Next Steps

Preparing for College Checklist

  • Ensure you have taken all necessary courses to graduate on time.
  • Sign up to take college placement exams, if necessary.
  • Take ACT/SAT; seek waiver if eligible via your high school and/or through ACT or SAT websites.
  • Set up appointments with your guidance counselor to discuss college choices and potential majors.
  • Research colleges and majors. Set up tours and visits if you able to do so.
  • Complete the FAFSA ( as soon as possible. The form is posted annually starting Oct. 1. Many states and colleges have specific deadlines for applying for state and institutional aid. You can find your state’s deadline at and check with your college about other deadlines.
  • Search for scholarships and financial aid.
  • Request high school transcripts to be sent to colleges.
  • Request letters of recommendation for scholarships and college applications that require them. Try to do this at least one month in advance.
  • Draft college essays. Have at least one person review the draft.
  • Complete and send off applications. Start early in the process and submit before the deadline. Apply by the fall of your senior year at the latest.
  • Avoid the summer melt. Stay on top of important information colleges may request, such as forms related to on-campus housing, immunizations, financial aid and new student orientations.

Factors in the Admission Decision

Factors in the Admission Decision: First-Time Freshmen
Grades in high school have been among the top decision factors for first-time freshmen for decades. Total GPA and grades in college prep courses were each rated as considerably important by 77 percent colleges. Admission test scores and strength of curriculum were also rated considerably important by more than half of colleges (54 percent and 52 percent, respectively).

A second set of factors were most often considered to be moderately important. These factors tend to provide insight regarding personal qualities and interest of students, as well as more detail on academic performance. They include essays or writing samples; teacher and counselor recommendations; student’s demonstrated interest; class rank; and extracurricular activities.

A final group of admission decision factors were given moderate or considerable importance by a small percentage of institutions, on average, likely because they are relevant only to a small subset of colleges. These factors included subject test scores (AP, IB), portfolios, SAT II scores, interviews, state graduation exam scores, and work experience.

Factors in the Admission Decision: International Students
The top factors in admission decisions for first-time international students applying to four-year US colleges were similar to those of first-time domestic students, with the important exception of English proficiency exam scores. Eighty percent of colleges rated these proficiency scores as considerably important, followed by grades in college prep courses and grades in all courses (66 percent each), and strength of curriculum (47 percent).

The moderately important decision factors also were similar to those for domestic students, with a few exceptions worth noting. Nineteen percent of colleges rated the essay/ writing sample as considerably important for domestic students, compared to 23 percent for international students. For international students, the essay can serve as another indicator of English proficiency in addition to offering information about student experiences and academic interests.

A national certificate signifying graduation or school attendance was also an important factor for international students, rated as considerably important by 28 percent of institutions and as moderately important by an additional 24 percent.

Factors in the Admission Decision: Transfer Students
The factors considered in transfer admission decisions are notably different than those for first-time domestic and international students. The only two factors that are rated as considerably important by a majority of colleges were overall GPA at prior postsecondary institutions (81 percent) and average grades in transferable courses (75 percent). Unlike other prospective student populations, these factors serve as direct evidence of a student’s ability to succeed in college-level academic coursework.

For transfer students, many factors related to high school performance fall to the level of moderate to limited importance, including grades, strength of the high school curriculum, and recommendations from teachers and counselors.

In contrast to first-time prospective students, 77 percent of colleges rated admission test scores (SAT, ACT) as having limited or no importance in transfer admission decisions.

College Costs: Knowledge is Power for Applicants