There are many factors. Certainly strengths in interests that carry beyond the classroom walls are helpful whether it’s in athletics, the arts, or academic accomplishments and recognition in such areas as poetry, journalism, or other outside interests. High school is more than your final GPA. What you’ve studied is just as important. By taking challenging high school coursework, you demonstrate a passion for learning. Being active in your school and community show your engagement, your seriousness, and your maturity. Aptitude alone is not enough. Top-tier schools want proof that you have the drive and motivation to succeed. Throughout high school, work to make a difference. Have an impact on your school and community. And make it crystal clear in your application that you are not resting on your laurels, and intend to continue to contribute your special skills and passions. Show in your application that your acceptance will benefit the school and not just you because you’ll make contributions that will lead to a better, more vibrant learning environment for everyone.

Also don’t underestimate the importance of a strong application essay written by YOU that clearly states your reasons for wanting to attend that school (other than its sterling reputation). Don’t be shy. This is your opportunity to present your case. Clearly state your accomplishments, special skills and talents and how you contribute to the college’s diverse community Not sure what to highlight? Let them know about any recognized contributions to your community or culture, your involvement in two or three activities throughout high school where you devoted significant time and energy, and leave out those superficial resume-building activities. Discuss demonstrated leadership in a group, interesting summer experiences such as a foreign exchange trip, community service and internships. A demonstrated interest in your prospective major, such as through volunteer work, can show your sense of purpose and dedication. Highlight consistency or steady improvement in your grades, and if you had a bad semester, explain why.

Lesser factors are legacy status and letters of recommendation. I know that considering one’s legacy status is unfair and reeks of a caste system. But it’s a reality of life. Just ask George W. Bush if his influential alumnus dad George H.W. helped him become a Yalie! Certainly, strong PERSONAL letters of recommendation from high school counselors and teachers help – not letters from influential people who doesn’t know you. By the way, please remember to request recommendation letters during the first few weeks of senior year, or even at the end of your junior year. Finally, many schools are turning to social media as your “online resume.” So, if you are using Facebook or similar sites, highlight your strengths and, please, do not have any inappropriate content.

Above all, your application and all supporting information should be geared to one objective: To showcase the reasons why you would be a perfect fit for the particular college to which you are applying.