The Things Colleges Want to Know About You

July 23, 2022
By AdmissionSight

The Things Colleges Want to Know About You

What Are Colleges Looking for In You?

When reviewing your application, what are college admissions committee members looking for? They consider more than just your test results and GPA. Additionally significant are your character and the attributes you can bring to a college. So, what are colleges want to know about you? You should consider your objectives, successes, and values to determine how to best convey them in your applications.

The Characteristics Colleges Seek

What distinguishes you from others, and how will you enhance campus life? Earl Johnson, the University of Tulsa’s dean of admission, says that those are the things colleges want to know about you.

They assess students’ potential contributions to their campus using the following criteria:

  • Leadership
  • The capacity for taking chances/risks
  • Initiative
  • Social conscience
  • Dedication to service
  • Special skills or abilities

In general, colleges prefer a diverse student body to build a vibrant campus community. According to Marty O’Connell, executive director of Colleges That Change Lives, they want the class valedictorians however, in addition, they are seeking “students who will be involved in a variety of activities, musicians, athletes, and everything in between.”

What Information Can Be Found on Your Transcript?

Your high school transcript will be the most crucial component of your review. You might ask, “what information can be found on your transcript?” Colleges will look at it in two different ways:

The Results of Your Tests/Grades

Colleges will first, and unsurprisingly, look at your grades in the coursework you have already taken. Which student are you—an A- or a C+? How much higher is your Grade Point Average (GPA)—72 or 92? While your response to this will reveal a lot about you, it only tells a portion of the story.

Colleges need to comprehend the context in which you earned your GPA in order to comprehend it properly.

To achieve this, they must consider your choice of courses.

Let’s say, for instance, that your GPA is 97. That’s great! But even though you breezed through your coursework in high school, you chose not to enroll in any honors or AP/IB classes. Take into account the fact that you chose less challenging electives over science and a foreign language after only two and three years, respectively. Do grades alone have more weight than content?

Contrarily, consider a student who has demonstrated academic rigor, taken difficult high school classes, such as advanced foreign language, but still maintains a respectable GPA. You have taken honors courses as well as college-level courses (such as AP or IB). Even though your GPA is a little lower, it will be seen as rigorous, which will increase your appeal to employers.

Academic Rigor

Since rigor can mean different things to different students, it can be challenging to define. It entails pushing yourself academically and being open to a challenge. For some students, taking an entire schedule of honors classes may come naturally. However, for others, enrolling in just one honors course may reveal a great deal about your character and willingness to take on challenges, and colleges are quick to pick this up.

Studying in a library.

For example, a student is clearly struggling with math. She said that it had been since elementary school. She had the option of taking pre-calculus, the next course in the sequence, as a junior entering high school, which was a less demanding math course. She debated for a while before deciding to sign up for the pre-calc course, even though it was being taught more slowly.

Because she persisted in choosing the more difficult option in a subject that was difficult for her, she will undoubtedly gain some respect from colleges.

The ability to perfectly balance these three factors with the teachers you want, at the time of day you want them, and while having lunch with your friends is uncommon, but keep the following in mind as you make your choices:

The best way to construct your schedule can only be decided by you, your parents, and your teachers and counselors with your input. Regarding your advantages and disadvantages, be honest. You can push yourself outside of your comfort zone without trying to be good at everything. Recognize that more difficult coursework might necessitate a little bit more study time, but the benefit could be significant in terms of how you view yourself and how colleges perceive you!

Never forget that hard work always wins, no matter your level. Take what you want or need, but work hard in everything you do. The result is fantastic in terms of your options for the future and your level of satisfaction.

What Things Should Colleges Know About You that Are Not on Your Transcript?

What things should colleges know about you that are not on your transcript? Your qualities. You have to highlight your unique qualities to the college you want to apply to.

Although personal qualities are difficult to quantify, admissions officers search for signs of a candidate’s character. The things colleges want to know about you include the areas listed below:

Extracurricular Activities

Your activities outside of the classroom say a lot about you. For this reason, certain applications request information about extracurricular activities. But keep in mind that what matters isn’t the quantity of activities. Admissions officers are interested in what you have discovered and how you have developed as a result of taking part in these activities.

Jobs and Activities for the Summer

Your character is revealed by the events of the summer. Having a summer job at a fast-food restaurant can develop character in the same way as enrolling in a prestigious summer learning program. Everything depends on what you’ve acquired, what you’ve learned, and how you convey that.

College Essay

You have the chance to introduce yourself and your potential contributions to the college campus to the admissions committee through your college essay.

When reading student essays, admissions officers at Santa Clara University, according to Mike Sexton, ask themselves, “Would you like this person to be your roommate?” “Would you like to collaborate with this person on a project?” More than a test score, an essay can provide the answers to these questions.

Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation reveal a lot about your character. A teacher who is familiar with you well can offer insight into your leadership and fairness skills in addition to your academic prowess.

Do Colleges Look at Your Social Media Accounts?

