What Colleges Consider

Much time and energy goes into a college decision. It is not an exact science, and the more competitive the college, the less predictable the admissions selection process will be.

Let’s examine the important pieces of the college application puzzle.

Curriculum and Grades

First and foremost is your academic record: the types of courses you have taken as well as the grades you have earned. All four years of high school will be considered, including Freshman and Senior years. Colleges want you to take the most rigorous coursework you can handle, including advanced and AP courses. They want to see improvement and progression in your GPA over the course of high school. Most colleges will also want to see your first semester grades in senior year. Whichever college you enroll at will require your final transcript through the end of senior year. If you do not satisfactorily complete senior year – and each college defines “satisfactorily” differently – the colleges reserve the right to reconsider and possibly rescind your acceptance. To avoid such a scenario, it is in your best interest is to continue to work diligently throughout your senior year.

Standardized Tests

Whether you like it or not, standardized tests play a significant role in college admissions. As a student, you need to be familiar with the different tests and how they are used.

All Devon Prep ninth through eleventh grade students will have experience with PSAT/NMSQT Test. The PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. This is a standardized test (typically given in October) that provides firsthand practice for the SAT Reasoning Test. It also gives you a chance to enter National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) scholarship programs. For more information about the PST/NMSQT, please see www.collegeboard.org/student/testing/psat/about.html.

Most students will first take the SAT Reasoning Test (SAT) during their junior year. The SAT will assess how you analyze and solve problems. There are three sections to the SAT: the Critical Reading, Mathematics and Writing sections.

  • Most colleges and universities will consider the highest critical reading, math, and writing scores, even if they are at different sittings. That said, we encourage students to take the SAT more than once.
  • Students are recommended to take the SAT in the spring of their Junior year and again the fall of their Senior year.

More information on the SAT can be found at www.collegeboard.org/student/testing/sat/about/SATI.html and www.collegeboard.org.

Another option for students is to consider the ACT Test. The ACT Test assesses high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work. Students are tested in four general areas: English, Mathematics, Reading and Science. The ACT Test, like the SAT Test, is typically offered multiple times during the academic year.

Many of the “most selective” colleges will also require two to three SAT Subject Tests. Many colleges, however, do not. These are hour-long tests in specific subjects such as Physics, U.S. History, Spanish and Molecular Biology. They are administered on the same day as the SAT, so you can only do one or the other on a given day. Even if not required for admission, they may be used for placement purposes. So if you are strong in a subject, you may still want to take the SAT II. We strongly recommend that you take the SAT IIs when you have completed the course. You have the greatest chance for success at that point in time. For more information, please see https://sat.collegeboard.org/about-tests/sat-subject-tests/faq.


Colleges also look at your extracurricular activities, not just the number but the length and quality of involvement. Colleges don’t want to see you involved in 30 activities for only a semester each. They’d rather see you pick a few activities, focus on them, and develop into leaders through them, especially if they are diverse (e.g., Newspaper, Student Council, Basketball). Devon’s size and family-oriented atmosphere provide an excellent opportunity for many students not only to get involved in extracurricular activities but to develop into leaders. Colleges like to see well-rounded students, with an emphasis on leadership and community service, all of which all of our students do anyway!


Most colleges will also require an essay or personal statement from the applicant. This is a chance for you to give your application some personality, a chance to go beyond the black and white of your GPA and SAT scores. Colleges will look at your style, grammar and how well you answered the question, but the most important part is what the essay tells the college about you. Often, it is less important what you write than how you write. Make sure you’re answering the question they ask, and if you make reference to a college, make sure it’s the right college. If you use the same essay for different colleges, it’s all too easy to leave something in an essay that doesn’t belong.

Make the essay personal, specific and interesting. Give it a good title and have a strong introduction to engage the reader. Make them care about reading your essay, and it will help you in the evaluation process.


The Director of College Counseling will prepare a letter of recommendation for each senior, but many colleges will also ask for one or two letters of recommendation from teachers. The teachers who gave you A’s may not always be the best recommendation. Sometimes if you worked extra hard for a C, that teacher may be able to give more insight for the admissions committee. Consider also your intended major and if the teacher knows you outside of class in selecting your recommenders.

Students should ask their teachers for recommendations before the conclusion of their junior year. Upon returning to school in September, students should approach their teachers and reaffirm their continued support. To make things easier for the teachers, students should provide a copy of their resume, a list of their schools, application deadlines and pre-addressed, stamped envelopes to their teachers.

Other Possible Factors

Choice of Major: Some majors are more selective than others. Speak directly with the Admission Office to learn about their admission processes.

Demonstrated Interest: Many colleges will try to determine the likelihood of your enrolling if you are accepted as a factor in their decision. So if you visit the school, go to a presentation at Devon or in the area, chat with a representative via phone, e-mail, IM, texting, etc., it could have a positive impact.

Biographical information: The most selective colleges are able to craft their class to achieve a balance of gender, ethnicity, legacy, public/private school, geography, etc.

Legacy: Most schools are interested in familial ties to the institution. If your parents, siblings or other family members attended, be sure to note it on your application.

Your presentation of yourself: This could be in an interview, on a Myspace/Facebook page, etc. If you give an unfavorable impression, it could have a negative impact on your prospects for admission.

As you see, there is much that is considered in the admissions decision process. Strive to do your best in all of these areas. Always put your best foot forward.