8 Must-Haves On Your College Application

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

an application form flashed unto a computer screen

8 Must-Haves On Your College Application

College applications play a massive role in the college admissions process. It’s this collection of documents on which a student’s entire academic future will depend. This is why there’s so much focus on preparing applications.

There are so many different components to an application, that it’s sometimes difficult for high schoolers to keep track of everything. Here, we’re going to highlight some of the most important things to have on a college application to increase your chances of admittance.

These aren’t the only aspects you should include, but they can have an outsized impact on your acceptance when compared to other elements. Let’s get started.

What makes your college application stand out?

Applying to college is a dynamic process. You’re not only trying to put your best image forward to catch the attention of admissions officers, but you’re also competing with thousands or, in some cases, tens of thousands of other applications for limited spots.

Even bigger schools have selective admissions rates. The selectivity of colleges only increases as their size decreases. Naturally, high schoolers often wonder what it takes to outshine the competition. In other words, what stands out from the other applicants?

An empty college application form attached with US dollar bills

Here are just a few main components that are key for helping your application see the light of day.


Your accomplishments are one of the more obvious but no less important aspects of a college application that will influence how impactful it is. Admissions officers have the tough task of sifting through thousands upon thousands of applications to determine which applicants are accepted and which are rejected.

One of the many ways colleges make this decision is by judging an applicant’s accomplishments based on what the school is looking for and against the performance of other applicants.

These accomplishments include everything from your academics and extracurricular activities to internships and professional experience, awards and accolades, and beyond.


Admissions officers love to see applicants who maintain a consistent theme throughout their application. What does that mean, exactly? Well, high schoolers who are applying to college with a clear understanding of what they want to study will naturally look stronger than other applicants who might not have that level of clarity.

This focus is further bolstered by academic and extracurricular performance in that particular area. This consistency proves to admissions officers that an applicant isn’t just verbally clear on their academic goals, but that their actions line up with their intentions.

a student taking a test

For example, let’s say a high schooler is interested in pursuing a degree in political science and international relations. If that goal is mentioned in their application along with a host of proof of pursuit of that goal, admission officers will view that as a strong applicant.

Maybe the applicant pursued AP and Honors courses in those fields, attended discussions on the topics, joined the debate club, participated in Model UN, and engaged in other activities that demonstrated this interest. All this focus would make for a really powerful application.


What you’ve achieved and the focus of your application are crucial factors for ensuring you stick out from the wave of applications your top-pick colleges are bound to receive. However, the most important aspect and the most decisive determining factor in your application’s success is you.

Think about it for a minute. With millions of other high schoolers applying to college at the same time as you, there is bound to be some overlap between your accomplishments and those of other students. This similarity makes it difficult for admissions officers to differentiate between different applicants. That’s where you come into play.

a group of students studying

The unique person, personality, and human behind the application have immense power in helping your application stand out overall. Personal statements, letters of recommendation, and college essays are the most effective ways you can show your uniqueness on an application.

It’s crucial to make the most of these elements to accurately and convincingly show admissions officers at your dream schools just how much you have to offer the school.

What are good things to put on your college application?

1. Correct Information

The most fundamental aspect of a college application is the applicant’s background information. This is easily the simplest portion of the application, but that’s actually what makes it risky. Sometimes, students are tempted to rush through this section to get onto the more time-consuming and complicated portions.

This can lead to incorrect information and mistakes which can cause unnecessary delays in your application and other complications. It’s critical for applicants to take their time when filling out basic information. Double and triple-check it to make sure everything checks out.

2. Fantastic Grades in Challenging Classes

Colleges take a holistic approach to the admissions process which means admissions officers consider a wide range of factors when determining whether an applicant is accepted. Among the more critical of these factors is a student’s GPA.

As an accurate representation of your overall academic performance, this is the easiest metric for colleges to judge an applicant’s academic prowess. Although it is possible to get into college with a low GPA, it greatly decreases your chances of getting into the university or college of your choice.

a student writing on her notebook and looking at the camera

Fortunately, it’s well-known among high schoolers that GPA plays a major role in the college admissions process. However, a GPA doesn’t tell the full story of a student’s academic performance which is why colleges tend to dig a bit deeper.

Admissions officers want to see what kind of courses you took to achieve your GPA. More specifically, they want to see if you challenged yourself with college-level courses such as Honors or AP classes or if you relied on easy classes to bolster your GPA.

Of course, colleges prefer to see students who are willing to accept more difficult classes while still performing well. In fact, 77% of colleges reported that grades from college-prep classes and overall GPA were “considerably important” in their admissions decision, according to a NACAC report.

3. Excellent standardized test scores.

High schools across the country have different curricula which can make it challenging for colleges to accurately compare the academic performance of applicants from across the country.

That’s where standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT come in handy. These exams are designed to provide an objective and accurate method for comparing the academic capabilities of applicants.

As a result, standardized test scores have become a crucial component of the college admissions process which positions a high test score as one of the essential components of a strong application. The NACAC report suggests that just over 54% of colleges view these test scores as incredibly important when considering which students get accepted.

As you could have guessed, the higher the score, the better chances you have of getting into your dream schools. But, that begs the question, “what score is high enough?” The uncomplicated answer is: you should strive to get the highest score possible. That’s not too helpful though, is it?

Typically, we advise students to aim for at least the 75th percentile which is better than three-fourths of students who take the exam. This will ensure you stand out – at a minimum – among the top 25% of applicants which is enough to catch the attention of admissions officers. No matter where you’re applying.

Pro Tip: Most colleges don’t have a preference for the ACT or SAT, so choose which test you feel most comfortable with to maximize your score.

