Top Things Colleges Look for in Applicants

February 4, 2023
By AdmissionSight
a female student looking at the camera while she is on a phone call

Top Things Colleges Look for in Applicants

As you embark on your college search journey, it’s important to understand what things colleges look for in applicants. The college admissions process is competitive, and having a clear understanding of what colleges value can help increase your chances of success.

From academic achievements to extracurricular activities and leadership experiences, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make your college application shine.

What qualities do you need for college?

Different colleges may look for different attributes in students or describe these characteristics in different ways. However, when universities talk about the students they want to enroll, they frequently emphasize certain qualities more than others.

Group of students standing next to a wall.

The following is a list of nine personality qualities that universities frequently mention when discussing what they look for in prospective students.

1. Curiosity

The pursuit of knowledge, not limited to a particular academic subject but encompassing all aspects of life, is something colleges look for in prospective students. Demonstrate to the educational institutions to which you have applied how much you enjoy learning, how much you want to study, and what intellectual pursuits thrill you.

2. Persistence

Some educational institutions want prospective students who not only push themselves to their limits but also remain resilient in the face of adversity, establish objectives for themselves, and succeed in accomplishing those goals.

3. Risk-taking

This refers to stepping outside of your comfort zone, whether in the classroom or in other aspects of life. Colleges are looking for students who are not scared to mess up and who are aware that making mistakes is an integral part of the educational process.

4. Compassion

Compassionate students are sought after by some educational institutions. It is demonstrated not just by showing empathy for other people but also by taking action to assist those who are in need.

5. Open-mindedness

One of the things colleges look for is the ability to respectfully evaluate opposing points of view and a willingness to do so when given the opportunity.

Another quality that schools respect is critical thinking, which includes the ability to analyze all arguments and ideas, even those with which one may disagree.

6. Social consciousness

Many educational institutions have stated that they seek prospective students who want to use their academic and professional interests to improve the world. Does the subject matter that you study relate to an area of concern in your personal life?

7. Creativity

Colleges are frequently on the lookout for students who are able to think creatively, find solutions to problems, be innovative, and be entrepreneurial.

8. Collaboration

Colleges want to know that you are capable of working well with other students and faculty members, and that you can prioritize the needs of your group over your own. Suppose you were in a position of leadership on a team. In that case, it is essential to demonstrate that you were a competent leader who could keep the group together, even if your team did not succeed.

9. Cultural intelligence

Students that value cultural diversity and are ready to interact with and learn from people hailing from a wide variety of cultural traditions are highly sought after by educational institutions.

How do colleges select students?

Colleges and universities look at each application individually and evaluate it based on its own merits. However, in the process of doing so, they also take into account a variety of data points and factors, such as the student’s grades and essays, as well as other considerations, like the geographical diversity of the incoming class, to make the most informed decision possible regarding each applicant.

A female student thinking

In addition to a candidate’s academic performance and scores on standardized tests, the admissions office will generally look for personal qualities and capabilities that will result in a student body that is well-rounded and contains a diverse range of talents compatible with the institution’s goals.

Essentially, there are particular spaces that admissions offices are required to keep vacant for particular categories of students. This may involve searching for students who have a remarkable talent in art, music, or athletics.

That may also entail making sure there is an equal number of men and women or striking a balance between students from the state and those from other states.

If you are not accepted into the program, it might have nothing to do with who you are or whether your grades are high enough. Sometimes, admissions officials are forced to make particularly challenging decisions.

What is the most important thing for college admissions?

The admissions committees at smaller, more competitive universities emphasize candidates’ essays, their experiences in leadership roles, recommendations from teachers and counselors, and their unique abilities.

A student’s GPA and performance on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT are typically used in the admissions decision at large public state university systems. Local applicants have a better chance of being accepted.

The following will discuss in detail the things colleges look for in applicants:

Courses and Grades

The grades a student earns in courses designed to prepare them for college continue to be the most important consideration in college admissions. Students who fulfill all of their core academic requirements are highly sought after by highly selective colleges.

Class Rank

The importance of a student’s class rank has decreased recently because many private and religious schools have done away with it. Nevertheless, many colleges continue to consider it.

Test Scores

The results of standardized tests continue to be considered relevant by many colleges. Colleges can compare students from different parts of the country by using standardized tests.


Writing samples like essays can evaluate a student’s writing ability and provide insight into the student’s past. The admissions committee wants to hear the applicant’s unique voice expressed in their own words.

Recommendations from Counselors and Teachers

Recommendations from counselors and teachers have taken on greater significance than ever. These recommendations should be quite precise, outlining not just the extent to which each student enjoys learning but also how students have shown that they can:

  • Contribute to the overall experience of being in the classroom
  • Force oneself to improve
  • Make an effort to create unique projects

Extracurricular Activities

A deeper level of interest is more striking than a broader range of activities. Students can accomplish this if they:

  • Concentrate on limited interests
  • Keep documentation of ongoing connections with groups
  • Emphasize activities pertinent to a chosen objective
  • Demonstrate leadership abilities

At AdmissionSight, we provide personalized guidance and advice on making your application stand out and increasing your chances of getting accepted to your dream school. Book your initial consultation now and have the chance to get an early start on your college applications.

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