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Freshman Application Review Process

Each year, Illinois receives over 30,000 applications for its freshman class, which means there are more qualified applicants than can be admitted.

For more information on requirements, review our detailed list of all requirements.


The goal of the campus’ admissions review process is to select, from the large and growing pool of applicants, those individuals who have challenged themselves academically and shown commitment to activities and service expected of University of Illinois alumni. To achieve a class that embodies rich diversity, college representatives and other University staff participate in the recruitment, identification, and selection of students.

Applicants selected for admission are those who are expected to contribute to and immerse themselves in Illinois’ learning environment. Although high school grades and standardized test scores are important indicators of academic achievement, they only tell part of the story.

As a public, land-grant institution of higher learning, Illinois has a mandate to serve the State of Illinois by educating its future leaders in research, teaching, and public engagement. Student diversity is a compelling interest, as it contributes to a rich and stimulating learning environment that prepares students for the challenges and opportunities in Illinois, the nation, and beyond.

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The Review Process

In order to meet their educational missions, each college at the University of Illinois seeks students who meet and exceed standards for incoming freshmen and have the potential to be leaders in their chosen fields upon graduation. When students apply to Illinois, their applications for admission are subject to a rigorous, careful, thoughtful, and complete review by admissions professionals from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the college to which the student has applied. 

A variety of factors are considered upon review. Primary among the criteria is academic performance and rigor. When reading applications, the admissions and college professionals rank the application using a holistic approach by combining the criteria being evaluated. Most applications receive at least two readings. The Office of Admissions checks all preliminary decisions in order to assure a high level of consistency while recognizing that professional judgment is being used to make individual decisions about each applicant. In fact, individual applicants are evaluated in the context of the opportunities available. The multiple readings and the review for consistency creates a system of quality control that leads to the best possible decisions of professional judgment.

While reading an application, admissions and college professionals carefully consider the wide range of information provided by the applicant. Applicants should understand that every word of the application is considered in making an admissions decision. Readers consider all evidence provided by the applicant, the context of the personal and academic circumstances, and the strength of the applicant pool in each college and to the University of Illinois overall. The weight of each criterion in the admissions decision depends on the combination of qualities presented by the applicant. There is no set formula of weighting criteria. Final decisions are made on the evaluation of a variety of criteria and not by a single point system or formula.

Readers make admissions decisions based on the evidence included in the application. Applicants should be sure to present themselves and their stories accurately and completely. The academic record will be carefully and thoughtfully evaluated. The other sections of the application including the essays, list of activities, achievements, honors, etc. will be given equal, careful, and thoughtful attention. The best applicants create an application that is thoroughly prepared with close attention to detail and consideration of personal strengths and future goals.

Applicants to Illinois have the opportunity to apply directly into a college and major.  Due to this fact, an applicant’s strengths and experiences as they relate to their intended program of study will be taken into consideration. For example, the College of Engineering will focus on the student’s proficiency in math and science as shown through subscores on the ACT or SAT and grades and rigor in those areas. Applicants to talent-based programs in the College of Fine and Applied Arts such as Art, Music, Theatre and Dance must be academically eligible as well as pass a talent review either conducted through an audition or portfolio review. The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences will make note of experiences or activities that directly correlate with the specific field of study the applicant has chosen. Therefore, each of the 10 academic communities reviews applications with the goal of admitting students who demonstrate that they will succeed and thrive within their chosen academic program. 

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Review Criteria

Looking for a record of successful achievement at the highest possible level, readers of applications will evaluate the following criteria:

Academic achievement in the highest level of rigor available at the applicant’s high school.

Consistent achievement at the highest level is the best possible demonstration of strong academic performance. Application readers will review the rigor of individual courses and the grades earned in those courses when evaluating the strength of a student’s academic record.

Evidence of rigor is demonstrated in the number of honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and/or college-level courses included in the student’s four-year academic program. Readers will take the student’s high school course offerings into account. Recognizing that different high schools provide different levels of opportunity and rigor, we expect each applicant to challenge themselves with the best offered at their school. In-progress courses are included in the review, and a senior year with strong academic rigor is an important factor in evaluating an applicant’s academic record.

Because admission to Illinois is so competitive, the minimum course requirements rarely satisfy admission expectations. In reviewing a high school record, readers will also look for grade patterns. For example, it is always better for grades to improve over time rather than decline.

Achievement outside the classroom that demonstrates personal strengths and skills.

Illinois is looking for students who have the personal qualities, as well as the academic qualities, to succeed and thrive on our campus. Readers expect that students with strong academic achievement will also demonstrate strong achievement outside of the classroom in school and/or community activities. Through such activities, applicants have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership ability, perseverance, creativity, generosity, determination, motivation, concern, intellectual curiosity, etc.

In the application, students have the opportunity to provide the readers with evidence of their strongest qualities by submitting careful and complete information in the listing of activities and their essays. Illinois does not use letters of recommendation in the admissions process and asks that applicants not submit letters of recommendation, as they will not be considered.

Academic interest.

