What Colleges Want to Know About You

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Thinking student sitting and holding a book in the park.

What Colleges Want to Know About You

Navigating the college application process can be a daunting task. What do colleges look for in their prospective students? How can one application stand out among the thousands of others? Understanding what colleges want to know about you is a critical first step in the college admission process.

Understanding the College Admission Process

The college admission process is more than just an assessment of academic achievement. It is a holistic review that takes into account your personal information, academic records, extracurricular activities, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores.

Admissions process for applying to universities

When it comes to college admissions, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each college has its own unique set of criteria and values that it considers when evaluating applications. Therefore, it is important to understand the various components of the admission process and how they contribute to the overall assessment of an applicant.

The Role of Personal Information

Personal information plays a crucial role in your college application. Colleges typically request basic details such as your name, address, and age, as well as more significant pieces of information like your family background, cultural heritage, and socioeconomic status. This information provides the contextual background that colleges use to understand your unique circumstances and experiences.

Colleges want to know about you and often aim to create diverse and inclusive student bodies, and understanding your personal background helps them in achieving this goal. They’re interested in your personal narrative and how it has shaped your perspective and ambitions.

For example, if you come from a low-income background and have overcome significant challenges to excel academically, colleges may view your achievements in a different light. They understand that your accomplishments are not just a result of innate ability but also of resilience and determination.

Similarly, if you come from a culturally diverse background, colleges may value the perspectives and experiences you can bring to their campus community. Your unique cultural heritage can enrich the academic and social environment of the college.

Importance of Academic Records

Your academic records are undoubtedly one of the most significant components of your college application. They serve as an indicator of your intellectual curiosity, dedication to learning, and ability to perform in an academic setting.

Grades, course selection, and progression over time are some of the factors that admissions officers scrutinize when considering academic records. While achieving straight A’s is undeniably impressive, colleges also want to know your exposure to challenging coursework and your ability to exhibit consistent improvement over time.

Colleges understand that not all students have access to the same resources and opportunities. Therefore, they take into consideration the rigor of your high school curriculum and the availability of advanced courses. If your school offers limited options, admissions officers will take that into account when evaluating your academic records.

Furthermore, colleges recognize that academic success is not solely determined by grades. They value students who demonstrate a genuine passion for learning and intellectual curiosity. This can be reflected in various ways, such as pursuing independent research projects, participating in academic competitions, or taking on leadership roles in academic clubs.

It is important to note that while academic records are important, they are not the sole determining factor in the college admission process. Colleges consider your application as a whole and take into account all the different components to make a comprehensive assessment of your potential as a student and a member of their community.

The Significance of Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities provide colleges with insight into your passions and interests outside the classroom. They help demonstrate your values, commitments, and personal qualities that cannot be gauged from academic records alone.

Group of students walking in the campus.

Engaging in extracurricular activities is highly valuable as it not only unveils your interests beyond the classroom but also highlights your values, commitments, and personal qualities – all of which are essential aspects colleges want to know about you. These activities allow students to explore their interests, develop new skills, and form lasting friendships. They provide a platform for students to challenge themselves, step out of their comfort zones, and learn valuable life lessons.

Sports and Leadership Roles

Participation in sports and leadership roles can showcase your teamwork skills, commitment, and resilience. Colleges often look for students who can both succeed academically and contribute positively to the campus community.

Being part of a sports team not only promotes physical fitness but also teaches important values such as discipline, perseverance, and time management. It helps students develop a strong work ethic and the ability to handle pressure in a competitive environment.

Leadership roles, be it in a school club, student government, or a community organization, exhibit initiative and responsibility. They provide opportunities for students to take charge, make decisions, and inspire others. These roles help students develop strong communication and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to work collaboratively with a diverse group of individuals.

Continuing commitment to a few select activities generally carries more weight than fleeting involvement in a large number of activities. It shows dedication, passion, and the ability to prioritize and manage time effectively.

Community Service and Volunteer Work

Community service and volunteer work can showcase your sense of responsibility towards society and the world around you. Participation in such activities demonstrates empathy, compassion, and a desire to make a positive impact.

Engaging in community service allows students to connect with their local community, understand social issues, and contribute to meaningful causes. It provides an opportunity to step outside of one’s own bubble and gain a broader perspective on the world.

While a vast number of community service hours can be impressive, colleges are more interested in ongoing commitment and the depth of your engagement. They want to see that you care deeply about causes and are committed to making a difference.

Volunteer work can take many forms, such as tutoring underprivileged students, assisting at a local shelter, or organizing fundraising events for charitable organizations. These experiences not only benefit the community but also foster personal growth, empathy, and a sense of social responsibility.

Ultimately, extracurricular activities provide students with a well-rounded education that goes beyond textbooks and classrooms. They help shape character, develop essential life skills, and prepare students for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

So, whether it’s through sports, leadership roles, or community service, getting involved in extracurricular activities is a valuable investment in your personal and academic journey. The things colleges want to know about you would definitely include more of the accomplishments you can showcase.

Your Personal Statement: A Reflection of You

Your personal statement offers colleges a window into your identity beyond mere test scores and GPA. It grants you the opportunity to share your experiences, the wisdom you’ve gained, and your dreams for the future.

Close up of students smiling at the camera.

