core course. There are online databases available to help students write cogent essays.

Teacher recommendations

Many colleges ask for teacher recommendations, typically from eleventh or twelfth grade teachers of core courses who know the student well. A counselor recommendation is often requested as well. One report suggested that having more than four recommendations was a mistake, as a "thick file" indicated a "thick student" to admissions personnel. Teacher recommendations are becoming less important as a rating measure, according to one report. In addition, a few colleges are asking for recommendation letters from parents to describe their child:

Other considerations

Advisors counsel that applicants should meet deadlines, spend time researching colleges, be open-minded, have fun, communicate what "resonates" to the applicant about a particular school, not fall in love with one or two colleges, follow directions precisely and make sure to click the "submit" button. Rudeness towards staff members, feigning enthusiasm, and being pretentious are other turnoffs reported by admissions officers. There is strong consensus among counselors and advisors that starting the college search early is vital. One recommends starting early in the twelfth grade; another suggests that even this is too late, and that the process should begin during the eleventh grade and summer before twelfth grade. And sources suggest that students who begin the process earlier tend to earn more acceptance letters. Another advantage of beginning early is so that applications can be proofread for mistakes. Advisors suggest that emails should be sent to specific persons in the admissions office, not to a generalized inbox. Advisors suggest that applicants sending in paper applications should take care that handwriting is legible, particularly email addresses. Advisors counsel that mistakes or changes should be explained somewhere in the application; for example, an adviser at Grinnell College suggested that a record need not be perfect but there must be an "explanation for any significant blip." Advisors suggest that applicants should "own up to any bad behavior" such as suspensions since schools are "dutybound to report them," and suggest that a person should "accept responsibility and show contrition for "lessons learned," according to one view. Disciplinary actions are usually reported to the colleges by the high school as a matter of course. Advisors suggest that the application should help a student position themselves to create a unique picture. It helps, according to one advisor, if a person knows himself or herself, because that enables an applicant to communicate effectively with a prospective school. A report in ''The New York Times'' in 2016 suggested that some universities were considering changing their admissions guidelines to be more inclusive of less affluent applicants, to put less emphasis on standardized test and AP scores, and to put more emphasis on determining "which students' community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing"; the report suggested that college admissions policies were often "cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students."Frank Bruni, January 19, 2016, The New York Times
Rethinking College Admissions
Accessed January 19, 2016
Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Wallace, January 20, 2016, The Washington Post
To get into college, Harvard report advocates for kindness instead of overachieving
Retrieved January 20, 2016, "Parents, educators and college administrators have long wrestled with the unintended negative side effects ... intense focus on personal achievement and the unfair advantages of more affluent students."

International applications

International students form a large and growing percentage of applicants to American universities. According to Phillips Academy, Andover counseling director Sean Logan, applications to American universities from foreign students have increased dramatically in the past decade. International applications are typically similar to domestic ones but with additional complications. Most international applicants do not receive a GPA score or transcript from their school. Most will not normally take SAT or ACT exams, so these must be arranged. Most American universities are happy to accept international qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate and A Levels, although it is often up to the applicant to elaborate on the meaning of these qualifications. Non-native English speakers may be asked to provide English language qualifications such as TOEFL or IELTS scores. If a university requires or offers an interview, these can normally be conducted over the phone or with alumni residing in the applicant's country. International applicants often must cope with higher tuition fees and less available financial aid, although this varies significantly by college. Further, international applicants must also apply for a student visa, which can be a complex and time-consuming process. College admissions officers are generally looking to build a well-rounded class and look for students who will complement each other. Consequently, many schools are looking for students who are passionate and excel at particular things, and candidates who fulfill certain institutional needs rather than a "well-rounded kid." Institutional needs include athletics and music as well as geographical, cultural, racial, and socioeconomic diversity (Pell Grant recipients, first-generation students). Some schools, particularly public universities, will use admissions criteria which are almost entirely formulaic in certain aspects of admission. For example, they may be required by statute to admit a minimum number of in-state students, or to guarantee admission to students graduating the top 6% of their high school class, or to guarantee admission to valedictorians. Many admits, however, are made on the basis of subjective judgments regarding the student's "fit" for the institution. Admissions offices must read through thousands of applications, each of which include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and the application itself. In 2009, the average admissions officer was responsible for analyzing 514 applications, and officers have experienced an upward trend in the number of applications they must read over time. A typical college application receives only about 25 minutes of reading time, including three to five minutes for the personal essay if it is read. Larger admissions offices will have specialists assigned to cover different regions, and individual officers may act liaison for a regional set of high schools developing a deep understanding of their curriculum and rigor. The reading and preliminary admit / deny decision may be divided up into committees of readers, and borderline candidates are then discussed more collectively. Some admissions offices use a scoring system in an effort to normalize the many applicants. Criteria include standardized test scores (generally ACT (test), ACT and/or SAT), college prep courses, grades (as shown in the high school Transcript (education), transcript), strength of curriculum, class rank, degree of extracurricular involvement, and leadership potential. A combination of these can be used to derive an ''academic index''. For example, at Dartmouth College, data goes into a ''master card'' for each application, which leads to a ''ready sheet'', where readers summarize applications; then, an initial screening is done: top applications go directly to the director of admissions for approval while lackluster ones go to another director. Dartmouth uses "A" for accept, "R" for reject, "P" for possible, with "P+" and "P-" being variants. A committee might spend a week with the "P" ones, of which they only accept about a sixth. Many colleges also rely on personal essay(s) written by the applicant and letters of recommendation written by the applicant's teachers and guidance counselor. One principal benefit of the essay lies in its ability to further differentiate students who have perfect or near-perfect grades and test scores. Institutions place different weight on these criteria: for example, Liberal arts colleges in the United States#SAT optional movement, "test optional" schools do not require or even accept the SATs for admission. Some factors are beyond a student's control, such as a college's need in a given year for Affirmative action, diversity, Legacy preferences, legacy applicants, or Recruiting (college athletics), athletic recruiting. Some colleges hire statistical experts known as "enrollment consultants" to help them predict enrollment by developing computer models to select applicants in such a way as to maximize Yield (college admissions), yield and acceptance rates. Some of these models take into account factors such as an applicant's "zip code, religion, first-choice major and extracurricular interests, as well as academic performance." Some colleges extract information from the federal FAFSA financial aid form, including names of other schools the applicant is applying to.

