What Are Colleges Looking For in an Applicant?

What Are Colleges Looking For in an Applicant?

One of the most anxiety-provoking questions for college bound high school students and their parents is “what is the college looking for in an applicant?” Depending on the school, there are certain academic standard that one must achieve, but it is important to realize that colleges take other information into consideration as well.

To answer the question, what colleges are really looking for in an applicant is: a well rounded student.

What does it mean to be well rounded?

  1. Solid academic scores – You want to demonstrate that you are competent in core subject areas like Math, Science, and English, but in most cases that does not mean that you have to have a 90 average in all of those subjects to be a strong candidate (though it never hurts). It is important to begin working towards higher scores as early as your 9th grade year, but it is not the end of the world to have a bad quarter grade in Algebra. What is important, is that you always work to your fullest potential in your course work and you make an attempt to improve scores that may have been less than average in previous quarters or semesters.
  2. Difficulty of course load – Colleges look at all four years of your high school experience and they examine the course load that you have chosen each year. In your Junior and Senior years especially, colleges are looking to see that you have taken a full schedule (no less than the minimum of 6 ½ classes per semester), and that you are challenging yourself with higher level courses.
  3. Standardized test scores – The SAT This link will open in a new tab. and ACT This link will open in a new tab. are the two most popular standardized tests accepted by most colleges and universities in the country. It is important to realize that these scores do not solely determine your ability to get into most colleges. These scores are just one of the variables that colleges consider when looking at an applicant. Nonetheless, these tests are still one variable that colleges consider so it is important to prepare for these exams and to earn the best scores that you possibly can.
  4. Extra-curricular activities This link will open in a new tab. Colleges love to see that you are involved in all aspects of the high school experience. This demonstrates that you are actively involved and that you are able to apply your talents and interests in social and academic tasks. It is true that college admissions counselors are looking for students who can enrich their schools academically, but also they want to enroll students who will be active on campus in clubs and activities. Moreover, students who are a part of extra-curricular activities may be more able to demonstrate leadership abilities and strong character- another sign of a well rounded student.
  5. Volunteerism – Colleges are beginning to look at a students’ volunteer activities. Being a volunteer in activities like peer mentoring, and key club is another way that you can demonstrate that you are a well rounded student.
  6. Employment – If you do have an after school or weekend job, you can be sure to include that experience in your resume. Colleges like to see that you can balance school, work, and home.


A word to the wise…
The one thing that you will want to remember during the application process is that when colleges begin looking at applications and deciding on which students to admit, they sometimes turn to public web pages and internet resources to learn more about a student. If you have a Myspace or Facebook page, make sure that the information and photos you have downloaded to your page are suitable for colleges to view. This is also important to consider when applying for jobs in the future. The internet is a powerful tool and it is important to keep in mind that information is at anyone’s fingertips, so be careful what you post.