When composing your personal statement, always bear in mind that this is your moment to authentically exhibit your individuality. Seize this chance to transcend the numerical data and demonstrate yourself as a multi-dimensional individual with distinctive experiences and perspectives – precisely the things colleges want to know about you.

One way to create a compelling narrative is to brainstorm significant experiences or events that have shaped you. These can be moments of triumph, challenges overcome, or even moments of self-discovery. Reflect on how these experiences have influenced your perspective and what lessons you’ve gleaned from them.

For example, you could share a story about how volunteering at a local animal shelter not only taught you about compassion and empathy but also ignited a passion for animal rights advocacy. This experience could have led you to become involved in various initiatives and organizations dedicated to protecting and promoting animal welfare.

Furthermore, your personal statement should also showcase your strengths and passions. Universities want to see authentic passion, commitment, and the potential for excellence in your desired field. This is your chance to highlight your unique talents and interests.

For instance, if you are an avid violin player, you can discuss how your dedication to mastering this instrument has not only improved your musical abilities but also taught you discipline, perseverance, and the importance of teamwork when playing in an orchestra.

Similarly, if you are a committed environmental activist, you can elaborate on the various initiatives you have been involved in, such as organizing beach clean-ups or advocating for sustainable practices in your community. You can discuss how these experiences have shaped your understanding of environmental issues and your desire to make a positive impact in this field.

Ultimately, your personal statement should be a reflection of your true self, and it can be a way to provide more information about the things colleges want to know about you. It should capture your passions, strengths, and aspirations for the future. By sharing your unique experiences and perspectives, you can paint a vivid picture of who you are as an individual and why you would be a valuable addition to the college community.

Letters of Recommendation: The Third-Party Perspective

A well-rounded application isn’t complete without letters of recommendation. These letters provide the admissions committee with a third-party perspective on your skills, experiences, and overall suitability for their program. They offer valuable insights into your abilities and character, helping the committee make informed decisions about your potential as a candidate.

When it comes to choosing the right recommenders, it’s crucial to carefully consider your options. You want individuals who know you well and can speak to your abilities and character with authority. Ideally, they should have interacted with you in a context that is relevant to the program you’re applying to.

This could be a professor who has taught you a subject related to your desired field of study, a supervisor from an internship or job that aligns with your career goals, or a mentor who has guided you in a relevant extracurricular activity.

Once you have identified potential recommenders, it’s important to approach them with respect and professionalism. Schedule a meeting or send them a thoughtful email explaining why you value their perspective and why you believe they would be a strong advocate for your application.

Be prepared to provide them with any necessary information, such as your resume or a summary of your accomplishments, to help them write a comprehensive and compelling letter.

What Should a Recommendation Letter Include?

A good recommendation letter should provide specific examples of your accomplishments, work ethic, and growth over time. It should reflect a genuine understanding of your character and potential. The recommender should highlight your strengths and unique qualities that make you stand out as a candidate.

View of students walking in the campus.

They should also address any weaknesses or areas for improvement in a constructive manner, demonstrating their belief in your ability to overcome challenges and succeed.

In addition to discussing your academic achievements and skills, a recommendation letter can also shed light on your personal qualities and character traits. It can highlight your leadership abilities, teamwork skills, communication style, and ability to adapt to new situations.

These insights can give the admissions committee a more holistic view of who you are as a person and how you would contribute to their program.

Furthermore, a strong recommendation letter should be well-written and organized. It should be concise yet comprehensive, capturing the essence of your abilities and potential in a compelling manner. The recommender should use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate their points, providing concrete evidence of your strengths and accomplishments.

Ultimately, a well-crafted recommendation letter can make a significant difference in the admissions process. It can provide the committee with valuable insights and perspectives that they may not have otherwise gained from your application materials alone.

So, take the time to carefully select your recommenders, provide them with the necessary information, and express your gratitude for their support. With their help, you can present a strong and compelling case for your admission to the program of your dreams.

The Impact of Standardized Test Scores

Finally, we come to standardized test scores. Although their importance varies between institutions, these tests serve as a common measure that colleges use to compare applicants from different backgrounds.

SAT, ACT, and Other Tests

The SAT and ACT are the most commonly required standardized tests for undergraduate admissions in the United States. Other tests may be needed depending on your intended program of study or the specific requirements of the college.

How Much Do Test Scores Matter?

The impact of test scores on your application can vary widely between institutions. Some colleges view them as essential components of the application, while others have recently become test-optional. Nevertheless, a good score can certainly add weight to your application and offer an additional illustration of your academic capabilities.

Male student using a laptop while sitting on a table.

In conclusion, the college admission process is a comprehensive and multi-faceted journey, guided by the aspiration to truly grasp who you are as an individual beyond the confines of your grades and accomplishments.

By thoughtfully addressing every aspect of your application, you have the opportunity to paint a sincere and compelling portrait that encapsulates the things colleges want to know about you, offering a holistic view of your unique identity and potential contributions to their academic communities.

Having all the necessary information is important before choosing any course of action. AdmissionSight is always here to assist you with any questions or concerns. We have more than ten years of expertise assisting students in successfully navigating the challenging admissions process.

Consult with AdmissionSight and find out what we can do to help you get into the school of your choice by ensuring that you are sufficiently aware and well-prepared for the application process.


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