What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (2023)

What do colleges look for in a student? It is one of the questions that senior high school students who are considering applying to reputable colleges and universities ask the most frequently. However, students frequently have a limited understanding of what colleges look for in applicants; therefore, the admissions process accounts for a significant portion of the stress that is associated with being a high school student who intends to attend college.

If you have a better understanding of what colleges look for in high school students, you will be able to better prioritize the areas of your time, effort, and curriculum that are the most important to you. As a result, you can increase the likelihood of being accepted to the colleges that are at the top of your list of preferences.

Characteristics of a Prospective Student That Colleges Look for

1. The ability to perform exceptionally well in school.

It is common knowledge that high-grade point averages are something that colleges and universities look for in prospective students. The primary goal of admissions officers is to make sure that the students they choose will do well in college.

Students who did well academically in high school are more likely to do well academically in college as well, according to one indicator.

What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (1)

It is not a problem if your grades at the beginning of high school weren’t as high as you would have liked them to be because colleges look favorably on students who demonstrate growth and finish strong.

2. The ability to do well in courses that prepare students for college.

To be more specific on what do colleges look for in a student, colleges are looking for applicants who have demonstrated not only the ability to succeed in high school courses but also in college prep courses.

  • This includes any classes taken through a dual enrollment program, whether they be AP or IB classes or any other class.

It only makes sense that the grades earned in high school courses designed to prepare students for college would be the most reliable indicator of those grades later on.

Naturally, colleges and universities will take into account the fact that your high school likely does not provide much in the way of college preparation for its students.

3. A willingness to undertake a rigorous course load.

The quality of your course load is another factor that colleges and universities will consider.

Candidates who have completed the most difficult courses that are offered by an institution are looked upon favorably, particularly by the more selective schools.

This exemplifies a high level of work ethic as well as a commitment to academics and scholarship.

If a student strives to improve themselves throughout their time in high school, they are much more likely to do well in college.

4. A dedication to participation in extracurricular activities

Colleges are not as concerned with the number of extracurricular activities as they are with the quality of those activities.

(Video) College Admissions 101: What Do Colleges Look For? | The Princeton Review

An extensive list of activities is not as impressive as a long-term commitment to a small number of activities that are of high interest to you.

If all of your extracurricular activities can be grouped into a single category, such as science, music, or soccer, that is perfectly acceptable.

  • Colleges really like it when applicants demonstrate that they have specialized interests and passions and are also willing to make a significant commitment to something.

If possible, limit the number of extracurricular activities you participate in over a longer period of time and devote a significant amount of time each week to each of these activities.

In addition, colleges like to see that applicants have special accomplishments, achievements, or awards associated with the extracurricular activities they have participated in.

5. Skills in Leadership

What do colleges look for in a student? Your involvement in extracurricular activities can also provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

  • For instance, have you ever served as the leader of a sports team?
  • Are you currently serving as president or an officer of your preferred club?
  • Are you a section leader in a band or choir?
  • Do you act as a role model for younger students or students who are at risk?

Keep in mind that colleges and universities are also communities that are looking for students who will make positive contributions to the overall culture of the campus.

In a perfect world, these students will be enthusiastic leaders who will make a significant contribution to the overall quality of the campus.

6. Held in high esteem by one’s instructors and other adult counterparts.

When it comes down to it, this is where recommendation letters come into play.

There are a variety of people who can write letters of recommendation for you, including your teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and even the principal of your school. Some schools require recommendation letters, while others do not.

The colleges you are applying to are looking for an accurate reflection of your skills and personality in the form of these letters.

  • The schools will be able to tell from these letters whether you are a class leader, polite to both teachers and students, someone who demonstrates the strength of character and integrity, and other similar qualities.

If you have the ability to select who will compose your letters of recommendation, you should choose one of the following:

  • Instructors who are specialized in the field that most piques your interest (the subject you plan to major in during college, the subject area that most of your extracurricular activities are focused on, etc.)
  • Instructors of courses in which you have demonstrated particularly strong performance.
  • Professors who have instructed you for a significant amount of time or with whom you have built up a close relationship.
  • Your student will receive a stronger letter of recommendation from a teacher if the teacher knows and likes your student well.