4. Impressive Extracurricular Accomplishment

Contrary to popular belief, colleges aren’t just interested in what you do in the classroom. Admission officers are also eager to see how high schoolers spend their time outside of school. That’s where extracurricular activities come into play.

Whether you’re joining a club, playing a sport, volunteering with a local organization, or playing an instrument in the school choir, colleges simply want to see that you’re excelling in an area that’s not directly tied with academics.

This shows a student is well-rounded, interested in various things, and capable of balancing school with other passions. Before you start jotting down everything you do outside of school, it’s important to keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to extracurriculars.

Mentioning too many on your application won’t impress any admissions officers. Instead, it will seem like you had a tough time committing to anything in particular. Instead, colleges want to see students who excelled at one (maybe two) extracurriculars after years of commitment.

This shows a dedication to improvement and demonstrates a desire to continue bettering yourself in a particular area. Highlighting an extracurricular you’re passionate about and successful at will make your application stand out.

5. Persuasive Letters of Recommendation

Admissions officers can only glean so much from your application no matter how in-depth, detailed, or revealing. That’s why most colleges require applicants to provide at least one letter of recommendation from a high school teacher. Some even require one from a counselor too.

The purpose of these letters of recommendation is to hear directly from people who know students well, especially in academic settings, to help colleges gain a better understanding of the person behind the application.

A stellar letter of recommendation can help you catch the attention of admissions officers since positive remarks from high school teachers and counselors are held in high regard. Although somebody else is writing the letter of recommendation, you have more control over the final product than you might think.

Here are some tips for getting excellent letters of recommendation:

  • Request letters from teachers who know you well (and like you).
  • Ask early on before a popular teacher gets too busy.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask teachers to include certain aspects of your academic success.
  • Request the letter of recommendation in person.
  • Make sure you turn in everything on time so your letters are considered.

6. Relevant Work Experience

High schoolers don’t often think about work experience when completing their college application. However, there are some circumstances in which this can be used as a competitive advantage.

If you’ve engaged in “typical” high school jobs such as working in a fast-food restaurant, retail chain, or landscaping position, you might forgo mention of your experience on the application. On the other hand, if you’ve worked in the field in which you’re interested in pursuing academically, it’s a fantastic idea to include this in your application.

Admission officers love to see students who have gone out of their way to further their academic and practical understanding of a certain field. It doesn’t matter if you participated in an unpaid internship, a short summer stint, or a high-paying part-time job.

The most important factor is that the work experience relates to your intended major in some way. You’ll want to ensure you explain on your application how that work experience has helped you in your ultimate pursuit of a specific area of study or profession.

Even if you think the connection is obvious, admissions officers will appreciate the explanation. When compared to other students who don’t have any practical, professional experience in their fields of interest, your application is bound to get a second look.

7. Impactful Volunteering Experience

Some applicants feel like they’re tooting their own horns when including volunteer work on their college applications. Trust us: admissions officers won’t think you’re just including it to show off. In fact, colleges love to see students who are engaging with their communities, dedicating free time to causes they’re passionate about, and utilizing their skills and knowledge to help others.

college student looking gleeful looking at the camera

The same quality vs quantity aspect we discussed earlier applies here too. It’s more impactful to demonstrate volunteer experience that’s had an actual impact rather than talk about the dozens upon dozens of minor things you’ve done to help. For example, let’s say you volunteered with a nonprofit raising awareness for a rare heart condition.

Maybe you were tasked with setting up a marathon to increase donations, and you were successful in bringing in more fundraising than in previous years. This is a tangible difference directly attributed to your volunteer work.

The impact doesn’t need to be this cut and dry to have a positive impact on your college application, but admissions officers are more likely to be impressed the easier you can demonstrate your positive impact. Don’t worry too much about the cause. The most important thing is the influence of your commitment.

8. Compelling Essays

Colleges across the country require applicants to pen several different essays in the admissions process. While it’s easy to roll your eyes at the requirement, these essays actually provide high schoolers with a perfect opportunity.

Since college applications are pretty dry with information about you, these essays are a way for applicants to demonstrate what makes them unique to admissions officers. With thousands, if not tens of thousands, of applications to sift through, a well-written, high-quality, and unique essay can help your application stand out from the crowd.

Here are some tips for writing stellar essays:

  • Get started early so you have plenty of time to write them.
  • Speak with your unique voice without sacrificing grammar or spelling.
  • Stick closely to the prompt and answer it directly.
  • Keep yourself from writing too far below or too much over the word limit.
  • Reread, double-check, and proofread your essays to catch any mistakes.
  • Brainstorm your answers before you start writing.
  • Don’t rush through your responses since your best ideas can take time to arrive.

Your academic goals are achievable.

As you start preparing for college, you’re probably struggling to determine which academic goals to aim for. Should you go for the loftiest goals? Or should you temper your expectations and set your sights a bit lower? We always advise students to aim high but with an effective plan.

At AdmissionSight, we’ve helped students get into their dream colleges for over a decade. In fact, 75% of our students either get accepted into Top 10 or Ivy League schools – the best colleges and universities in the entire country. When you work with AdmissionSight, there’s no academic goal that’s too high.

We’ve mastered the college admissions process and have a deep understanding of what admissions officers throughout the country are looking for in applicants. Better yet, we know how to help high schoolers improve their chances of getting into their top-pick schools.

We offer a broad array of services ranging from academic guidance and extracurricular planning to summer program selection and essay editing all of which are aimed at helping high schoolers improve their application to stand out from the crowd of applicants.

If you’re interested in learning more about what we offer and how you can benefit, feel free to contact us today. We’ll be more than happy to answer all of your questions during a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.




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