The 7 Cs of College Admissions Part 1: Competition and Completion

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

In my last article, I described what in general defines a good college. In the next series of articles, I explain how I go about obtaining the assessment information needed to do a comprehensive school search, which in turn results a well-matched college list for a particular student. The assessment framework used to create that information is what I call The 7 Cs.

The 1st C – COMPETITION (Selectivity)

For this factor, I want to glean information from the students and parents that will help us all understand the student’s probability of admission to various schools. I want to find out:

1) How important is prestige (attending a brand name institution)?

2) What are the student’s full academic, testing and extracurricular profiles?

3) Regarding the extracurricular profile, what is the level of student’s involvement (type of activity, student’s title/role, length of time involved, duties and responsibilities, and most of all accomplishments). How has this student made an impact on their home, school and/or community in concrete ways? Does the student hold a part time job? Are they 1st or 2nd chair violinist in the school orchestra, or a varsity athlete? Does the student go home after classes to care for younger siblings and help with homework? Does the student tutor underserved students? Is the student involved in research? You get the idea, I am sure.

4) Non-cognitive qualities—those qualities that extend beyond the numbers and activities which distinguish a student (think resilience, leadership, kindness, service)


The 2nd C – COMPLETION (advancement towards degree)

What I am asking parents and students at this point?

1) Are you looking for the four-year plan or the five or six-year plan? This bit of humor is mostly intended to raise awareness that students who enter college undeclared as well as those who change their major multiple times tend to take longer to graduate. Colleges with low four-year grad rates to begin with exacerbate this problem. And certainly, schools with impacted majors on impacted campuses make it even more difficult to graduate in a timely way.

For example, a school with a 17% graduation rate requires that I raise the issue of whether a particular student is going to be one of the 17 or one of the 83. And if they must attend a school with a lower graduation rate (for affordability reasons or lower GPA or whatever else), they need to come to better grips with what it takes to thrive in that type of environment. For example, some schools with low grad rates say that if students are willing to be on campus at 8AM for class and stay on campus for a 4PM class the same day, they can get the classes they need. So both the school and the student share some responsibility. Sometimes it’s the college that needs to do more, but the student must be able to work the system to their advantage in order to graduate in a timely manner. Will a particular student rise to that occasion? If not, I try to select colleges with greater success at the four-year plan.

2) Learning style: Here I am not just talking about student motivation to learn or love of learning. Instead I am trying to ascertain if a student can learn in large lecture halls or teach themselves right out of the text book? Or do they need smaller classrooms, classroom discussion and the chance to get to know their professors and ask questions?

3) Certainty of major: Since this impacts the graduation rate, I have various assessments in place to help the student decide on a course of study in college.

4) Type of high school experience: Does the student attend a public or private high school? Is the student homeschooled for their high school career? What kind of setting are they accustomed to? What will the transition be like and will the college offer a good transition program for freshmen?