Neil Rosen, of Orange County, California, writes (via LinkedIn): What are some of the areas college admission officers are looking at besides GPA, SAT scores, ACT scores, and extra-curricular activities?

The College Whisperer responds: Great question, Neil!

The long and short of it is that colleges are looking for more than academic prowess (though, believe me when I say that grades and test scores count, so no slacking off there!). That's why, in examing the matrices and databases on admitted students for any particular college or university, you will almost always find students with top scores and GPAs -- if not perfect academic achievement -- being denied admission, while those with less stellar academic performance are welcomed with open arms.

What accounts for the difference between getting in and being shut out?

Legacies? Did mom, dad or Uncle Billy attend the same college you're applying to? A small percentage may well get in on that basis, but not quite as many as you think.

Donors to a university's endowment? Well, if that recently built, high tech campus center bears grand dad's name, consider yourself at least likely to get special attention at the admissions office. For the rest of us peons (the 99%ers), this isn't an option.

Diversity on campus? Sure. If you are a Pacific Islander who was displaced by a Typhoon, leaving you orphaned, blind in one eye, and recently adopted by lesbian parents who speak Esperanto and play the three-string runa, you're in. Maybe.

Diversity on campus is a big hook these days, as is the growing trend (translate that into big money) to recruit international students. Then again, you are what, and who, you are. If you've got it, flaunt it. If not, find your strength -- and your edge -- elsewhere.

Yes, there is an almost endless list of qualities and qualifications, some truly more important than others, depending on the college, that factor into admissions decisions, including many (i.e., which side of the bed the admission's officer got out of that morning, or whether her lunch at the college dining hall agreed with her "susceptible to Irritable Bowl Syndrome" digestive tract :-) over which students have absolutely no control.

Our colleagues at Peak to Peak Consulting provide an extensive, though by no means exhaustive list of college admissions factors. Add your own, if you like. Check out the admissions portal on the websites of the colleges you will be applying to for insight and, perhaps, specific factors those colleges consider in the admissions process.

Aside from academics, which almost every admissions officer is looking at, and extra-curriculars, which should include at least a modicum of community service, colleges want to be sure accepted students will be a good fit on campus. The well-rounded student not only shines in her GPA and test scores, but in her people skills as well. She thrives in that mix of academia and social awareness, serious in her studies yet adaptable in an ever-changing environment.

Alas, reduced to a screenshot, how do students begin to show admissions officers who they are and what they will bring to the college community? The essay, of course, supplemented by the short answers and, when offered, the personal interview. It is in these vignettes - a day in the life, or a lifetime in just 500 words, or so - where the student can give herself voice and truly rise above the madding crowd.

What separates those, scores and GPAs being equal and extra-curriculars being abundent, who get in and those who are denied entrance to the Ivy-covered gates?

It is who you are and all you are capable of becoming, almost as much, if not more so, than whether you aced the ACT or garnered a 4.24 (on a scale of 4.00) weighted GPA.

Show 'em what you've got. Work those seemingly indiscernable nuances on your applications, on your high school resume, and in your personal statements and essays. Let your personality come shining through, with a bit of poignancy, a touch of humility and a dash of humor, and, as concerns admissions, at least, you are half way there!

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