Additionally, it is wonderful if the instructor is likely to have specific anecdotes or examples of you being a good person, a hard-working student, or a leader in the classroom.

7. Possessing a positive personality and/or an outstanding character.

Your opportunity to demonstrate to admissions officers who you are as a person comes in the form of the college application essay, which is also referred to as a personal statement.

This essay has the potential to shed more light on your interests, personality, ideas, and perspectives on life, among other things.

What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (2)

It is possible that admission to the school will depend on how well you write an essay and whether or not it leaves the admissions officers with a favorable impression of you.

(Video) The Truth about College Admission | Alex Chang | TEDxSMICSchool

The exact opposite can be true if you submit an essay that is poorly written or that reflects poorly on you.

8. A sincere interest in the college or university to which they are applying.

Particularly when applying to the most competitive colleges, showing that you have a genuine interest in the institution can work in your favor.

How will you show that you are interested?

  • This may involve going on tours or visits, talking to admissions officers, demonstrating enthusiasm during an interview (if interviews are expected), or writing about the school with a great deal of passion in a personal statement, among other possible activities.

Because of this, submitting an application for an early decision can also be beneficial. When you submit an early decision application to a school, you are demonstrating that it is your top choice.

9. The ability to succeed at a rigorous academic institution

Although class rank is less of a factor than it used to be in the past, some schools still look at class rank and having a high-class rank can differentiate you from other applicants who are otherwise comparable.

  • The universities that do consider class rank are especially interested in determining whether or not you were able to achieve first place in a particularly difficult academic group.

Colleges will justifiably regard this as a significant accomplishment on your part if you graduate from a competitive and challenging high school and still place in the top 10 percent of all students.

10. A disposition to be of service to other people.

Earlier on, we discussed the fact that colleges are looking for students who will be able to contribute positively to the institution.

One more way to show that you possess this quality is by being willing to serve the needs of other people.

  • Volunteering in the community and having a genuine interest in assisting others can be a significant “plus” for you and an added benefit to your application.
  • Colleges are interested in learning that you care about making a positive impact on the people, communities, and world that surround you.

This demonstrates that you will be a positive force on campus and that you will put your education to good use in the years to come.

If you are able to demonstrate that you possess the majority of the characteristics that colleges look for in a student, you should have a good chance of being accepted to even the most competitive schools.

What do Colleges Look for Besides Grades?

Every time someone mentions going to college, the first thing that comes to their mind is how important having good grades and SAT scores are. So, in addition, what do colleges look for besides grades? It is not in the best interest of colleges to have classes full of students who spend all of their time in the library.

It is not appropriate for a person to base their entire life on the activities that take place inside their home for the equivalent of eight hours per day. The pursuit of academic excellence and participation in extracurricular activities require striking a healthy balance.

What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (3)

What do colleges look for in a student? They are looking for students who will contribute to the community of the university by participating in extracurricular activities such as sports, public service, the arts, politics, and anything else that the university has to offer.

As a result of this, colleges look at more than just your grades and scores on standardized tests. In addition to this, they look at things like your character, the leadership positions you’ve held, and how passionate you are about learning. The other components of your application, such as descriptions of your activities and work experience, essays, recommendations from teachers, and interviews, all provide the colleges with the information they need to learn about these aspects of your life.

If your grades aren’t the best but you’re strong in other areas, like the arts or athletics, you might be concerned about life after high school, even if you plan to attend Harvard or are content with a community college education. This is especially true if you have aspirations of attending Harvard but are content with attending a community college. Because of this, it is essential to not only concentrate on your grades and test scores, but also to devote some of your time to becoming involved in activities outside of school, such as working or volunteering, and writing your application essay and personal statement. Not only will colleges consider your grade point average and SAT score, but they will also look at you as a whole person.

(Video) Activities That DO Impress Colleges!!! OWN the College Admissions Process

What do Colleges Look for in a Diverse Student?

