What Do Colleges Look for in Students?

October 13, 2023
By AdmissionSight
college student at campus

What Do Colleges Look for in Students?

In the competitive world of college admissions, it is crucial for high school students to understand what colleges are looking for in potential students. This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on the various criteria that colleges consider when evaluating applications, helping students navigate the often daunting application process and increase their chances of getting accepted into their dream schools.

Understanding College Admission Criteria

When it comes to college admissions, academic performance and rigor play a vital role in the evaluation process. Colleges are interested in students who have taken challenging courses and have excelled academically. This includes maintaining a strong GPA and taking a rigorous curriculum that includes Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses when possible.

However, it is important to note that colleges also consider other factors beyond just grades and test scores. Admissions officers understand that students are more than just numbers on a transcript. They want to get a holistic view of each applicant and understand their unique qualities and potential.

Standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, are another crucial component of the college application. While these scores do not define an applicant, they provide colleges with a standardized measure to compare students from different schools and backgrounds. These tests are designed to assess a student’s knowledge and skills in various subject areas, and they can give admissions officers a sense of how well a student might perform academically in college.

However, it is important to remember that test scores are just one piece of the puzzle. Admissions officers also consider a student’s high school curriculum, extracurricular activities, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and other factors when making their decisions.

Diverse group of students with young man in wheelchair

In addition to academics, colleges are also interested in a student’s extracurricular activities and leadership roles. They value students who actively participate in clubs, sports, community service, or other organizations. These activities demonstrate a student’s ability to manage their time effectively, show leadership potential, and engage in their community.

Extracurricular involvement can also provide valuable experiences and skills that can contribute to a student’s personal growth and development. For example, participating in a school club or organization can help students develop teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. It can also provide opportunities for students to explore their interests and passions outside of the classroom.

Personal essays and statements are an opportunity for students to showcase their personalities, passions, and unique experiences. Strong writing skills and an authentic voice can make a significant impact on the admissions committee. Admissions officers are looking for essays that go beyond just stating achievements and instead provide insight into who the student is as an individual.

When writing a personal essay, it is important for students to be genuine and honest. They should reflect on their experiences, values, and goals, and explain how these have shaped them into the person they are today. Admissions officers appreciate essays that are thoughtful, well-written, and demonstrate self-reflection.

Overall, the college admissions process is multifaceted and considers a wide range of factors. While academic performance and standardized test scores are important, colleges also value a student’s extracurricular involvement, personal essays, and other qualities that make them unique. It is important for students to present themselves authentically and showcase their strengths and passions throughout the application process.

The Importance of a Well-Rounded Application

While strong academics and test scores are important, colleges also value students who have a well-rounded application. This means that students should not solely focus on one aspect of their application but should instead strive to balance academics with personal interests and extracurricular activities.

A well-rounded application allows students to showcase their passions and strengths outside of the classroom. Colleges are interested in students who have invested time in activities they are genuinely passionate about, whether it be playing a musical instrument, volunteering, or participating in a science fair.

For example, a student named Sarah is passionate about playing the violin. She has been playing since she was a child and has dedicated countless hours to practicing and performing. Through her application, Sarah can highlight her musical achievements, such as participating in local orchestras, winning competitions, and even teaching younger students. By showcasing her commitment to music, Sarah demonstrates her dedication and discipline, qualities that colleges value in their students.

Showing your unique qualities is critical to standing out in the competitive college admissions process. Think about what makes you different from other applicants and how you can showcase these qualities through your application.

Another example is a student named Alex, who has a deep passion for community service. Throughout high school, Alex has volunteered at a local homeless shelter, organized food drives, and even started a nonprofit organization to support underprivileged children. Through his application, Alex can provide detailed accounts of his volunteer experiences, the impact he has made in his community, and the leadership skills he has developed along the way. By highlighting his dedication to service, Alex sets himself apart from other applicants and shows colleges his commitment to making a difference in the world.

The role of recommendations should not be underestimated. Admissions officers value insight from teachers, mentors, or employers who can speak to a student’s character, work ethic, and potential for success in college. Seek recommendations from individuals who know you well and can highlight your strengths.

For instance, a student named Emily has a close relationship with her English teacher, Mr. Johnson. Throughout high school, Emily has consistently excelled in her English classes and has developed a strong passion for literature. She has actively participated in class discussions, written insightful essays, and even started a book club at her school. When it comes to recommendations, Emily can ask Mr. Johnson to highlight her exceptional writing skills, critical thinking abilities, and her enthusiasm for learning. By having a strong recommendation from a trusted teacher, Emily provides colleges with valuable insights into her academic abilities and potential for success in college.

Overall, a well-rounded application goes beyond just grades and test scores. It allows students to showcase their passions, strengths, and unique qualities. By balancing academics with personal interests and extracurricular activities, students can stand out in the competitive college admissions process. Additionally, seeking recommendations from individuals who know you well can provide valuable insights into your character and potential for success. Remember, colleges are looking for students who will not only excel academically but also contribute positively to their campus community.

Happy students walking together.

How to Stand Out in the Admission Process

Writing a compelling personal statement is one way to make an impact on admissions officers. Take the time to reflect on your experiences, goals, and aspirations, and craft a well-written essay that conveys your story and passion. Showcasing your unique perspective can leave a memorable impression on the admissions committee.

For instance, if you have a particularly transformative experience that shaped your worldview, such as volunteering in a developing country or overcoming a personal hardship, be sure to delve into the details. Describe the emotions you felt, the challenges you faced, and the lessons you learned. By providing a vivid account of your journey, you can captivate the reader and demonstrate your resilience and growth.

