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The 5 most important factors in US college admissions that aren’t grades

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Everyone dreams of going to an American university, but getting into top colleges like Harvard is very competitive. While it is widely-regarded that high school grades are the most comprehensive factor in determining admission to the top universities in the United States, there are a bunch of other parts of your application that admissions teams are looking for. Read these 5 factors and learn how your application will be considered so you can stand out and boost your chances to get into a top American university.


The SAT or ACT is a great way to make up for potential blemishes in your transcript. A common misconception about the SAT or ACT is that because they don’t test you on content, you can’t study for the test like you would for a biology test. In reality, these standardized tests can be learned just like any test and with the right preparation students can immediately boost their chances of getting into their dream schools. There are many great ways to study for the tests like buying a textbook, using an online curriculum, or hiring a private tutor like SoFlo SAT Tutoring. Try to choose the prep method that makes the most sense for you.


A common misconception about college admissions is that it favors those who excel in one specific subject, like science or english, or one specific activity, like sports or debate team. Though that may help your chances, colleges are looking for a student that participates and excels in many subjects. Students who are multifaceted have a way higher chance of catching the eye of an admissions officer. It’s great to be a good student with high test scores, but playing a sports and a musical instrument are important ways to show your personality. Colleges are looking for good students, but they also want campus leaders. They need students to be the head of the newspaper or the lead trumpet in the school band.

An original essay

Most schools (including all common app schools) will require you to write a 500-700 word personal statement speaking on a time you overcame adversity or a story of personal growth that speaks to your character. In these essays, many students focus on examples like sports injuries that they feel like represents adversity in their lives. In reality, admissions officers can see what activities you participated in during high school in the activities section of your application, and having a fun-to-read and original angle for your essay gives you a much higher chance of standing out and speaking to your personality. Colleges are reading thousands of essays. There are so many students with great grades and high test scores that writing an essay that is original and compelling will do wonders for your admissions chances.

The Whole Person

Though it is not crucial, students can give their application a favorable boost by engaging in meaningful community service opportunities during their time in highschool. Colleges are not just evaluating you on your prowess in the classroom but on the content of your character. Helping others is a great way to show your ability to give back to others and represent their institution in the future as a student. 


Although many students will oversell themselves on the other factors mentioned above, it is easy for admissions officers to see through the facade. There is no point in trying to falsely advertise yourself as the most service-oriented or the most well-rounded student ever, the best thing you can be is authentically yourself. College campuses are looking for students who are proud of the things they have accomplished and honest about the ways they want to improve. They know you aren’t perfect, they’re just hoping you are able to accept that and fill out an application that best leans to your strengths. If you lie about your application or have someone else write your essay, you will be cheating yourself. It is always better to write the essay yourself and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses as an applicant. However, if you have a glaring problem, like a suspension from school, you will want to contact the admissions office directly with a professional letter and a phone call to explain the situation.

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By Adam Shlomi

Adam Shlomi is the founder of SoFlo SAT Tutoring, which offer exceptional test prep to students in need. Adam is a Georg...more

Adam Shlomi is the founder of SoFlo SAT Tutoring, which offer exceptional test prep to students in need. Adam is a Georgetown University Alum who scored an 800 on SAT Reading, 770 on Math, and is now focused on creating socially responsible companies. less

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