One survey found that 7% of respondents rescinded offers and 11% of respondents said they “denied admission based on social media content.” You must be curious… do colleges look at your social media accounts?

Harvard University in Massachusetts has one of the lowest acceptance rates of all the universities, making it one of the most competitive. However, in recent years, some applicants who met the strict criteria for admission had their acceptances revoked before they had even arrived on campus. The cause is offensive social media posts.

According to experts, colleges seek out applicants with strong character rather than just those with stellar academic records and test scores. According to Marilyn Hesser, executive director of admission at the University of Richmond in Virginia, “As a residential campus, when we’re reviewing candidates, we’re just not admitting students for the classroom; we’re admitting students to be a part of this community.”

According to Hesser, the University of Richmond doesn’t look at a candidate’s social media accounts unless the applicant sends links highlighting specific profiles. Another possibility is that admissions officers might check social media if a third party—often an anonymous one—sends troubling information about a candidate.

Hesser claims that applicants have “rarely” been rejected because of social media posts, but it still occurs at Richmond and at colleges across the nation. In a 2017 survey conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, respondents reported that 11% of them had “denied admission based on social media content” and that 7% had withdrawn offers for the same reason.

About 25% of college admissions officers, according to a 2018 Kaplan Test Prep survey, look at applicants’ social media profiles.

According to Judi Robinovitz, a certified educational planner and founder of Score At The Top Learning Centers & Schools in Florida, “I think it’s important for kids to understand that colleges, even the really large colleges, are doing much more holistic admissions, that admissions goes way beyond the data.”

Social media, she continues, can provide a different perspective on a student.

According to Hesser, if a college application contains a questionable statement, the admissions committee will check social media to see if it provides an answer.

According to the Kaplan Test Prep survey, admissions officers do look at prospective students’ social media accounts, but this practice is waning. In 2018, only 25% of admissions professionals used social media, down from 40% in 2015. The survey claims that the decline is caused by applicants who are less prone to use social media and have more privacy concerns.

According to Hesser, looking at social media may not be very useful because, he adds, “colleges really aren’t getting that much more information.”

Why Do Colleges Look at a Student’s Social Media Accounts?

According to experts, if a prospective student’s social media profile is being viewed by admissions officers, it’s usually because a link to it was provided in the application materials. According to experts, including links to social media can be a good way to highlight particular abilities or add more information, though the effort may not always be worthwhile given the overwhelming number of applications colleges receive.

Unidentified person using a phone with social media apps.

“We have to weigh that with the fact that the admission officers who are reading thousands and thousands of applications are not going to go check everybody on social media, and probably not everybody who even sends a link,” according to Hesser.

Additionally, colleges don’t always look at social media in order to reject applicants. “I don’t think they’re trying to find reasons to reject kids. I think that they’re trying to find reasons to advocate for a particular student or to see how a particular student has really set herself apart,” says Robinovitz.

SocMed as an Addition to the Admissions Materials

Many colleges simply don’t use social media, but for those that do, it can be a way to provide more information about the things colleges want to know about you.

“We want (students) to build a digital portfolio to present these noncognitive skills they can bring in, whether it’s leadership, understanding of collaboration, time management, resilience. It’s really designed to complement one’s application or resume,” explains Alan Katzman, CEO and founder of Social Assurity, a company that teaches students how to use social media effectively.

In his comparison of social media to supplemental essays, Katzman points out that many colleges no longer demand them. He explains that social media enables students to build dynamic portfolios that give admissions officers a different perspective on what they have to offer.

The beauty of social media, according to Katzman, is that you are not constrained to 500 words.

How Do I Stand Out From Other College Applicants?

You may be able to enroll in the college of your choice by submitting well-written and comprehensive application materials.

Your success depends on how well you can differentiate yourself from other applicants when it comes to college. The number of applicants to colleges and universities is continuing to rise. Although trends in admission are positive, acceptance rates are still competitive and selective.

Young man holding her laptop in front of a building.

How do I stand out from other college applicants? To succeed and stand out from the competition, applicants need strong materials.

Actionable advice on how to approach the college application process is provided in this guide for applicants and prospective students. The best time to start preparing for that process is during your freshman year and continue through high school. This page looks at how to improve your chances of getting accepted.

Engage in Academic Challenges

The evaluation of applicants’ readiness for study and potential for academic excellence occurs during the college admissions process. Applications that stand out highlight accomplishment, merit, and prior academic success.

You may gain a significant advantage by enrolling in honors or AP courses. Because it demonstrates initiative, most colleges prefer applicants with a B in an honors program over those with an A in regular courses. Many community colleges in the area also provide high school students with college-credit courses that can strengthen applications.

Select the Appropriate Standardized Test

Standardized tests should be taken as early as possible by students to give them time to study, finish the test, and send the results.

The American College Testing (ACT) or Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) are typically taken by applicants during their junior year of high school. Although most schools accept both tests, some do favor one over the other, so ask your target schools for more information. Both of these tests measure readiness for college, but they focus on different skill sets.

Students answering an exam.

