College application time can be very stressful for the whole family, especially because sometimes it’s hard to predict what college are looking for. With the help of the Independent Educational Consultants Association’s (IECA) survey, let’s demystify what colleges are looking for in applicants. Below are the top ten strengths and experiences colleges look for (with my added commentary below each point).
1. A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student
College are looking for applicants who don’t just skate on by. They desire students who demonstrate their willingness to challenge themselves and take academic risks.
2. Grades that represent strong effort and an upward trend
Though, colleges are willing to forgive slightly lower grades if the student is taking rigorous classes. So, take the AP or honors class, even if your teen doesn’t get an A.
3. Solid scores on standardized tests
Here’s the caveat: I’ve seen more and more articles about how a good GPA is actually more important than SAT/ACT scores. Colleges are beginning to recognize that GPA’s better reflect a student’s academic ability than the SAT. This is because the GPA reflects cumulative effort over many years. The SAT is seen as a one-time test score that is highly influenced by a student’s access to expensive test prep courses.
4. Demonstrated intellectual curiosity
This is harder to demonstrate for bigger universities because there’s no interview. It can shine through a little in your teen’s list of extra-curricular activities and classes. If the college does have an interview, your teen can discuss books he/she has read and cultural events he/she has attended.
5. Passionate involvement in a few activities
The key word here is “few”. When it comes to extra-curricular activities, depth of experience, not breadth, is most important. If there are too many unrelated activities and it’s clear the student does not have any leadership involvement in any of them, the resume appears padded. It’s more important to pick a few choice activities and get deeply involved in them.
6. Demonstrated leadership in activities
Along the same line as #5, colleges are looking for people who have shown that they take initiative and have leadership potential. Being a leader in an organization shows colleges that the applicant has skills beyond just book smarts, which is a big part of being successful in college.
7. Strong letters of recommendation from teachers
Strong letters of recommendation go beyond just general niceties. The teacher should be able to give evidence of your teen’s integrity, special skills, positive character traits, and interest in learning.
8. A well-written essay
For many schools, the personal statement will be the only opportunity to give the selection committee some insight into your teen’s unique personality, values, and goals. So, be sure to write a well constructed essay that’s also thoughtful and highly personal.
9. Special talents or experience
This can be shown off in the application, the essay, and/or interview. These special talents and unique experiences are important to colleges because they contribute to an interesting, diverse, and well-rounded student body.
10. Demonstrated enthusiasm to attend
This is harder to construe for big universities. If your teen is applying to a smaller private university or liberal arts college, then exhibit enthusiasm through campus visits and during the interview.
Are you worried that your teen is prepared academically for college but doesn’t have the needed life skills to be successful? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee to find out how she can help make the transition to college a smooth one.