College admissions has always been a complex and competitive process, and this past admissions cycle was no different. In 2023, the landscape continues to evolve, making it essential for you to understand the most important factors affecting your child’s college applications. In this article, we’ll discuss the key elements that colleges and universities consider in the process.

Disclaimer: We will be speaking in generalities, but for specifics about how a particular college weighs various factors, perform your own research or reach out to us for help with college consulting.

Academic Performance

Grade Point Average (GPA)

It should be no surprise that GPA is still the number one factor in college admissions.

It is the most reliable indicator of your academic abilities and work ethic throughout high school. Generally, higher GPAs demonstrate your commitment to academic success and your ability to handle a rigorous college curriculum in the long term.

Course Rigor

In addition to your GPA, admissions officers also examine the rigor of the courses you’ve taken. Taking Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes showcases your willingness to challenge yourself academically and helps you stand out from other applicants.

Generally, AP courses are viewed as superior to IB or dual enrollment.

**Pro Tip** A common question we receive is whether it’s better to receive an A in an honors course, or a B in an AP course. The unsatisfying answer is that it’s better to get an A in an AP course! Perhaps a better answer is that your child should take the most difficult class that will still allow them to get an A in it.

Class Rank

While not as prevalent as before, some colleges still consider class rank in the admissions process. A high class rank can demonstrate your competitiveness among your peers and your dedication to academic excellence.

Standardized Test Scores


Even though many colleges have adopted test-optional policies in recent years, strong SAT or ACT scores can still bolster your application. High test scores indicate your potential for academic success and help colleges compare applicants from different educational backgrounds.

Test-Optional Policies

Given the increasing number of test-optional schools, it’s essential to research each institution’s testing policies. Some colleges may still require test scores for specific programs, scholarships, or eligibility for merit aid.

**Pro Tip** Not sure whether you should submit your SAT scores? Here’s a useful flowchart from our friends at Summit Prep to help you make your decision.

Extracurricular Activities

Leadership Roles

Leadership roles in clubs, sports, or community organizations demonstrate your ability to take initiative, manage projects, and work with others. Colleges value applicants who have shown a commitment to making a positive impact on their communities.

Passion and Commitment

Admissions officers seek students with a genuine passion for their extracurricular activities. Demonstrating long-term involvement and dedication to a specific area showcases your personal growth and development.

College admissions officers don’t want cookie cutter applicants who signed up for 12 clubs including Chess Club, Robotics Club, and Horticulture Club because they thought it would make them look awesome on paper.

They want awesome, well-rounded people who are going to make their campus more awesome overall. So if you’re only in one club, but you’ve raised $20,000 for a school in Malawi or you started a business and helped small business owners in your town implement AI solutions those will look much better than little involvement in a wide variety of clubs.

Personal Essays

Voice and Authenticity

Your personal essay allows admissions officers to see a side of you that isn’t represented by numbers on a transcript. Writing with an authentic voice and sharing unique experiences can make your essay memorable and engaging.


A well-crafted essay tells a story that highlights your character, values, and aspirations. Through compelling storytelling, you can show how your experiences have shaped who you are and what you hope to achieve in college.

**Pro tip** There are a lot of common mistakes that students make in writing their college essays. We wrote about the 5 most common mistakes here.

Letters of Recommendation

Teachers and Counselors

Strong letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors can provide insight into your academic abilities, personal qualities, and potential for success in college. These letters help admissions officers understand how you’ve contributed to your school community and how you might fit into their campus culture.

Personal Connections

Recommendations from individuals who know you well, such as coaches, mentors, or employers, can also be valuable. These letters can highlight your work ethic, character, and unique talents, further supporting your application.

**Pro Tip**: Sending your recommenders bulleted lists of your qualifications and strengths can help give them great source material to work from when developing your recommendation.

Demonstrated Interest

Colleges don’t want to admit students who aren’t ultimately going to attend their college. This would hurt their admissions and yield rate and financially hurt the college in the long run.

The solution many colleges have adopted to address this issue is by tracking how much interest a student has actually shown in their school, also known as demonstrated interest. A student with high demonstrated interest is more likely to matriculate if accepted. A student with low demonstrated interest is less likely to matriculate if accepted. Here are two big way to calculate demonstrated interest.

Campus Visits

Visiting a college campus, either in-person or virtually, can help demonstrate your genuine interest in attending that institution. It also provides an opportunity to learn more about the school’s culture, programs, and resources.

Communication with Admissions

Engaging with admissions representatives at college fairs, through email, or during informational sessions can also indicate your enthusiasm for a particular school. Make sure to ask thoughtful questions and show that you’ve researched the institution.

Pro Tip** Not all colleges measure demonstrated interest. For example, Ivy League colleges do not. Through research, you should be able to determine which colleges care or don’t care about it.

Special Talents and Awards

If you have unique skills, such as artistic or athletic abilities, or have received notable awards, be sure to include this information in your application. These accomplishments can set you apart from other applicants and contribute to the diversity of the campus community.

Diversity and Background

Colleges and universities value a diverse student body, as it enriches the learning environment for all students. Your cultural, socioeconomic, or geographic background may be a factor in the admissions process, as institutions aim to create a well-rounded and inclusive community.


Understanding the most important factors in college admissions in 2023 can help you create a strong application and increase your chances of acceptance. By focusing on academic performance, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, personal essays, letters of recommendation, demonstrated interest, special talents, diversity, and financial considerations, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the competitive college admissions landscape.


Q: Are standardized test scores still important in 2023?
A: While many colleges have adopted test-optional policies, strong SAT or ACT scores can still enhance your application and help you stand out among other applicants.

Q: How important are extracurricular activities in college admissions?
A: Extracurricular activities are essential, as they demonstrate your passion, commitment, and leadership skills, all of which are valued by colleges and universities.

Q: What should I focus on in my personal essay?
A: Your personal essay should showcase your authentic voice, unique experiences, and personal growth. Use storytelling to highlight your character, values, and aspirations.

Q: How can I demonstrate my interest in a particular college?
A: Demonstrating interest can include visiting the campus, attending informational sessions, engaging with admissions representatives, and conducting thorough research on the institution.

Q: How can I make my application stand out in the competitive college admissions process?
A: To make your application stand out, focus on showcasing your academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, unique talents, and personal growth. Additionally, write a compelling personal essay and secure strong letters of recommendation.

Q: What role does financial need play in college admissions?
A: Financial need may play a role in admissions decisions, particularly at need-aware institutions. It’s important to research each school’s financial aid policies to understand how they might impact your application.

Q: How do colleges evaluate my course rigor?
A: Colleges evaluate course rigor by considering the difficulty of the classes you’ve taken, such as AP or IB courses, as well as the overall academic program offered at your high school. You should try to challenge yourself as much as possible, while avoiding Cs at all costs.

Q: Should I submit letters of recommendation from teachers or personal connections?
A: Submitting letters of recommendation from both teachers and personal connections can provide a well-rounded perspective on your abilities, character, and potential for success in college.