Frames of Reference: It helps to keep in mind that the admissions process involves different frames of reference. There is the student’s frame of reference, the parent’s frame of reference, the high school’s frame of reference, and, of course, the frame of reference of each college to which the student applies.
Keep in mind that no two colleges will have identical applicant groups in a given year. Each will, therefore, review applications in the context of its respective applicant group, which by the way will invariably include many other well-qualified applicants. Furthermore, freshman class size differs from one college to another. In other words, there will be some factors affecting a college’s decision on your application over which you have absolutely no control and for which you should not feel responsible.
A Complex Matter: College admissions is a complex and complicated matter — as much for college admission officers as for aspiring applicants. And in more respects than you can now appreciate, it is complex and complicated because applicants, taken as a group, want it to be that way. Think about it: you could easily derive, based on your own preferences, a simple formula for all colleges to use when making admission decisions. The problem is, however, that your simple formula would not square with the thousands of other simple formulas derived by other applicants with different preferences.
For instance: If you ace the SAT, the ACT and two or more SAT II tests, you might be inclined to hope that colleges will give the greatest weight to your test scores. If you have more modest test scores, but a terrific GPA, you might be inclined to hope that they give the greatest weight to your grades. If you have neither high test scores nor terrific grades, you might be inclined to hope that they will give the greatest weight to your extracurricular activities. And if you don’t fall into any of these categories, well, you might be inclined to hope that they give the greatest weight to your as yet unrealized potential.
Again, there simply is no single, universally applied formula because you, collectively, would not want there to be. As such, the college admissions process remains a complex and complicated matter.