What American university admissions officers look for in successful applicants

Most good American universities have many, many more applicants than they have openings for new students. To sort out these applicants, three main parts of the application are examined very carefully:

1. Standardized tests. These are timed, objective tests that require test-takers to choose among 4-6 answers to written questions. The answers are scored by computer (credit is added for right answers and subtracted for wrong answers on most tests, to discourage guessing). This produces a number, which is easy to use to compare applicants. Some tests, such as the SAT, also have an essay section, which is subjective and must be read by a scorer, who then gives it a number.

2. Grade point average (GPA): this number is the average of the grades you received in secondary school. There are many ways to weight (change the value given) the GPA, giving more value to harder courses and leaving some classes out, if the university is not interested in those grades. Art, religion, physical education, drama, journalism and dance classes are often taken out of the GPA.

3. Recommendations, extracurricular and volunteer activites, leadership positions, employment, and all other personal information: this is the most difficult category to assess, as you can't put a number on it. But it is very crucial information to the admissions officer, who often must choose between two applicants with the same "number profile" by comparing their personal accomplishments.

Successful applicants can't depend on their tests and GPA for admission. They know that the university wants a "well-rounded" person, with good social and interpersonal skills, because retention rates indicate that people who are only focused on academics don't do as well in American universities as those with more diverse interests.

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