Students applying to the University of Illinois apply directly to the major they wish to study. Students should discuss their academic interests clearly and concisely in the essays and application questions so that readers understand why they are applying to the program and how they developed this interest. Depending on this information, readers will consider students for other majors or those related to the original major to which they applied. Readers may determine that another program will be the best fit for a student.

Performance on standardized tests.

Illinois does not have any minimum scores or “cutoffs” for making any undergraduate admissions decisions. Readers evaluate the results of the required ACT and/or SAT test results. The highest composite score is used for evaluation. Colleges will often evaluate results from the sub-scores (English, Math, etc.). If an applicant submits scores from more than one test date, the highest sub-score(s) will be used in this evaluation. However, Illinois does not combine the highest sub-scores from different test sittings to create a “super-score” composite.

Other test results such as SAT Subject Tests, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate Higher Level examinations are not evaluated and not seen by the readers of the applications. Readers evaluate test scores in the context of the academic information in the application.

Other achievements.

Readers will consider worthy and sustained achievement in a variety of areas of endeavor (intellectual, creative, artistic, athletic, entrepreneurial, employment, leadership, etc.) in which the applicant has demonstrated significant impact or level of accomplishment in his or her school, community, state, and/or national activities.

Students on college campuses thrive when studying and working with the other students who contribute to the intellectual, cultural, and social life of the campus. Therefore, readers look for evidence of an applicant’s potential to contribute to a vibrant, diverse, and talented campus.


Because individual applicants are evaluated in the context of the opportunities available, each reader will consider the high school curriculum, Advanced Placement courses, honors courses, extra-curricular activities, etc. that are available to the student. Each applicant to Illinois is expected to take full advantage of the resources that are available.

Illinois has no limits to the number of applicants that can be admitted from a high school. We make decisions based on the quality of the individual application.

Personal characteristics.

The University is committed to our land-grant mission to serve the population of the state of Illinois. Admitting such a wide variety of students helps create the rich cultural experience found on campus. In order to continue to provide an atmosphere that values students who have a unique set of experiences and knowledge, readers consider each applicant’s background. This includes diversity, veteran status, geographic location, and first-generation status.

Individual circumstances.

Many applicants have unique stories that provide important context for an admissions decision. The Illinois admissions application provides an opportunity for students to share information about individual circumstances that may assist in the evaluation of the application.

Applicants should take advantage of this opportunity to explain those circumstances, which may demonstrate qualities and/or skills important in a successful applicant. Additionally, some students have one semester or course in which the performance does not match each of the other semesters or courses. Applicants may wish to explain the circumstances for this variation.

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High School Coursework Requirements

Subject Minimum Required Years of Coursework Recommended Years of Coursework
English 4 4
Math 3 or 3.5 1 4
Social Sciences 2 4
Lab Sciences 2 4
One Foreign Language 2 4
Flexible Academic Units 2 4+

1 3.5 years of mathematics, including trigonometry or higher are required for:

  • Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences: agricultural engineering sciences
  • Business: all curricula
  • Engineering: all curricula
  • Fine and Applied Arts: architectural studies
  • Liberal Arts and Sciences: specialized curricula in biochemistry, chemical engineering, chemistry, geology, and physics

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Students are asked to write two essays:

  1. Explain your interest in the major you selected. You may describe a related experience you’ve had to that area of study and/or your future career goals. If you are applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you are currently considering. Please limit your response to approximately 300 words.
  2. Tell us about one interest or experience of yours that allows us to get to know you better as an individual. Please limit your response to approximately 300 words.

Important factors considered by the review committee when evaluating the essays are:

  • How the applicant ties his or her academic interest to the desired major or, if applying to the Division of General Studies, how the applicant explains his or her varied interests and need for exploration.
  • How the applicant showcases his or her passion through chosen activities, work experience, research, or course selection in high school.
  • How the essay reveals maturity and growth through past experiences, evidence of character development, cultural insight, community awareness, and/or leadership. Strength of writing is carefully considered throughout all the application essays.

For additional help writing your essays, you may find these tips from national admissions officers helpful.

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College Selectivity for 2014 Admitted Freshmen

Some programs within a college may admit at a more competitive level.

Middle 50% of Students
College ACT Score SAT Score: No Writing TOEFL High School Class Rank
ACES 25-30 1230-1400 99-107 80-96%
AHS 26-29 1240-1360 94-103 82-96%
BUS 29-32 1330-1430 103-110 89-97%
DGS 26-31 1310-1420 99-106 80-94%
EDU 25-29 1190-1360 100-106 77-93%
ENG 31-34 1400-1510 105-113 93-99%
FAA 25-30 1200-1360 94-104 76-95%
LAS 27-32 1340-1460 101-109 86-97%
Media 26-30 1210-1370 101-110 77-95%
SSW 24-28 1260-1370 104-107 75-92%
Campus 27-32 1330-1470 101-109 84-97%

The International English Testing System (IELTS) can also be used to show English proficiency. The typical scores for admission are a total of 7 to 8, with at least a score of 6 on all 4 modules.

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