A Race to the Top

The factors that affect college acceptance.


Alyssa Garcia

A student applies to college in this photo illustration.

The C word. The most commonly used word at UPA. The most straightforward yet complex word. College.

For some, it is a dream, and for others, it is an expectation. Either way, its impact is life changing. Students spend years doing their best in high school to get accepted into a college, so what really influences college acceptance? 

“Colleges are looking for people who are going to go on to make a difference in life,” UPA counselor Dot Westerhoff said. “[Colleges] want to have people who are going to be game changers and make the world a better place.” 

Although important, grades are not the only factor colleges look at. Westerhoff explained that the impact of what a student has done for the community and the student’s leadership skills are what truly matter to colleges. With everyone focused on GPA and AP courses, students often forget to pursue what they are truly passionate about, and instead pursue what they think colleges want. 

Sandra Trotch, UPA counselor who also reads college applications for UC Berkeley, explained students’ warped mindsets.

“It’s okay to like to make friendship bracelets or go to the senior centers and sit and talk to the elderly.” Trotch said. “Those are great things to do if that’s what you like to do.”

While Trotch states that rigorous course loads will be the first factor colleges look for, the interest behind the course or extracurricular is important to colleges as well. 

“[Students should] look for something they are passionately interested in and that they can give to others… That kind of thing is what goes on to be that ‘Yes we need that student’ piece,” Westerhoff said.

Passion is what can truly impact a college’s decision, and set one student apart from another. 

Senior and ASB President Adanna Abraham-Igwe explained how the motivation behind a student’s choice is as important as the choice itself.

“It’s not just what you did but demonstrating why that matters to you so they can get a sense of what kind of person you are,” Abraham-Igwe said.

Over the past few years, Abraham-Igwe has noticed how competitive students have become, striving to outperform each other with the goal of getting into top colleges. She has experienced the competition throughout highschool and succeeded, getting accepted into MIT.

“For a school like UPA, every year each kid is like, ‘Well, I’m going to do more than the last year’s [students]’ so in that sense, each grade is having to do more,” Abraham-Igwe said.

This mindset partially reflects one of the reasons why college acceptance rates get lower each year. Each year, people push themselves to succeed, and more and more people apply to colleges. This forces new boundaries and standards are set higher each year. This creates a larger pool of qualified students, which in turn makes college acceptance more selective.

The Common Application, created in 1998, has enabled students to apply to a wider range of schools. The Common Application is a college admission application students can use to apply to over 800 different schools in several countries. According to CNN, the percentage of students who applied to more than three schools jumped from 61% in 1995 to 82% in 2016. Over the past four years, acceptance rates at Ivy League schools have declined as application numbers have increased.

The data shows how colleges have tightened the belt on acceptances, but Trotch explains how the fundamentals of what colleges look for have not drastically changed. It comes down to the student as a whole, the display of their interests and the utilization of their resources.

“It’s the belief of a lot of parents that [college acceptance] is about test scores and a 4.0 GPA, and it really isn’t,” Trotch said. “It’s about the whole student and what they can do living the life that they live.”