In today’s globally competitive landscape, getting admitted into a great university is more important than ever. It is also harder than ever to get into a top university.

Richard Shaw, Stanford Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, was asked by the New York Times what he thought about how competitive college admissions has become. His reply? “Honestly, I’m sort of in shock.”

Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, California, also told the New York Times, “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot. So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.”

One thing is clear: demand is outstripping the supply of available seats at top universities.
We looked at the top 15 universities with pre-professional programs (e.g. engineering, business, and healthcare), using data from US News and Report and National Center for Education Statistics. In the 10 year period from 2003 to 2013, total applications to these schools soared by 71% while total student body growth grew by a modest 9%.

One thing you should know upfront is just what really is important for college admissions. In our research and discussions with college admissions, here’s what we find:


  • GPA/Class Rank
  • SAT/ACT score
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Admissions Essays
  • Recommendation Letters

The unfortunate problem is that GPAs and SAT/ACT are sky high right now, so if you want to differentiate yourself, what you do beyond the classroom is more important than ever. College admissions offices are telling us exactly that. What do they say?

“We want to know what you care about, what commitments you have made and what you’ve done to act on those commitments.” Princeton University Admissions

“Go out of your way to find projects, activities and experiences …that please you so much you don’t mind the work involved.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“…the admissions committee selects individuals who also demonstrate excellence in non-academic performance.” University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“We want to see the impact you have had… in your school, or in the larger community, and we want to learn of the impact that experience has had on you.” Stanford University

So what are you to do? The good news is that there is a way to cut through the noise and stand out. It starts with having a plan, and this checklist is a good starting point for you to have an actionable plan you can follow so you get into a great university that fits your personal goals and aspirations.

CLICK HERE to download our free "Remarkable College Applicant Checklist"

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