Academic evaluation

High school grades, rigor of curriculum, and college prep courses

High school academic performance is generally the single most important factor in winning admission. Maintaining high grades is particularly important for the fall semester of twelfth grade. Academic performance in core courses is especially important. An ideal academic record is one of increasingly better grades in courses of progressive difficulty. Ninth grade grades generally do not count much, but trends are important—an upward trend in grades was a positive factor, a decline a negative one. Public universities are more likely to evaluate applicants based on grades and test scores alone, while private universities tend to be more "holistic" and consider other measures. Colleges also evaluate applicants by examining how a student has successfully exploited what a high school has had to offer. The strongest candidates will have been challenged by the most demanding courses their school has to offer . Where AP courses are offered, having a high grade point average based on good grades in AP-level or honors courses will be looked upon favorably, but dropping a hard course will be seen negatively. The college admissions office usually will know schools well enough to understand that not all schools offer AP-level courses so candidates from those schools are not put at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the admissions office will have a high school profile and takes into account such data as curriculum offerings, demographics, and grade distributions at the high school.

ACT and SAT scores

These are read in conjunction with the high school academic record, but their importance varies from school to school. Some schools are test-optional where applicants do not need to submit scores. Schools typically release information on the range of scores from their candidate pool as well as accepted student pool to make applicants aware of their student profile. Some schools will consider ''superscore'' results or ''superscoring'' when an applicant has taken the SAT multiple times by combining the highest score from different test subsections, although superscoring is rarely done for the ACT because of difficulty processing five separate rounded numbers.

Demonstrated interest

This can be an important factor in some situations, sometimes a "driving factor," since a college may be more likely to say yes to a student likely to matriculate. Accordingly, it has been advised to become knowledgeable about schools being applied to, and "tailor each application accordingly." College visits (including overnight ones), interviews, attending College Fair days, comments in the essay, contacting college faculty members, answering and opening emails, place position of the college on the FAFSA form or its FAFSA position, and other indications of interest can be a factor for many colleges concerned about their Yield (college admissions), yield—the percent of students who accept an offer of enrollment. According to Andover's college counseling director Sean Logan, it is important to have numerous contact points with colleges to show demonstrated interest: visiting, phone contact, emailing, visits to websites (including number of clicks as well as length of time on the website), whether a college visit included a tour and interview, and whether a college-recommended off-campus personal interview was done. Schools such as Connecticut College and Emory University have been credited as "popularizing the yield game" by refusing well-qualified students who failed to show much real interest in attending, as a way to boost their yield scores. One top high school student was waitlisted at a "likely" college for showing lack of interest:

Active participation

One report suggested that colleges seek students who will be actively involved on campus and not spend every day studying alone. As a result, they look recommendations from teachers that suggest active participation.

Weeding out difficult people

Admissions officers often try to screen out difficult people. According to Dunbar, many colleges are "afraid of aggression." He recommends avoiding "harsh humor" and signs of severe emotion, anger, or aggression. Admissions evaluators look for signals that might indicate a difficult person, such as disrespectful criticisms of others and evidence of substance abuse.

