Colleges look for these things in a student

February 22, 2012

Colleges look for these things in a student

1. Curriculum

A rigorous class schedule shows intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself and that you are comfortable with hard work. Strong grades in honors and AP courses are typically more impressive than perfect grades in regular classes. Colleges are a place of higher learning so it makes sense that colleges look for students who want to learn. Starting early on in middle school asking questions in each of your classes can help you develop a love of learning.

2. Grades and Class Rank

Junior year is most important followed by first semester senior year. Freshman and sophomore grades are typically less significant especially if there is a pattern of improvement. Along with the transcript, high schools provide colleges with a senior class profile. Admissions officers review the profile of your high school to gain perspective of your academic achievements compared to other applicants from different high schools. Increasing class rank is a planned strategy that starts on the first day of the high school freshman year. Taking AP, Honors classes AND getting a great grade will help with your class rank. Students who take a lot of AP, Honors, IB, etc. while maintain a high GPA have the highest class ranks.

3. Standardized Test Scores

SAT/ACT scores are a major admissions factor at most colleges. Impressive scores will put you in a higher category. Scores provide a standard measure to compare applicants from different schools and backgrounds. Get on a Testing Strategy plan early can help increase your scores and increase your scholarship eligibility. Check out the excellent Test Prep material here.

4. Extracurricular Activities, Athletics, Avocations & Summer Experiences

In past years, most successful applicants were well-rounded high-achievers. There is a growing preference, especially at the most selective schools, for high achievers who are also “angular” or “focused” or “passionate” candidates. These successful students typically possess a special activity or unusual characteristic that sets them apart from other applicants. This is commonly referred to as a “hook”. Admissions officers look for quality over quantity. Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important as most colleges now prefer to see fewer activities that really interest you and where you are involved in a significant way. Evidence of passion, leadership, initiative, commitment and making a real difference is critical. Review the information on How to Develop a Passion.

5. Community Service

Few colleges have a community service requirement, but volunteering is considered an excellent venue to show character, compassion, and self-fulfillment through helping others. Evidence of increased responsibility and dedication over time is especially impressive. That said, community service is often a criteria for obtaining scholarships. There are several colleges that have “Community Service Scholarships” for students who meet the criteria.

6. Work and Entrepreneurial Experiences

Part-time work experience, an internship or summer job, even starting your own business can provide excellent essay material to showcase your maturity, initiative, work ethic as well as interpersonal and time-management skills. Having a job and maintaining your high GPA is looked upon favorably by many colleges. This is especially true if your parents are high income earners. However this could backfire if you have a job that was given to you at (for example) a law office because your father is a partner. Some students get these types of jobs to impress the colleges. It is more impressive if you got a job on your own at Burger King.

7. Application Essays

Application essays are a prime opportunity to stand out with well-composed essays about what makes you a truly special candidate — your passion, personality, character, personal achievements, background, special talents, sense of humor, inner resilience, writing ability as well as your reasoning for choices you have made. Colleges look for articulate, well-written, thoughtful essays providing insight into your personality, values, and goals. A well written essay is not something that can be ripped out in half an hour. Write your essay, read it out loud, have other people review and critique it. Then, rework and rewrite your essay. Some students rewrite the essay 4, 5 and more times to perfect it.

8. Recommendations

Admissions officers rely on letters of recommendation to round out and confirm their picture of you as a candidate. It is important to cultivate good relationships with your guidance counselor, teachers, coaches, employers and others who can recommend you highly. Develop relationships with these people over a period of time can turn these people into your advocate.

9. Interview

Your meeting on-campus, or with an alumni interviewer (typically in your local area) is usually the only in-person data point that colleges have to evaluate you. Colleges value this input to corroborate their picture of you from other sources. It is also an excellent opportunity to convey your genuine interest in a particular college or university, to ask insightful questions and show your good sense of humor, maturity and interpersonal skills. However, do not base the entire college fit on this one person. They are there to “sell” you on the college, they should do a good job at that. Some interviewers are not good or may have a dull personality, again, don’t base everything on this one interviewer or recruiter. It is always a good idea to give it a second look then evaluate whether or not you are going to keep the school on your short list.

10. Level of Interest & Potential Fit

Admission officers have a preference for applicants who appear knowledgeable about their college and seem highly motivated to attend. Colleges care about their yield (percentage of accepted applicants who enroll). All factors being equal admissions officers typically favor the applicant most likely to attend, not necessarily the one with the highest score and GPA. Review the College Touch Points for further insight.

11. Other Factors

There are numerous other factors that can play a role in the admissions decision including: geographical diversity, athletics, legacy, ethnic heritage, socio- economic background and ability to overcome adversity and other factors. If there is something unique about you that you can use to separate yourself from the rest of the application pool, it could be to your benefit. Colleges look to fill voids in their student body, identifying yourself as someone who would fill the void could be beneficial.


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