Understanding the college admissions process is critical for getting into a dream school. It all comes down to whether your child impresses the admissions committee. But admissions officers see hundreds of applications a day—so how does on stand out?

Before we take a deep dive into each aspect of the college application and college admissions in later chapters, we’re going to break down the audience.

In this chapter, we’ll talk about what’s going through the mind of an admissions officer as they go through all those stacks of applications, what they’re looking for, and how your child can highlight the factors that are really going to make an impression.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this chapter:

What matters the most in college admissions?

The single most important piece of your child’s college application is his or her grades. That means when admissions committees consider an application, they’ll prioritize GPA over other things like extracurricular activities, college essays, recommendations, and yes, even test scores.

SAT and ACT scores are a close second and they combine with GPA to make up the objective portion of your child’s college application. Not subject to the attitudes or whims of an admissions committee, standardized test scores help admissions committees compare large pools of applicants. And in most cases, SAT or ACT scores work together with GPA to significantly affect an applicant’s chances of getting into college. Here’s how:

How grades and test scores affect applicants to Boston University

The graph below from Cappex shows self-reported data of students who applied to Boston University in 2016. The yellow dots represent students who were waitlisted, the red dots represent students who were denied admission, and the blue and green dots represent students who were accepted to BU.

The vertical axis shows the GPA of students who applied. The horizontal axis shows the average ACT and equivalent SAT score of students who applied.


If you look right around the SAT score of 1100, you’ll see a general shift from applicants who were accepted to those who were denied. To the right of this orange line, most of the dots are green and blue. To the left of this orange line, most of the dots are red.

1100 represents Boston University’s floor for a minimum acceptable test score. Applicants who don't score at