Though the American undergraduate college admissions process is somewhat complicated, it exposes the applicant to a wide variety of options at over 3,500 colleges and universities. His/her potential for academic success, evaluated primarily through his/her performance in high school, is the most important factor in a college’s decision to admit, waitlist or deny a student’s application for admission. Colleges and universities also take into consideration other elements of an applicant’s background: extracurricular activities, athletic and artistic ability, demonstrated leadership in these activities, non-academic interests such as employment or community service, the student’s character, their writing ability, etc. In some cases, an applicant’s family situation or adversity in his/her life and how it has been dealt with may be taken into consideration. The importance that an institution assigns to these and other factors will depend on the context in which they appear in the application and on their admissions standards.
Ideally, each student should apply to between 8-10 colleges/universities. The best strategy is to select and submit applications to a variety of schools. The student should apply to a few “reach” schools, which represent the most selective of those to which the student, given his/her record of academic achievement and extracurricular involvement, may realistically compete for acceptance. S/he should also apply to schools where his/her acceptance is a likely possibility, including at least one “safety”school, a college or university at which the chances for admission are very strong and where the student would be eager to attend should his/her other college applications be denied.
In this college search, students should discuss possible choices with family and peers, review websites (both general sites on finding a college (ex. www.collegeboard.org) and the sites of individual institutions), as well as the materials published by the colleges and universities themselves and commercial guidebooks (such as The Fiske Guide). S/he should visit colleges and use the resources in their school’s college guidance office. The student should do the research – only s/he can ultimately determine where and in what course of study they will be most happy.
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