If you’re a high school senior, it’s likely that you’ve dedicated some time to trying to “crack the code” of college admission. You’ve spent time wondering what, exactly, it’ll take to be admitted to your first-choice college. And, if that’s true, you wouldn’t be alone. I just Googled “secret to college admissions” and came up with 3,220,000 results. Everyone wants to know: what do colleges want to see in my college application?

Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I’m not going to give you a secret formula. The good news is that there is no secret formula at CU-Boulder! We use the holistic review process, based on a variety of factors, to determine your likelihood to succeed at our institution. I know, I know, it sounds a little vague, right? But here’s the bottom line: submitting a comprehensive, thoughtful application with the components below just might improve your chances of admission. So, take a look at the list and then compare your own application to these factors. This will give you a good idea of what we’re looking for:

Grade trend:
This is a big one. We understand that freshman year in high school can be a rough transition and perhaps you hadn’t quite realized the importance of strong grades at that point. But since then, you’ve boosted your GPA and you’re much more focused on your classes. Great! That’s a positive grade trend and it will be a positive factor in your admission decision.

Are you challenging yourself by taking AP, Honors or IB classes in high school? If so, that’ll certainly benefit you in the admission process. We want to know that you’re willing to work hard!

You’ve probably seen our “middle 50%” listed on the website. This outlines the middle range of GPA and test scores that are typically admitted to CU-Boulder. The GPA listed in those ranges only tells part of the story. They are an important part of the story, but we know that GPAs aren’t standardized across high schools, so the numbers can mean different things. In other words, not all grades are created equal. Therefore, we spend plenty of time looking at your transcript and comparing it to your high school’s grading scale and policies.  

Test results:
We list our middle 50% for ACT and SAT scores on the website, as well. But remember, we calculate the superscore, which means that we combine your highest score from each subsection of the ACT or SAT to give you the highest overall score you can get! We also consider these scores in the context of other factors such as the number of times you took the exam and your grades as compared to the test scores. We never make a decision based only on a test score.

If you’ve read some of our earlier blogs, you read some great advice about how to write a strong essay. Take that advice! This component can really boost your application and it’s a great way to introduce yourself to us.

Letters of recommendation:
These are especially helpful for a student whose grades are borderline for admission or for someone who has a blemish or two on the transcript. Teachers are the best people to vouch for your academic abilities.  If they believe you can succeed in college, we’ll take their advice seriously.

These are just a few of the factors that we look at when we open your application for review. If you are strong in all of these areas, that’s wonderful. That means you should feel confident about your admission. If you have a weaker area or two, just work extra hard at explaining those weaknesses and boosting your application in other areas. Remember, there are real people on the other end of the application and we are all rooting for you! So, stop Googling and start believing in your own abilities!


Vanessa Roman
Senior Assistant Director of Admission