At Annapolis College Consulting, we’re thrilled to share the top five (and a half) criteria highly selective colleges employ in their holistic admissions review. Please note that mere mortals go to college every day. These points are for those uber-popular/highly-selective/ivy-ish groups of schools that many students “think” they want to/should apply to. But you should really understand WHY you want to apply before moving forward with the process.

This comprehensive evaluation allows these esteemed institutions to truly understand applicants on a personal level, going beyond mere statistics and accomplishments. So, what are these criteria that play a crucial role in college admissions? Let’s dive in!


Undoubtedly, grades and the rigor of your coursework remain a cornerstone in gaining admission to highly selective schools. Excelling in core academic areas such as English, Math, Foreign Language, Science, and History is essential. Your academic performance will often qualify your application for a closer examination by a dedicated admissions reader. Understanding how colleges interpret your transcript is key. Your local admissions rep from the college is tasked with understanding your school profile so you are judged accordingly.


While the trend towards test-optional admissions has gained momentum, test scores still hold importance for most highly selective universities. However, colleges are increasingly recognizing the limitations of standardized tests and are placing less emphasis on them. Nonetheless, an exceptional test score can still make a positive impression on admissions officers. It shows college readiness as does your performance on AP and IB testing. Testing is a proxy for how you stand relative to the country as a whole and not just your high school.


Once you meet the academic threshold, it’s essential to showcase a breadth of involvement in extracurricular activities. This is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Highly selective colleges value initiative and impact, so take the lead and demonstrate your ability to make a difference. While initial interest and involvement are necessary, it’s the initiative and tangible impact that truly set you apart in the application process. Additionally, remember that personal growth resulting from these activities can make for a compelling essay topic.


Highly selective colleges not only evaluate your academic and extracurricular achievements but also assess whether you are a good fit for their institution. They consider your values, aspirations, and how well they align with the college’s mission and community. Admissions officers want to see that you have researched and understood their institution, and they want to envision you thriving in their academic and social environment. Demonstrating genuine interest and a well-reasoned explanation of why you believe the college/major is a perfect fit for you can greatly enhance your application.


Crafting a great college application goes beyond presenting impressive statistics and achievements. It requires weaving together a narrative that showcases who you are as a person and what you value. Your application should present a cohesive and compelling story that highlights your interests, experiences, and growth. Your essays should provide authentic reflections that allow admissions officers to understand the “why” behind your involvement in activities and your aspirations for the future.


Remember, it is not about you. College is a business. Institutions have their own priorities which may include: increasing diversity, attracting more in-state students, growing a specific program, an opening on a sports team, or a seat in the orchestra. These priorities are not easy to uncover, but our retrospective analysis of the 2023 year will clue you in a bit (available on our YouTube Chanel)

At Annapolis College Consulting, we understand the significance of these criteria in the holistic review process. Our team of experts will guide you through every step of the application journey, helping you present a well-rounded application that showcases your strengths, aligns with your aspirations, and resonates with the values of highly selective colleges. Let’s work together to find the perfect college fit and set you on the path to success!