While every college’s application process and student criteria is different, there are some common factors they take into consideration when choosing who to accept.

5 Things College Admissions Look ForThe most important component is the application itself. When filling this out accuracy and creativity count. Applications are designed to give you multiple opportunities to showcase your academic success, community engagement and plans for the future.

This calls for good, solid writing – yes, have a friend or teacher help you edit – and an authentic and passionate voice. Remember, write what you know and your enthusiasm and hard work will shine through.

Follow the instructions carefully for any application packet you are preparing. If an Admissions Officer sees typos and other mistakes, your application could automatically go in the no pile.

Remember, schools receive thousands of applicants each year for limited seats available for new students. All the terrific things you’ve done in your high school career will go unnoticed if you present yourself sloppily.

Academic Record

Your academic record is typically the first and most important part of your application especially at selective schools. Williams College, for example, provides the following guidelines to prospective students:

Applicants should pursue the strongest program of study offered by their schools. Wherever possible, you should take honors or advanced level courses, especially in fields of great interest to you. A challenging and well-balanced program of study ideally should include: a full four-year sequence in English and mathematics; study of one foreign language for three or, preferably, four years; and three years of study each in the social sciences and laboratory sciences. These are not absolute requirements for admission; rather they are recommendations for developing a strong high school record.

Remember that a straight A record will not carry the same weight if your course load was weak. Take the most challenging classes your high school offers and do your very best in them.

Standardized Test Scores

Admissions counselors use these scores to weed out applicants. Prepare for these exams using the online tools provided at the SAT and ACT websites. Retake the tests if needed and show up for the exams well rested, fed and ready to concentrate.


Who you really are counts. Schools want to admit students with character and personal drive. Show your personal side with letters of recommendation and in excellent writing of your essay. Think of your personal essay as the opportunity to shine in ways that are not reflected by your academic record.

Community Engagement

Quality of your extracurricular activities is more important than the quantity. Being involved in a few activities over several years is better than more in a short period of time. Admissions officers want to see that you can commit for the long haul just as you will in order to graduate from college.

Other factors

Every school has other factors they consider too. These include: Legacy (did your grandparents, parents or another sibling attend the school), donation potential, underrepresented race or ethnicity, athletic status, socioeconomic or geographical background and exceptional talent in academics or the arts.

Karen KayKaren Kay is a writer who is passionate about education and is highly involved in trying to make graduate programs accessible to the masses. Karen gets her energy from a nice long run and loves to dive into a good book.

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5 Things College Admissions Look For