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By Elizabeth LaScala

E-mail Elizabeth LaScala

About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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10 Most Important Factors in Selective College Admission

Uploaded: Nov 17, 2022
The single, most common question I hear as a college advisor is some version of “What does it take to get into a highly selective college?” Here are my selections for the top 10 factors students should develop over their entire high school career, beginning with a solid academic foundation in elementary and middle school.

1. A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student and may include Honors, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate classes.

2. Grades that represent strong effort and an upward trend. However, slightly lower grades in rigorous classes the student feels passionately about are preferred to all A’s in less challenging coursework.

3. Solid scores on standardized tests (SAT, ACT). These scores should be consistent with high school performance. Test optional does not mean test blind. The value of submission of strong test scores varies with the college.

4. Passionate involvement in several activities with significant time commitment spanning years of involvement. Depth, not breadth, is most important.

5. Letters of recommendation from teachers and a guidance counselor and sometimes an outside source which give evidence of integrity, special skills, positive character traits, and a genuine interest in learning.

6. Well written essays that provide insight into the student’s unique personality, values, and goals. The application essays should be thoughtful and highly personal. Each essay should be carefully constructed and demonstrate a command of proper writing conventions.

7. Special talents and abilities. Colleges are not looking for well-balanced students, but rather in putting together a well-balanced incoming freshman class. Special talents in athletics, the fine arts, and multiple foreign languages are some examples.

8. Demonstrated leadership in activities. Colleges are excited to admit students who will arrive prepared and willing to take leadership roles in campus activities and events. But leadership can take many forms and a leadership title is not always critical—it is the work the student does, and the initiative taken, that matter most.

9. Demonstrated intellectual curiosity, maturity and advanced skills developed through reading beyond the assigned curriculum, advanced coursework, research endeavors, community service and employment. You don’t have to check all the boxes; remember, you need time to eat and sleep!

10. Evidence that the student has fully researched the college and knows exactly why it is a good match for them. This is often demonstrated by the student showing consistent interest in the college, visiting, interviewing, asking intelligent questions of the admission officers and writing a standout “Why our college?” essay.

Elizabeth LaScala PhD guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She helps students choose majors and programs of interest, develops best match college lists, offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. Call (925) 385-0562 or visit Elizabeth at her website to learn more.
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Posted by Rich Buckley, a resident of Jensen Tract,
on Nov 17, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Rich Buckley is a registered user.

Hi Elizabeth,

The top 10 reasons listed are interesting.

Do you ever sense humanity will be better served, as a condition precedent rejecting the institutional top-10 criteria, by ignoring everything status quo, not grabbing and imprisoning students in the/your system?

In my eyes, "your system's" moral code is void of harmony, humility, light, love, truth, freedom, free-will, healing, and does not forgive nor tolerate but serves only obedience - tyranny.

Perhaps we should revisit this question in 6 months. I sense many institutional members-participants in your system believe they are captured in a system that only preaches hate and intolerance.


Rich Buckley,
Livermore, CA
Peace & Conflict Resolution . Org, Corp

Posted by Clay Peterson, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 19, 2022 at 12:24 pm

Clay Peterson is a registered user.

If one can carry a football and run for 100+ yards a game, they can get into any major college that has a serious football program.

And the same applies to gifted basketball players who can score 30 points a game.

For them, college constitutes the minor leagues to a lucrative pro career.

In contrast, countless academic types strive to get into prestigious Ivy League and other renowned public universities because they are not gifted as athletes and must rely on getting a real job upon graduation unless their parents take them back in.

I know of several recent college graduates who are now employed as Starbucks 'Partners' serving coffee and croissants. What a waste of schooling.

Then again, they took easy liberal arts coursework which doesn't require much work.

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