There have always been conflicting opinions about what, exactly, college admissions officers look for as they make their decisions.
The truth is that it is not as simple as high school teachers and counselors might make it seem.
Good grades do not guarantee admission, and neither do extensive extracurricular activities.
Universities look for the full package.
To get you started on a college application that no admissions officers can refuse, let us take a look at what to keep in mind.
Top 9 Things Universities Look for in an Applicant
1. Early Birds Get the Worm
It might be tempting to take your time with college applications, but wherever possible, submit a complete application for early admission.
Chances are, for your first-choice university, there are hundreds of applications coming in from all over the world.
By going for early admission, you increase your chances of standing out and getting that offer letter.
Universities want to see that students have blossoming enthusiasm for obtaining an education.
It is a strength for students to know what they want and show an active interest in working toward it.
By applying early, you indicate to your admissions officer that the university is your first choice, and you are organized and serious about attending there.
2. Keep Up Your Grades
Even though grades do not paint a full picture of an individual, they still play an essential role.
Good grades serve as evidence of hard work and determination.
The key to success is consistency. Don’t only start working harder nearer college applications.
By working on improving your learning in high school, you will cultivate many learning strategies that help boost your grades, and subsequently, the strength of your college application.
Remember, while some courses are going to teach you everything from scratch, from the basics up, how well you performed in related subjects in high school can reflect your potential for success in college.
You can’t expect to get in for that engineering course if you have consistently been getting below-average scores in math and physics.
Hard work pays off, so do work hard for those grades.
3. Polish Up Your Writing Skills
Admissions officers want to know that students are capable of writing coherently.
Personal statements and essays can reveal a lot about a student’s personality and ability to reason.
In many cases, your personal statement is the closest amount of contact you have with your college admissions officer.
It’s your big chance to show them not just your writing prowess, but also your capacity for critical thinking as well as your personality.
Choose a topic that is close to your heart. Your writing should read like something coming from you personally – hence the term personal statement – rather than an impersonal research paper.
For students who find writing does not come easy to them, there are several guides out there to help you build the framework you need to write brilliant essays.
We highly recommend polishing up your writing skills, not only for that personal statement or essay but also for all the papers you will be required to write once you get into your dream college.
4. Ace Those SATs
Many schools look at standardized testing scores for a glimpse into a student’s intelligence and logical reasoning.
While some schools do not even require SAT or ACT scores, completing the tests may still work to a student’s advantage.
Keep in mind that you need to pay to register and sit for SATs and to send the scores out to your shortlisted universities of choice.
Make sure you have done the math of how much this will cost you first, and spend enough time preparing so you can score well before you dive into the application business.
5. Be Prepared for Face-to-Face Interviews
Many admissions counselors seek face-to-face interviews to have a better glimpse into a student’s mind.
These interviews are also used to ensure the honesty and accuracy of written statements and applications.
Don’t walk into these without organizing your thoughts and the key messages you want to get across.
Reread your own personal statement for details you may be asked about, and make sure you are informed about the institution, its core values, what it is known for, etc.
Give insightful and thoughtful answers but avoid exaggerating your qualifications or ambitions to impress.
Remember to dress neatly – save the sweatpants and baggy hoodies for classes.
6. Let Your CV Speak for You
Colleges want to see that students have a history and future in pursuing well-rounded coursework.
Taking a variety of advanced classes may show a willingness to accept challenges and adapt to new situations.
Continually challenging yourself in high school by signing up for more advanced classes also prepares you for college-level courses.
7. Highlight Your Extracurricular Activities
Universities also want to know that students are willing to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports and academic groups.
This also demonstrates that the student is willing to follow through and become an active member of the campus.
The ability to balance extracurricular activities in school, along with keeping your grades up, shows colleges that you are a hardworking applicant who can efficiently manage their time and commitments.
Exceptional performance in extracurriculars also opens opportunities like music and sports scholarship eligibilities.
Research these well and commit yourself to strengthen up your participation in activities which increase your chances at your college of choice.
8. Highlight Your Experiences
Not only do admissions advisors want to know that incoming students offer unique personalities, but they also want to see that students are bringing in their own sets of experiences.
A student who can bring in a new perspective is often valuable in a university setting.
Broaden your horizons in high school – pursue work experience, volunteer, try out community service for different causes.
Not only does this look great in your application, but it also helps you discover your interests and passions and expands your worldview.
9. Get Excellent Referrals
Having a teacher or advisor write a glowing letter of recommendation is a great way to demonstrate a student’s ability to build professional relationships.
An upside of consistent effort and involvement in school is that your teachers will be more than happy to write you positive referrals.
Now that you know about the 9 things universities look for in applicants, you should have a good idea of how to plan for college admissions.
Which tips are you going to work on first?
Did you find these helpful?
Let us know!
Dixie Somers is a popular blogger who enjoys writing and reading classic pieces of literature. She hopes to be able to guide prospective college students on their journey to get into the school of their dreams.
[ Updated : July 23, 2020 ]