NACAC Survey: Grades Matter Most in College Admission ​

Media Contact:
Shanda Ivory
Director of Communications

Arlington, VA (Sept. 8, 2016)
— A student’s high school record continues to be the most important factor in college admission decisions for prospective first-time freshmen, according to new survey results from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

Data in the 13th annual edition of NACAC’s State of College Admission​ report show students’ grades and the academic rigor of their course loads weigh more heavily in decisions to admit than standardized test scores, high school class rank, or demonstrated interest in attending.

College admission can be a stressful time, complicated by an abundance of sometimes conflicting information about the process. The association offers this report to help students and families focus on what NACAC members say is important.

“Year to year, we find that getting good grades in challenging courses is what college admission offices value most when reviewing applications from first-time freshmen,” said Joyce E. Smith, NACAC’s chief executive officer. “Similarly, admission professionals pay close attention to academic achievements when reviewing applications from international and transfer students.”

For high school seniors applying to college, performance in core classes is especially significant, with 79.2 percent of institutions attributing “considerable importance” to grades in college-prep courses. In comparison, 55.7 percent of colleges placed the same level of significance on admission test scores for first-time freshmen applicants.

NACAC’s State of College Admission — an annual report examining the transition from high school to postsecondary education — features survey data collected from colleges and universities across the country. This year’s report marks the first time the publication has included comparable data examining the factors that influence admission decisions for transfer and international students.
According to the report, the top factors for transfer applicants are a student’s overall GPA at prior postsecondary institutions, followed by grades in transferable college courses. English proficiency is the top factor in admission decisions for international students, followed by grades in college-prep courses.

Other noteworthy findings include:

Colleges Accept Nearly Two-Thirds of First-Time Freshmen Applicants: Students and families might find it reassuring to note that students stand a good chance of getting admitted to a four-year college or university. The average selectivity rate at four-year colleges for Fall 2014 was 65.8 percent, edging up from 64.7 percent in Fall 2013 after reaching a low of 63.9 percent in Fall 2012.

Decline in Average Yield Rate for First-Time Freshmen Stabilizes: The average yield rate (percentage of admitted students who enroll) increased in Fall 2014, hitting 36.2 percent after a long and steady decline from 48.7 percent in 2002 to 35.7 percent in Fall 2013.

Application Growth Continues: Between the Fall 2014 and Fall 2015 admission cycles, the number of applications from first-time freshmen increased 6 percent; applications from prospective transfer students increased by 4 percent; and international student applications increased by 23 percent, on average.

Read the full report.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 15,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. NACAC is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP).

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