When it comes to the college process, there is a constant feeling of stress and pressure for what each college looks for, and the more important question is: What do they actually care about? Everyone wants to go to the best possible university for themselves, but when applying there may be some aspects that are weighed heavily that many were previously unaware of.
One facet of applying to college that carries much importance is standardized testing, including the SAT and ACT. These lengthy tests require hours of studying and preparing to receive a sufficient score. Taking these tests also come with a hefty price tag; an SAT or ACT tutor could cost more than $100 an hour. However, the admissions process is constantly changing, and recently many big-name schools have become test-optional. This means that students applying to certain schools are not required to submit their ACT or SAT scores. Schools like Bryn Mawr College, Wake Forest University, and the University of Chicago have taken this step to open the door to more students and to diversify their campus.
One prestigious school that has become test-optional is George Washington University. Laurie Koehler, who leads enrollment efforts at the university explains that “the test-optional policy should strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool and will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income households”.
Students who grow up in low-income environments do not have the resources to pay for a standardized test tutor, which gives them a disadvantage in the admissions pool. It is revealed that the higher the household income, the higher the test score. With the help of more test-optional schools, this could lessen the stress of many high school students applying to college and provide students with an equal chance of getting accepted.
Furthermore, extracurricular activities are seen as crucial to many students to enhance their college profiles and to separate them from other applicants. One extracurricular that comes to mind during the admissions process is volunteer work. The importance of volunteer work for applying students varies from college to college, however. At many of the top 100 schools, volunteer hours and not weighed as much as one may think.
On a scale of 1 to 4, 4 being the most important, renowned universities -including Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University, only rank volunteering at a 2. On the other hand, universities like the College of William and Mary, the University of California at Irvine, and Washington University in St. Louis rank it at a 4. People who work in college admissions view volunteering as a common activity for students. Volunteering does not make someone a unique student and does not separate them from other students applying. It also makes for mediocre and stereotypical essays, and many sound superficial and lack any form of singularity from the student. Although volunteering as an extremely respectful action, if a student is doing it exclusively for the benefit of getting accepted into college, they may need to take a step back and relook at their reasons for volunteering.
A myriad of universities, specifically those abroad solely care about one’s grades and test scores and do not look at any form of activities. McGill University located in Montreal and Quebec in Canada is one example of a university that merely focuses on grades and test scores. When applying as a student from the United States, this university does not take into account any extracurricular activities, clubs, sports, or musical involvement. This makes the application process extremely selective as they only care for your 10th, 11th, and 12th-grade academic performances.
As the admissions process is continually evolving, each college looks for something different in every prospective student. With grades having the utmost importance when selecting students, extracurricular activities and standardized test scores carry different weights at every university. The college application process is a stressful experience for every student, no matter their academic achievements. Overall, finding a college that feels like home is what is truly important for each and every student.
Graphic: Jacob Baskin