Analysis of essays

Michele Hernandez suggested that almost all admissions essays were weak, cliche-ridden, and "not worth reading." The staff gets thousands of essays and has to wade through most of them. When she worked as an admissions director at Dartmouth, she noticed that most essays were only read for three minutes. Some too-common essay types were the "outward bound" essay about how a person discovered their inner grit while hiking tough mountains or the "community service" essay about how a student discovered, while working among disadvantaged peoples, that "all persons were the same." Admissions officers seek to learn how a person thinks, what kind of person they are, and their level of intellectual promise.

Acceptances, rejections, and waitlists


Regular decision applicants are notified usually in the last two weeks of March, and early decision or early action applicants are notified near the end of December (but early decision II notifications tend to be in February). The notification of the school's decision is either an admit, deny (reject), waitlist, or defer. Notifications as an online status update on an individual college’s application portal are becoming more common, although a few schools still send notifications by email or regular mail (in which case a "fat" envelope is usually an acceptance whereas a "thin" envelope is usually a rejection or waitlist). Letters of admission typically require the admitted student to maintain good grades and good conduct before matriculation. Teachers and college counselors of seniors advise students against "senioritis." Schools do rescind admission if students have been dishonest in their application, have conducted themselves in a way deemed to be inconsistent with the values of the school, or do not heed warnings of poor academic performance; for example, one hundred high school applicants accepted to Texas Christian University, whose grades plummeted in the spring of their twelfth grade as a symptom of senioritis, received so-called "fear of God" letters from an admissions dean asking them to explain themselves and threatening to rescind offers of admission. Admitted students may also be awarded financial aid and notification of this is made around the same time. Students who are dissatisfied with an aid offer can appeal for the offer to be improved. International students who have been accepted will need to complete the necessary paperwork for visas (such as an I-20 (form), I-20 form). Rejection letters from most schools will mention that there is no appeal process but many schools, especially public universities such as the
University of California The University of California (UC) is a public university, public Land-grant university, land-grant research university, research university system in the U.S. state of California. The system is composed of the campuses at University of Californ ...
have a formal appeal process requiring "new and compelling" information from the appellant.

Wait list considerations

About half of schools use a wait list, particularly those that accept fewer than half of all applications. Schools use the wait list as an enrollment management tool because they are uncertain how many of their original admits will enroll, but the exact implementation varies widely among colleges. Some schools put a large number onto the wait list (relative to the class enrollment size) even though this puts many wait-listed students in "limbo" and gives most of them only false hope, the "basic equivalent of purgatory." With a class size of only around 2,500, University of Pennsylvania, Penn put 3,535 applicants on its wait list for the Class of 2022 (of whom 2,327 remained on the wait list) but accepted only 9. In the same year, Tulane University, Tulane put over 10,000 applicants on its wait list but admitted only 2. By contrast, the University of Oregon with a class size of 4,000 offered wait list status to only 264 and admitted 69 of them. However, many schools do lose a small number of admitted students due to a phenomenon sometimes called ''summer melt'': students, even those have sent in a deposit, will not show up in the fall, and this "melt percentage" can be as high as 5% to 10% of persons who have paid a deposit.

Transfer admissions

While most college admissions involves high school students applying to colleges, Transfer admissions in the United States, transfer admissions are important as well. Estimates of the percentage of college students who transfer vary from 20% to 33% to 60%, with the consensus position being around a third of college students transfer, and there are many indications that transfer activity is increasing. One report suggested that nearly half of all undergraduates in the nation were attending community colleges. Media coverage of student transfers is generally less than coverage of the high school to college transition. A common transfer path is students moving from two-year community colleges to four-year institutions, although there is considerable movement between four-year institutions. Reasons for transferring include unhappiness with campus life, cost, and course and degree selection. There are no consistent national rules for transfers, and requirements vary by college. Many community colleges have Articulation (education), articulation agreements with four-year schools, particularly Flagship university#Education, flagship state universities, so that matters such as the transfers of credits are handled appropriately. There are indications that many private colleges are more actively seeking transfer applicants. Still, transferring can be difficult; transfer students have been described in the past as "academic nomads."

See also

* College tour * Cooling out * FAFSA position * ''Hidden Ivies'' * Ivy League * National Association for College Admission Counseling * Need-blind admission * Open-door academic policy * Rolling admission * Senioritis * Student financial aid in the United States * ''The Early Admissions Game'' * Transfer admissions in the United States * University and college admission * First-generation college students in the United States



* * * * {{cite book , last1=Mamlet , first1=Robin , last2=Vandevelde , first2=Christine , title=College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step , year=2011 , publisher=Three Rivers Press , location=New York , isbn=978-0-307-59032-9 , ref={{harvid, Mamlet, 2011

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