IECA's 'Top Strengths and Experiences Colleges Look for in High School Students'

1:38pm, October 3, 2013, Topics: curriculum, challenge, grades, test scores, demonstrated interest, essay, admissions, leadership, diversity, legacy, full pay


FAIRFAX, VA—The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) released today its biennial survey of educational consultants, “Top Strengths and Experiences Colleges Look for In High School Students.”

According to CEO Mark Sklarow, survey findings produced some interesting changes over previous years' surveys that reflect evolving priorities in the college admissions process.

Not surprisingly, a rigorous high school curriculum landed the number one spot—ahead of grades (#2) and standardized test scores (#3).

“Our members indicated that students are best served by taking the most challenging coursework they can manage,” said Sklarow. “While good grades are important, it is even more important that students show they are willing to accept an academic challenge.”

Jumping two places to the #4 spot was the application essay, particularly at smaller, private colleges.

Also increasing in importance were demonstrated leadership (#6), demonstrated interest in attending (#9), and a college’s desire to create diverse [geographic, racial, cultural] freshman class (#7).

In their comments, respondents indicated that “demonstrated interest” was the biggest change since the last survey two years ago, with colleges now monitoring student social media activity, campus visits, emails, and more.

A few items fell in importance from the last survey. Most noticeably, letters of recommendation which came in at #5 last time dropped five spots to #10. Special talents that contribute to student life fell from #7 to #11.

Among the items falling off the “top 12” list entirely were student interviews, legacy status, and the submission of creative applications like the use of videos.

While the ability to fully pay did not make the top 12, it did significantly increase in importance suggesting that students and families should factor costs in now more than ever and sooner rather than later.

“Every college is unique, and so each emphasizes something different in its process of reviewing applications,” cautioned Sklarow. “One of the great benefits of hiring an independent educational consultant is their knowledge of such differences.”