While the SAT focuses more on quantitative reasoning and command of evidence, the ACT offers more opportunities for students who excel in language arts. Many students take both exams and submit their application materials with the higher score.

Engage in Meaningful Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are frequently used by admissions offices to evaluate prospective students. Candidates should choose extracurricular activities based on quality rather than quantity. It will look better on you if you can demonstrate your dedication and passion for one or two activities that are related to your interests rather than providing a long list of unrelated activities.

For extracurricular activities, some applications have a separate section. If not, find a way to list them nonetheless. You can frequently do this in your resume or CV or by including them in your personal essay. This demonstrates your enthusiasm and demonstrates how well you can describe and evaluate your experiences.

Although most students choose sports or other school clubs as their extracurricular activities, there are other, more unusual options to take into account.

Below are a few recommendations: Run a side hustle, like an Etsy shop, learn how to code, create a website, start a blog, or self-publish a book, prepare for a marathon, and raise money for a local candidate.

Establish Relationships

For college admission, it’s important to have strong connections and mentorships.

The most qualified candidates spend time in high school getting to know their teachers, counselors, and other mentors, which can be beneficial for academic support. Candidates can get in touch with these mentors for recommendation letters and other admission materials during the application process. These letters can significantly improve your applications, even if they are not required.

Male student and a teacher talking about a lesson.

Select a mentor who genuinely recognizes your potential for academic success and can speak up for you when deciding who to ask to write a recommendation letter for you. Make sure to get in touch with them at least 5 to 6 weeks before the application deadline.

Conduct Research

A hurried application will place you at the bottom of the list more quickly than anything else, and providing incorrect information shows carelessness. Spend some time thoroughly researching the schools you are considering. Visit their websites, take a look at their goals and distinguishing qualities, and look over the faculty profiles for the department you want to enroll in. Use the data you’ve gathered to improve your application materials.

Nothing conveys interest more powerfully than showing that you are familiar with and might be a good fit for a school.

Don’t Fake It

The most crucial part of your application is frequently the personal essay section. Think of the prompt as a chance to sound sincere and authentic while showcasing your writing and analytical abilities.

Your experience, credentials, and long-term objectives are what admissions officers are the things colleges want to know about you, so be thoughtful and reflective in how you present yourself. This will show that you have the potential to succeed academically.

Go Above and Beyond

An extraordinary application shows your drive and makes you stand out from the competition. But there’s no need to go overboard: Just a little bit extra can make a big difference. Take advantage of any optional application fields or sections.

When a college offers the chance to submit extra information, it’s really asking if you’re willing to put in the extra effort. “Yes” should be your response!

If you have extra materials that detail your extracurricular activities or other accomplishments, please do so. Participate in the optional interview if you can. The things colleges want to know about you would definitely include more of the accomplishments you can showcase.

Review Your Social Media

More than you might realize, your social media presence can affect your application.

Admissions officers at colleges frequently look through applicants’ social media accounts and use what they find to make decisions. According to a recent Inside Higher Ed report, 36% of admissions officers now look at prospective students’ social media profiles, a 25% increase since 2019. High-profile schools have occasionally even withdrawn admissions offers as a result of social media content.

In essence, social media platforms are tools for interacting with the public. They can give you the opportunity to present your best self or to publicly screw up. Keeping up a respectable online persona on social media can speed up your application process.


Before submitting, make sure to check everything twice. Ask friends or family to review your work, and proofread more than you think you should.  You have a better chance of finding errors the more eyes you can get on your application materials.

Proofreading an essay using a red pen.

Correction errors are important. Avoidable errors, such as using the incorrect college name in your essay, can mean the difference between getting an offer or being rejected. Your ability to stand out as a candidate depends on your use of precise, polished writing.

Utilize Early Admission

Early application expedites the paperwork process, demonstrates initiative, and gives you an edge over the competition. The majority of colleges accept about half of all applicants, but acceptance rates for students applying through early action or early decision options increase significantly.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that some schools have early decision exclusivity policies, which means that if you are accepted, you must decide to attend that school. You cannot submit applications to multiple schools at once. For more information, check with the schools you are considering.

Make Contact

Following the submission of your materials, the admissions process continues. You don’t have to stay in touch with the schools all the time, but you also don’t want to completely stop showing up. You can stay informed about the procedure by regularly communicating with your college admissions counselor and other points of contact.

Take advantage of any campus visit days to meet with admissions counselors, and thoughtfully follow up via email or phone calls. Try to schedule a visit through a private appointment if the school does not provide designated visit days.

Because there isn’t a single accomplishment that consistently impresses admissions officers and ensures an applicant receives an acceptance letter, the things colleges want to know about you would be difficult to determine one by one.

Most colleges conduct thorough application reviews. Grades, the quality of the high school’s curriculum, test scores, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, essays, and financial need are all taken into account when evaluating an application holistically.

What are colleges really looking for then? AdmissionSight is here to guide you in your college admission and develop an application that would impress the admission officers. Book a consultation if you would like to know more.

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