Here’s How Your Competition Can
Beat You in College Admissions…Part I

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: February 16, 2019

bike race - markus-spiske-544020-unsplash…which we could have subtitled Here’s How You Can Beat Your Competition in College Admissions, because if you do “it” better than they do, you’ll have a vastly better chance of gaining admission to the schools that you want to attend. And there’s nobody better at helping you excel at “it” than we are: That’s why 95% of our counseling students gain admission to their top-choice colleges.

The “it” is marketing. For the purposes of this article, it’s the activity of creating and communicating offerings that have value for prospective customers. You are that offering; colleges to which you apply are your prospective customers. As was written in a post titled The Right Way to Pitch Yourself to a School, “Selling yourself successfully to a college requires some serious marketing savvy. How to stand out to swamped admissions staffers, who together will be surveying a field of 2 million?” It’s now probably closer to 2.2 million.

College admissions officers consider multiple factors in their decision-making. We’re discuss the two most important – GPA and SAT/ACT scores – below, and then others in follow-up blogs. While GPA and SAT/ACT scores are the two most important admissions factors, admissions offices at different schools place somewhat differing weights on each of the factors that they consider, as do individual officers within those offices.

In the final analysis, however, they’re looking for an answer to a central question when considering applicants: What’s our college likely to get in the way of a student, person, and contributor to our community if we admit? In the parlance of marketing, that question is reduced to, “What value do you offer,” and in the fiercely competitive college admissions market, it’s “Why should we value you more than other applicants.”

No single factor that admissions officers receive to consider can possibly answer that question, because who you will be as a student, person, and contributor to their community – your overall value to the school – describes a constellation rather than a single star. Understand that while it’s never too late to start positioning yourself as a valuable applicant, it’s also never too early to begin. In fact, the sooner you start creating your constellation, adding one star at a time, the more stars you’ll be able to add, and the more time you’ll have increase their individual glows and nudge them into an identifiable constellation – your constellation, pleasing to the schools.

The single most important factor admissions officers consider is your GPA, adjusted for strength of schedule. Start early taking challenging classes and getting good grades in them because of their cumulative effect on GPA. For example, if you have a 3.75 GPA at the end of your sophomore year, in order to get it to 4.00 at the end of your senior year, you would need to average 4.125 for each of the next two years. But if you have a 3.75 GPA at the end of your junior year, in order to get it to 4.00 at the end of your senior year, you would need to attain a 4.50 during your senior year. In short, starting early is incredibly important…

…but so is performance: In the same post mentioned above, Keith Gramling, then director of undergraduate admissions at Loyola University in New Orleans, is quoted as saying, “Students ask us, 'Is it better to get an A in a regular class or a B in an AP class?' [the answer is] "Well, it's better to get an A in an AP class. But we are looking for students who have challenged themselves." So, to make sure that your critical GPA star sparkles, start early, and turn to us for help in course selection and tutoring if you need a boost.

The second most important factor admissions officers consider when evaluating applicants is SAT/ACT scores, and here, too, starting early can be critically important to make sure that star sparkles. We’ll discuss “theories” about why that’s so, but first, let’s look at some provocative data.

In a December 11, 2018 blog post titled New Research on Admissions Testing and Test Preparation, our colleague Jed Applerouth, PhD, reported on his peer-review study on “the factors for success in high stakes admissions testing.” Among his teams’ findings were “the importance of spreading tutoring sessions out over time and the benefits of starting SAT prep earlier in the junior year.”

Our analysis found that score gains which appear to derive from early start times must be partially attributed to the greater distribution of sessions, increase in contact hours, greater homework completion and more practice and official SAT tests. So it’s not the early start time that matters, it’s what students do with the extra time that matters: more preparation, more practice, more official tests.

In the end, cramming isn’t great, and practice effects are very real and powerful. When you invest more time in this process, you tend to have a more meaningful score increase.

And not one of those “mores” is possible without more time in which to accomplish them. Starting early gives students more time to prepare, practice, take advantage of tutoring, and take more official tests – the later is a no-brainer because it’s possible to suppress bad scores, and more and more schools superscore both SAT and ACT scores.

graduates throwing caps - vasily-koloda-620886-unsplashStarting early also offers the powerful benefits of transforming apprehension about testing into the more relaxed state bred by familiarity — almost all of us do better at mental tasks when we’re relaxed. An early start will help identify areas needing strengthening while there’s time to concentrate on them.

We’ve just discussed GPA and SAT/ACT scores — “the numbers” — and why early starts on making them shine are important. In our next blogs in this series, we’ll be discussing the non-numbers things that impact you ability to market yourself successfully to colleges and why there, too, early starts can make all the difference.

Topics: College Admission College Planning


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