This is is the second in a series of posts Tokyo Academics is writing about the college applications process. We hope it will provide some clarity in what can definitely be a confusing process!
Performance in school (class rank / GPA): This is the big one. First, the overall rules: (1) Higher is always better, but more important is how you compare against your peers; (2) if your rank/GPA isn’t high, an upward trajectory can be very helpful; (3) getting into a great school is possible with a lower GPA, but you’ll need to overperform on your test scores and other factors
Standardized test scores (SAT/ACT, etc.): This generally the second biggest component of the college application. Your test scores, along with your school performance, can generally tell you with a decent level of confidence about your chances with a certain school. See the Exhibits 2, 3, 4 and 5 to see the correlation between GPA, SAT/ACT score, and application outcome across multiple schools (Source: Cappex.com).
Again, absolute scores are important here, but more important is your percentile rank. For example, for SAT subject tests, a perfect 800/800 on the SAT Math II is great, but it’s only 91st percentile, meaning you should really be aiming for an 800 and nothing less. Getting a 760, the 90th percentile, on the Molecular Biology test means as much getting an 800 on the Math II.
Essays: This is your chance to show the school who you are outside of your data points. Why are you more than what your numbers say you are? Do you demonstrate creativity, leadership, or maturity? This is your opportunity to show why you’re an exceptional human being and why you’re a great fit for the school you’re applying to. A couple quick rules:
X-factor: What have you done that is exceptional? We mentioned in an earlier post that you should focus on a few extracurricular hobbies and interests instead of working on everything indiscriminately. If you’ve truly focused on passions, has that manifested itself in exceptional work?
Recommendations: Schools take letters of recommendation very seriously - these are objective assessments of your character and personality. Most colleges require two teacher recommendations and one from your college counselor, so make sure you get to know your counselor and teachers early on. Make this process easier for your teachers and counselor – provide them all the materials that might be useful, as well as forms and envelopes, and do it well in advance of the application deadlines. They don't write these in a vacuum - not only do they reference their direct experience with you, but if you can help them understand the narrative you're trying to create, they usually will be happy to work with you on it.
We're going to take a deeper dive into each of these sections in the next few posts - stay tuned!