Preparing for college admissions requires a lot of important, strategic steps. While many colleges will want to read essays, letters of recommendation, and also interview prospective candidates, the “numbers” part of your application is still going to be the most important area to focus on.
Many people think the numbers part of your application is just your grades and SAT/ACT score. While these are the key aspects of the quantitative part of your application, AP, Subject test scores, and additional coursework can also play a meaningful role. Let’s review the key areas of the quantitative part of your application to get a better understanding of what admissions officers look at:
1. Academic Record Your grades are still going to be the most important part of your college application. College admissions officers want to see that you have worked to your fullest potential in your classes and challenged yourself to the best of your ability. Admissions officers will particularly hone in on your 10th and 11th coursework performance with a focus on upward or downward trends. Make sure you work hard in your classes so that you can be the best student possible.
2. SAT/ACT Score – Colleges equally weigh the SAT and ACT for admissions so focus on the test that is right for you. This being stated, the SAT was recently updated so it’s now closer to the ACT exam in what’s being tested. The PSAT exam is a mini SAT and even though it’s not directly going to impact your college admissions decisions, the test will still be used for getting flagged by colleges and earning scholarships; so, if your SAT and ACT practice tests are similar in scores, go for the SAT. More colleges also superscore the SAT (take the best score from different sections) so this is another reason why the SAT gets the edge.
3. AP Test Scores – Your AP test scores can play a meaningful role in your college applications. AP tests are offered in May each year and they go along with your AP classes. AP exams are important because they let college admissions officers know if you truly have mastery of a subject. The exam is scored from 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest score; so, if a student earns an “A” in one of their AP classes such as AP History, he/she should be able to score at least a 4 or 5 on the AP exam. Where the challenge lies is that many students earn strong grades, but then they are not able to earn strong AP scores, and vice versa. Some students who earn “Bs” or “Cs” in their AP classes actually earn 4s and 5s on the AP tests. Your class grades need to match your AP exam scores or this will cause red flags in your applications.
4. Subject Test Scores – Subject tests are another way for students to show mastery of a topic. These tests are offered throughout the year and the score range is 200-800. There are many different subject tests offered and they go along with your coursework. These are usually extra credit on college applications for most students. This being stated, some colleges recommend or even require 2-3 subject test exam scores. Even if subject tests are not recommended or required, taking 2-3+ of them can be a strategic move that can help separate you from the competition. Usually, studying for these tests is not a lot of extra work too if you are already studying for your AP exams in May.
5. Additional Coursework – Many students take additional coursework that goes beyond what their high school offers. This can be a great step and an added bonus to your college applications. For example, for those students interested in the medical field, taking classes that your high school may not offer would be a great step and shows admissions officers that you are passionate about what you are learning, and going deeper into the subject matter. Earning “A” grades at the college level in courses beyond your high school can show admissions officers that you are ready and able to thrive in college coursework.
As you can see, there are a lot of pieces to the “numbers” part of your college application. Where students get in trouble is their numbers are inconsistent in different parts of their application. The best students are consistent across the board. Focus most of your time on your classes and SAT/ACT preparation, but at the same time, make sure the other parts of your “numbers” make sense with your entire story.
To Your Success,
Dr. Jeff & Dr. Brian Haig