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What Does it Mean to be a “Hooked” Applicant?

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College admissions counselors consider numerous factors when reviewing applications to their schools. They look closely at a student’s transcript, personal statements, and teacher evaluations, among many other components of the overall application. One additional factor that admissions may take into consideration is a student’s “hook”, if applicable.


“Hook” is a buzzword you may often hear when learning about the college application process. There are quite a few misconceptions when it comes to the concept of a “hooked” applicant. Unsure what it means to be a “hooked” applicant, or how such applicants are treated in the admissions process? In this blog post, we’ll help you understand the meaning and consequences of being a hooked applicant.


What is a hook?


To put it simply, a hook is a specific characteristic, trait, talent, or other fact a student possesses that gives them an extra edge in the admissions process. Essentially, hooked applicants fulfill some type of institutional need that the college has. Perhaps a given university really wants a superb kicker for their football team. If you are a nationally-ranked kicker with a strong performance record both on and off the field, and you applying to the university during that given applications cycle, you’re likely to have an edge because you fulfill one type of specific need the university has.


There are different types of hooks, including hooks that are self-developed and those that are inherent. In the next section, we’ll go over specific types of hooks.


Types of hooks


Now that we’ve established that a hook is anything that fulfills a university’s institutional needs, let’s take a look at some concrete examples so that we can see what exactly that means. We can divide types of hooks into roughly two categories: self-developed and inherent. These terms are pretty self explanatory, in that a self-developed hook is something that you create for yourself, and an inherent hook is something you are born with. We’ll start with discussing the former.


Often times, self-developed hooks can be thought of as different kinds of unique, exceptional talents applicants possess that really makes them stand out. For example, the top-ranked kicker in our earlier example possesses a self-developed hook. Their prowess as an athlete is something they have cultivated over a period of time, to the point that their skills are so notable that they fulfill a niche for the university they are applying to.


Most recruited athletes are considered hooked applicants for this very reason. Often times, these athletes are in communication with a university’s coaches when they formally submit their application to the school. The coach(es) will usually sponsor this athlete in some way, which helps give their application an advantage.


Notable athletic talent is not the only example of a self developed hook. Other kinds of distinguishable talents may also qualify. For instance, if you are ranked among the top five top debaters in your country and have have received numerous awards and distinctions that recognize your unique skill in this area, you may also be considered a hooked applicant. Or perhaps you are considered among the top piano players in your age bracket, and have played at prestigious concerts and been recognized by yours peers as a stand out talent. In this situation, your skills in piano playing can also be considered a hook.


However, it is important to make the distinction  between simply being talented in a certain field, and being hooked because of that talent. In order to be a hooked applicant, it is not enough to simply be pretty good in a certain field. You must be very clearly at the top of your field in a certain area, sport, instrument, or other category in order for it to be considered a hook.


Another category of hooks are those you are born with, or inherent hooks. These often include demographical factors, such as your race or ethnicity. Students who identify as Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and/or Native American are often considered Underrepresented Minority students, or URM students.


These racial categories have been historically underrepresented in American institutions of higher learning. As such, colleges try to build diverse classes that represent many different backgrounds. In order to accomplish this, URM students may receive an edge in the college applications process. For more information on the role of race/ethnicity in the application process, check out CollegeVine’s post on frequently asked questions about the race section of the Common App.


Other types of demographical factors may also be considered hooks, depending on the university. Sometimes, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may receive additional consideration in the application process. These students may not have had access to certain opportunities during their high school career, and thus colleges may take this into account when evaluating their application. Additionally, location may also play a role. Students from historically underrepresented states, such as Montana or Wyoming, can have an edge over students from overrepresented states, such as California or New York, since colleges often seek to have geographically diverse student bodies.


In further pursuit of their goal to create balanced, diverse classes, colleges may also pay extra consideration to students with historically underrepresented gender identities and/or sexual orientations. Whether this means a female student applying to a historically male-dominated STEM school receiving a second look, or a student who is LGBTQ+ getting an edge in the process, colleges strive to create classes that represent students from many backgrounds.


Now that you have a better idea of what it means to be a hooked applicant, let’s take a look at how hooks are evaluated in the application process.


How are unhooked and hooked applicants evaluated?


When college admissions officers review your application, they compare you to students who are similar to you in some way. The reason for doing so is that colleges are aware that students from different backgrounds have different opportunities, challenges, and privileges. In order to ensure that they considered the context of a student’s application as much as possible, students are placed into different pools. They are them evaluated relative to their specific pool.


As such, unhooked applicants are evaluated against students who are in their SAT, GPA, and/or ACT range and who have similar extracurricular activities. They may also be placed in pools with students who come from their same high school, location, and overall personal and academic environment. Essentially, colleges try to compare all applicants with others who are similar to them in various ways.


The process for hooked applicants looks a little different. Essentially, hooked applicants are compared to other applications with a similar hook. For instance, top-performing oboe players will be compared with other top-performing oboe players. As you can imagine, the competition in this pool probably won’t be as stiff as the kinds of pools we’ve described before, just by nature of its specificity. Since there probably won’t be as many competitors for students in that pool, which can help their application stand out.


What’s the purpose of placing hooked applicants in these specific pools? It goes back to the goal of creating a diverse and vibrant class. Colleges want students with a variety of different hooks so that they can build a well rounded student body at their university.  


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Lydia Tahraoui
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.