College Admissions: What's an Eligibility Index?

Find out what your chances of acceptance are based on your credentials.

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As if there aren't enough factors to juggle when applying to college — SAT scores, GPAs, private versus public schools, majors, minors, rural or city campuses — students who are researching various schools are facing another consideration: the eligibility index.

"An eligibility index is essentially a number value that some schools will use to judge the merit of a college applicant’s background," said Jon Frank, founder and CEO of Admissionado, a Chicago-based boutique admissions consulting company.

A student should consult a guidance counselor for tips on how to use the eligibility index to his or her advantage.

"Different schools (and states) calculate it differently, but the criteria used remain generally the same: this index combines students’ grades, perhaps their ranking within their school, and standard test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.) into one actual number. Some schools look at other factors as well when calculating this index, including sports, race, musicianship — along with, perhaps, other outstanding credentials."

Understanding Eligibility Index Criteria

Frank explained that all schools have different index criteria (i.e. what score a student needs to get in). For example, he said, elite universities will also look at a student's ranking within his or her school, not just his or her GPA — and such ranking is often not considered in a measured eligibility index.

"The trick is that no matter how high your 'eligibility index' is — and high grades and test scores will certainly boost your index scores, this will rarely be the sole determinant in college admissions," Ryan said. Kafi Martin, CEO and founder of Degrees of Success Inc., recommends students research whether or not he or she is applying to a school that considers the eligibility index in their application process.

Talk to Your Counselor About Your Eligibility

If the eligibility index is used, then Martin said a student might use the system to to his or her advantage by asking a school counselor three questions:

1. Does this college use a student's GPA as given by his or her high school or is it recalculated?

2. If the GPA is not recalculated, a student should ask if there are any special groups based on the Dean’s list or high-achiever academics. Get specific answers on what criteria gets a student invited. The answer to this question will give the student clear markers on what an ideal student for this college looks like. He or she can now use this information to tailor an application to the school.

3. If the GPA is recalculated, a student may get the brush off or unclear answers, but "don’t be put off," Martin said. "Keep probing until the counselor explains how your high school GPA differs from the college-determined GPA." Martin suggests details on how the GPAs differ will arm students with information that allows him or her to take targeted classes, prepare to meet top requirements and increase his or her chances for acceptance.

Challenge Yourself Academically for a Higher Index

Jenny Peacock, director of admissions for William Peace University in Raleigh, NC, agreed with Martin, adding that an eligibility index allows students to "challenge themselves and take advantage of all the resources within their respective high schools and communities."

"Our goal as educators is to ensure student success in the classroom and socially on campus, but every school is different," Peacock said. "I would rather see a 'B' in an AP course than an 'A' in a regular course. Students should take challenging course work in high school." Like Peacock, Frank reiterated that the eligibility index is typically used as only a minimum.

All in all, he said: "Don’t stress it. Sure, focus on your grades and test scores. But there is much more to applications than any one indexed number. Schools, colleges especially, accept people, not profiles."

Quick Tips

  • Keep in mind that the eligibility is only one possible determinant in the application process.
  • A student should consult a guidance counselor for tips on how to use the eligibility index to his or her advantage.
  • Focus on other factors, such as sports and volunteer efforts, in addition to the eligibility index.

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