The Parts of an Admissions Folder

The Parts of an Admission Folder

(Reprinted with permission from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling- NACAC)

When you apply to college, the college admission office collects a folder of information to consider as it makes a decision about you. There are five main areas of an applicant's "folder":

  1. Application
    The application includes simple biographical information such as your birthday, family members and addresses. Frequently you will need to write essays, which are intended to acquaint the admission committee with your experiences, strengths and weaknesses, and writing ability. Check out the section "The Personal Factor" later in this chapter for advice about essays.

    A Word About Electronic Applications:
    An ever-increasing number of colleges are turning to advances in technology to make the application process easier. When you access a college's Web site, you will usually find two ways to complete the application:

    • Download and print out the application, to be completed by hand and mailed.
    • Complete the application online and submit it electronically (via the college's Web site).

    If you fill out the application and submit it online, be sure to print out a copy of what you send, and follow-up with a telephone call or email to confirm that your application has been received and processed properly.

  2. Academic Record
    Regardless of a college's admission policy, the most important factor in an applicant's folder is the academic record in secondary school. Your curriculum, your specific courses, and the grades you received are aspects of the record admission officers consider in appraising a transcript (another term for the academic record). When your record is compared with your classmates' records, you may be assigned a class ranking relative to the others in the class. Class rank is important as a means of showing the admission officer the level of competition you have encountered and how well you have achieved relative to the competition. Some high schools do not compute class rank for a variety of reasons. Those schools that do not compute rank generally make provisions with colleges that require rank so that their students are not adversely affected in the admission process. Usually, high schools calculate students' grade point averages (GPA) as a step in preparing class rank; many schools use the GPA instead of class rank as a means of presenting a summary of a student's overall academic record. Most colleges require class rank and/or GPA to assist the admission office in making decisions.

    A Word About Activities:
    Although your academic credentials are the primary factors in determining admission, your record of involvement in activities can be a significant supporting credential. Mere membership is not the important factor; it is, rather, the level of involvement and accomplishment that is important. It is better to be involved in one activity and to be a significant contributor to that activity than to be involved superficially in several organizations.

  3. Test Scores
    Standardized testing has come under a great deal of scrutiny and criticism in recent years. Many colleges have stated that an applicant's test results are only a small part of the entire application package; a few have even made submission of test scores optional. However, any college that requires the tests will use the scores in its admission process. How much emphasis is placed on test results depends on the college's policy; as a general rule, the larger the college, the greater the emphasis on pure statistics (test scores and class rank) in determining admission. It is important to remember that test scores are a part of the total applicant profile, and, at most institutions, test scores alone do not exclude a student from admission, nor do scores alone guarantee admission.

    A Word About Standardized Test Prepping:
    Because your high school record is the single most important part of your admission folder, don't forget that good grades in demanding courses are more important than standardized test scores. Don't spend so much time trying to improve these scores that your grades and involvement in school suffer!

  4. School Recommendation
    The official recommendation or statement prepared by the school for you is also a very important part of the folder, but it is not as critical as your record itself.
  5. Teacher Recommendations
    These tell the readers of your application about your classroom performance in terms that are not represented by grades. Teachers may comment on the type of contributions you make in class, the written and oral work you have presented, and your potential for studying at a particular college.

The Personal Factor

While it's true that the greatest emphasis is placed on your courses, grades, and, in some cases, your standardized test scores, colleges also want to know about you, the person. What are you like when you're not being a student? How do you spend your free time?

Everything you do has some importance--sports, clubs, jobs, working on your computer, reading for your own enjoyment, writing prose or poetry, taking photographs, volunteer work, babysitting, or anything else that you choose to do. The application usually contains questions that allow you to list or explain your activities, honors and use of "free time." The application essay, too, gives you a chance to share some valuable insights into who you are and what you consider important. Your uniqueness as an individual does have an impact on the admission decision.

The Decision-Making Process in College

When considering how decisions are made and what influences admission decisions, the level of selectivity at the college in question is important. The more applicants a college has for each place in its entering class, the more selective that college can be and is. At the highly selective colleges (more than three applicants for every place in the class), virtually all of the application folders contain outstanding credentials. Consequently, the applicant whose folder contains some weaknesses in relation to the general qualities of other applicants will stand out on the basis of weakness rather than on strength. At such colleges, the "personal factor" often plays a major role in the admission decision.

When a college has many more academically qualified applicants than places in the class, the emphasis in admission decisions often shifts to more subjective, personal factors. Activities, leadership experience, special talents, family traditions, or outstanding academic skills (in particular, good writing) may make an application stand out above others. Well-written essays which complement carefully prepared applications may help your chances for receiving a favorable decision. As the degree of selectivity decreases, the admission criteria generally are geared toward whether or not the student can be successful.

Large public institutions and community colleges are likely to have different admission policies. Some large schools determine admission by entering applicant data (i.e., GPA, rank-in-class, test scores) into a computer formula. The computer recommends what students to admit and deny; the admission committee then studies the applications and the computer recommendations before making decisions. On the other hand, some large institutions read applications and determine admission in the same way that smaller schools do.

There may be different admission standards for individual colleges within one university, in which case your application will be considered with others for the same college (i.e., liberal arts, engineering, business, or nursing schools). Keep in mind that some state schools give preference to state residents and in some cases must admit state residents if they apply by a certain date.

Most community colleges have open admission; that is, any resident of the community college district and some out-of-district residents are able to attend. In these instances, the application process is relatively simple, usually including only biographical data. Some of these schools have specific programs that practice selective admission and require test scores and essays. All programs will require proof of high school graduation or its equivalent.

Regardless of the type of college, the admission offices have one thing in common: each is charged with the responsibility of assessing the qualifications of applicants to meet the admission criteria that its institution has established. No one likes to think that someone doesn't want them, but a college's admission decisions are based on comparisons--of applicants with other applicants and of applicants' qualifications with the college's needs. If your credentials satisfy a college's needs, you are usually admitted. In some cases, you may be disappointed, but don't let a college's admission decision have a negative impact on your life. There are lots of colleges and many paths leading to the same goal. The important thing is to set goals and work toward them. If you are denied admission to a college, don't take it personally and feel that you've failed. Take a deep breath, turn your attention to the other options available, and get on with your education--on your path to a rewarding life.