The College Admissions X-Factor™, which we developed at Ivy Insight, is your child’s unique differentiator of expertise and exponential impact, which helps them to stand out in the best-fit colleges and majors.

The College Admissions X-Factor™ Model

College Admissions X-Factor Model


Your student’s x-factor is slightly more complicated than just identifying their talents and colleges of interest. It’s also important to take into account other contributing factors. We’ve divided these factors into three levels (see graphic).

Policy level

What’s going on in the world can have a significant impact on institutional-level priorities in the College Admissions X-Factor™ Model. For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to curb the use of race as an element of admissions criteria in higher education, ending a four-decade precedent of factoring student demographic input into admissions decisions.

The political climate can also have an impact on students.  A recent study from the Art & Science Group found that nearly one in four high school seniors “ruled out institutions solely due to the politics, policies, or legal situation in the state” where the college was located. Further, the study found that “this behavior was statistically true across liberals, moderates and conservatives.” Among the quarter of students who ruled out a school, about a third (32 percent) passed over schools in their home state on the basis of a political or legal situation they found unacceptable.

Institutional level

An individual institution’s values and priorities can vary widely, and have a major impact on what students should (and shouldn’t) highlight in their application. While admissions offices strive to admit students in an equitable way, it doesn’t necessarily mean the process is entirely objective.

There are a number of standard factors at play in any given admissions cycle that students and parents often have no control over but should be aware of. These “institutional priorities” often contain certain criteria that various schools must meet with each individual class. Based on the priorities, admissions offices will be looking out for certain types of students. That could include finding students with exceptional talent in art, music, or athletics,  or filling department-specific needs such as admitted more female computer science majors from Alaska. That may also mean ensuring an even mix of men and women, or a specific balance of in-state vs. out-of-state students. Many schools are especially concerned with enrolling well-qualified applicants of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. At the same time, schools also often use policies that benefit more affluent students, from legacy admissions to recruiting out-of-state students who pay non-resident tuition.

Student level

At the student level in the College Admissions X-Factor™ Model, we factor in four critical aspects of an individual student’s admission: extracurriculars, academics, life experiences, and their selected major.  At their intersection lies your student’s x-factor, their unique differentiator of expertise and exponential impact.  Influenced by the policy and institutional levels, these five contributors to a successful candidacy speak not only to the culture of the university, but also to how students can highlight the student’s unique talents and abilities. How they combine these factors can help them to stand out – or leave them to blend in. A cohesive application and essay “theme” can help. If they want to enter a civil rights law program, for example, they may want to highlight their performance on their debate team or mock trial and their volunteer work in social justice, combined with a story about their experience of being wrongfully accused of cheating. Alongside a stellar academic record and a demonstrated interest in the college, including developing strong connections inside the college, this kind of cohesion can help your student stand out in a sea of applicants.

Finding the best fit with the College Admissions X-Factor™ Model

The College Admissions X-Factor™ Model won’t just help your student get in; it will also help them discover the right college for them and how to best position themselves to get admitted. Just like a great pair of shoes, not every school will be the right fit for everyone, no matter how prestigious the program.

Through the process of uncovering and leveraging your student’s x-factor, you’ll gain deeper insight into your student’s authentic values, needs, and priorities. When students do the inner work and find colleges that are a perfect fit for them as individuals, their chances of acceptance increase alongside their odds of happiness at their chosen institution.

If you and your student want to explore how these factors can influence their admissions journey, we can help. Start here, with our short College Admissions X-Factor™ Assessment, and learn how to take their candidacy to the next level.

Image by Freepik