What do colleges look for in a diverse student? Colleges and universities are very proud of the fact that their student bodies are not only talented and qualified but also comprise students who come from a wide variety of different backgrounds and have a variety of unique viewpoints.

What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (4)

There are some very real reasons why having a diverse student body is beneficial for colleges and for you personally, even though you might be tempted to dismiss diversity as nothing more than a buzzword. What do colleges look for in a student means to attend a college that is diverse, what you can gain from engaging with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, and how diversity in educational settings prepares you for adult life in a diverse world.

What exactly does it mean to have a student body that is diverse?

If you go to a college that has a diverse student body, you will be a part of a community of people whose experiences and points of view are different from your own, sometimes in significant ways. You will be confronted with these contrasting points of view on a daily basis, both inside and outside of the classroom, and you will be given the opportunity to gain knowledge from them as well as to be influenced by them.

The diversity that you will find among your fellow students at the university may manifest itself in any one of the following forms, in addition to a great number of others that are not listed here:

  • Differences in racial, ethnic, and cultural groups
  • A person’s nationality as well as their national origin
  • Urban, suburban, or rural upbringing
  • Religion and denomination
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Age and marital status
  • Ability and disability
  • Financial circumstances, social standing, and educational history of one’s parents
  • Beliefs held on the political and ideological spectrums

These aspects may present themselves right away, or they may be things that you don’t become aware of about someone until you’ve known them for some time. In either case, you might be surprised to learn how much variation there is in the students who are enrolling at a single college at the same time.

Having a diverse student body is seen as beneficial to both students and the institution as a whole, which is why many educational institutions have the hope and intention of attracting a more diverse student body. When reviewing admissions applications, colleges frequently take into consideration the importance of cultivating a diverse student population that is comprised of individuals who hold a wide variety of viewpoints.

This does not imply that being a member of a historically marginalized group or possessing a quality that sets one apart automatically qualifies one for admission to highly selective educational institutions.

Simply put, it means that when educational institutions consider the student bodies they are creating, they make an effort to ensure that a variety of viewpoints are represented within the community in order to make it more rich and vibrant. If everyone at the university were the same, campus life would be pretty boring.

How Different Perspectives Can Improve Your College Experience?

It is abundantly clear that diversity is an important factor for colleges and universities in the modern world; however, how will it affect you specifically as you attend college? Your education at a college or university can benefit you in a variety of concrete ways from exposure to diverse viewpoints and experiences. No matter where you come from or what your circumstances are, being a part of a student body that is diverse can be beneficial to you in the following ways.

Education and Personal Advancement

You will have the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge from the people you meet, particularly if they come from a diverse range of different backgrounds. You will increase your knowledge about the world, particularly about the aspects of it that aren’t part of your own personal experience, in a manner that is much more vivid and personal than learning from books or media. This is because you will gain this knowledge by traveling.

What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (5)

Being a college student is all about growth, and one important part of that growth that colleges actively promote is coming to a better understanding of the world beyond your upbringing. You will broaden your horizons, gain context for your life goals, and add depth and nuance to your own perspective if you engage with a diverse range of classmates and friends through conversation and interaction.

Collaboration with a Diverse Range of Individuals

It is inevitable that you will come into contact with people who are not the same as you at some point, whether it be coworkers, clients, friends, or neighbors. This could happen sooner or later. You will be in a much better position to successfully navigate these kinds of situations as an adult if you begin early on to develop your listening and adaptability skills, as well as your respect for people’s unique perspectives.

You’ll also gain the ability to approach people with whom you disagree in a mature and respectful manner, which is a skill that you’ll develop. The fact that this may be difficult is, in and of itself, a desirable quality.

It is an essential skill to be able to interact and even engage in conflict with people whose views are diametrically opposed to your own. It is a good idea to practice doing work that can be challenging before you are faced with the higher stakes that are present in the professional world.