Highlighting your extracurricular activities is also crucial. Instead of simply listing your involvements, take the time to expand on your experiences, challenges, and growth. Colleges want to see how your participation in these activities has shaped you as an individual and contributed to your personal development.

For example, if you were a member of a sports team, discuss how being part of the team taught you the value of teamwork, perseverance, and discipline. Share any leadership roles you took on and how you motivated and inspired your teammates. Additionally, if you faced any setbacks or obstacles during your involvement in extracurricular activities, explain how you overcame them and what you learned from those experiences.

In addition to extracurricular activities, it is essential to highlight your academic achievements. If you have received any awards, scholarships, or accolades, be sure to include them in your application. Provide context for the achievements and explain their significance.

Furthermore, go beyond just mentioning the awards themselves. Elaborate on the projects or assignments that led to those achievements. Discuss the research you conducted, the innovative ideas you explored, or the challenges you overcame to excel academically. Admissions officers are not only interested in the end result but also in your intellectual curiosity and dedication to your studies.

Moreover, consider discussing any academic pursuits outside of the classroom. Did you participate in a science fair, publish a research paper, or attend academic conferences? These experiences can demonstrate your passion for learning and your willingness to go above and beyond the standard curriculum.

Remember, the goal is not to simply list your accomplishments but to provide a comprehensive and engaging narrative that showcases your unique qualities and potential. By expanding on your personal statement, extracurricular activities, and academic achievements, you can make a lasting impression on admissions officers and increase your chances of standing out in the admission process.

Navigating the College Interview Process

The college interview process can be intimidating, but with the right preparation, it can be a valuable opportunity to showcase your strengths and demonstrate your interest in the school. Research the college and have specific reasons why you believe it is the right fit for you.

When researching the college, delve into its history, academic programs, and campus culture. Look for unique aspects that resonate with your interests and goals. For example, if you are passionate about environmental sustainability, find out if the college has a strong commitment to sustainability initiatives or offers relevant academic programs. Understanding the college’s values and strengths will not only help you articulate your reasons for wanting to attend but also enable you to ask insightful questions during the interview.

Preparing for your college interview involves practicing common interview questions and developing thoughtful responses. Consider your academic and extracurricular experiences and how they have shaped your goals and aspirations. Reflect on the challenges you have overcome and the lessons you have learned. These experiences can provide valuable insights into your character and demonstrate your ability to adapt and grow.

Furthermore, think about how your unique perspective and background can contribute to the college community. Perhaps you have a passion for community service and have been actively involved in volunteering initiatives. Or maybe you have a talent for leadership and have successfully organized events or clubs at your high school. Highlighting these qualities during the interview can showcase your potential to make a positive impact on campus.

two females sit across a table; the one in facing the camera is conducting a college interview with the other female

During the interview, it is crucial to be authentic and genuine. While it is essential to prepare, avoid memorizing scripted answers. Instead, focus on understanding your own motivations and aspirations. This will allow you to respond naturally and thoughtfully to the interviewer’s questions, fostering a meaningful conversation.

After the interview, it is essential to follow up with a thank-you note or email. Express your gratitude for the time and opportunity to interview and reiterate your interest in the school. A well-crafted follow-up can leave a positive impression on the interviewer and reinforce your commitment to attending the college if accepted.

In your thank-you note, you can also mention any additional thoughts or insights that may have come to mind after the interview. This demonstrates your engagement and enthusiasm for the college. Additionally, if there were any specific aspects of the college that resonated with you during the interview, such as a particular program or professor, you can express your excitement about the potential to explore those opportunities further.

Remember, the college interview is not just an evaluation of your qualifications; it is also an opportunity for you to evaluate the college and determine if it aligns with your aspirations and values. Use the interview as a chance to gather more information and gain a deeper understanding of what the college has to offer. This will enable you to make an informed decision if you receive an acceptance letter.


Understanding what colleges look for in students is vital for anyone hoping to navigate the competitive college admissions process successfully. By focusing on academics, extracurricular activities, personal statements, and interview preparation, students can maximize their chances of standing out and securing admission to their top-choice schools. Remember to stay true to yourself, showcase your unique qualities, and make the most of every opportunity to demonstrate your potential.

a line of graduates wearing their graduation gowns

How AdmissionSight Can Help You with College Admissions

AdmissionSight is a college consulting firm that provides personalized assistance to students throughout the college admissions process. Here are some ways that AdmissionSight can help you:

Admissions strategy: AdmissionSight can help you develop a strategic plan for your college application process. Our professional consultants can assist with identifying schools that are a good fit for your academic, extracurricular, and personal goals and help you plan and prioritize your application strategy.

Application review: AdmissionSight can review your application and provide feedback on how to improve it. We can offer suggestions on making your application stand out and highlighting your strengths and unique qualities.

Essay coaching: AdmissionSight can help you craft compelling essays that showcase your personality, goals, and achievements. We can guide you through the essay writing process and provide feedback on your drafts to help you refine your writing.

Interview preparation: AdmissionSight can provide interview coaching to help you feel confident and prepared for college interviews. Our experts can offer tips on how to present yourself professionally and how to answer common interview questions.

Extracurricular planning: AdmissionSight can help you plan and develop your extracurricular activities to make them more impactful and meaningful. We can suggest activities that align with your interests and goals and provide guidance on demonstrating your leadership and initiative.

Overall, AdmissionSight can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the college admissions process to help you maximize your chances of getting accepted into the college of your choice.

With a high success rate of over 75%, we have built a strong network in the past decade. Book an initial consultation today, free of charge!

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