Having a Change of Heart

(Video) former college admission officer tells all, college application tips & secrets

Your time spent in higher education is almost certain to be marked by significant transitions, and this is true irrespective of the institution to which you apply. You will go through the process of maturing into a young adult as you go to class and work toward earning your degree. This will involve taking on new responsibilities, setting new goals, and developing a fresh viewpoint on the world. Being a part of a student body that is diverse will expose you to new concepts and possibilities, some of which may significantly alter who you are.

What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (6)

It’s possible that your perspectives on significant matters will shift, or that you’ll start giving serious consideration to issues that you’ve previously disregarded. You might find a completely new interest in life or decide that your original plans aren’t for you after all. No matter what happens, having conversations with a wide variety of people while you’re in college will help you become familiar with more choices.

Constructing and Elaborating Upon Your Very Own Point of View

Meeting people who hold different viewpoints does not mean that you are obligated to alter your own point of view. Dealing with other people who question or challenge you can help you develop a more thoughtful and nuanced stance on important issues, even if you continue to hold the same fundamental convictions.

You will have a better understanding of why you believe what you believe and will also be better able to make informed decisions as you grow into adulthood if you take into consideration the opinions of those who disagree with you.

You will work on your ability to explain and defend that position to others who might not agree, which is a skill that will benefit you whenever you advocate for your convictions in the future. In addition to refining your own position, you will work on improving your ability to explain and defend that position to others who might not agree.

The Importance of Your Individual Experience in a Multicultural Environment

When we’ve talked about diversity so far in this post, we’ve primarily focused on how your future college classmates and friends’ diverse backgrounds will have an effect on you. It’s possible that this will convince you that diversity is about other people and the perspectives they hold, rather than your own.

However, it is essential that you understand that you are not merely a recipient of the benefits brought about by the diversity on your campus; rather, you are also a contributor to that diversity! Your one-of-a-kind amalgamation of history, experiences, skills, and tests makes a significant contribution to the community at your college.

What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (7)

Your presence and voice can have the same benefits for others as theirs do for you; you might introduce your roommate to the traditions you grew up with, help dispel stereotypes about a group you’re a part of, or help a friend discover an interest that turns into a career. These are all examples of how the presence and voice of others can have the same benefits for you as theirs do for them.

You will bring a perspective that is very much needed to the topics that you will be grappling with both inside and outside of the classroom, and this is especially true if your perspective is currently underrepresented.

Attending a college on a campus where you stand out as different from the majority of the other students in one way or another can be challenging at times. This experience can, at times, include feelings of isolation and doubt in one’s own abilities, as well as challenges in finding other people whom one believes truly understand them. It’s possible that you’ll even get the impression that you don’t belong at that school.

In the event that you find yourself struggling with any of these issues, you should remind yourself that if you were accepted into a competitive college, the college wants you to attend. Because competitive colleges receive more qualified applications than they are able to possibly accept, the fact that they selected you as a student rather than one of their other applicants indicates that they value you for who you are. This includes the distinctive qualities and points of view that you bring to the diverse community that exists on campus.

At AdmissionSight, we know there are a lot of other questions students and their families may have about the admissions process. Feel free to set up an appointment today with AdmissionSight to answer any and all of the questions you have. Reach out today to learn more about the admissions process.

  • What do Colleges Look for in a Student? (8)


    View all posts

    (Video) Last-Minute Way to Boost Your College Application


What do Colleges Look for in a Student? ›

In general, a great application will have most or all of the following elements: A high GPA (relative to what admitted students have) and a rigorous curriculum. Strong test scores (relative to what admitted students have) A specific, honest, and well-written personal statement and/or essays.

What should colleges look for in students? ›

Colleges today are looking for students whose strengths and experiences will be an asset to their school. Good grades, a challenging high school curriculum, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and a strong essay are a few key factors admissions officers assess.

What makes a student stand out to colleges? ›

Stand-out applications showcase achievement, merit, and previous academic success. Taking honors classes or AP courses can give you a significant advantage. Most colleges generally prefer applicants with a B in an honors program over those with an A in standard courses because it shows initiative.

Do colleges accept D grades? ›

These are deep questions, but important ones to consider so that you can be sure not to repeat the same mistake again. Ok, so let's assume you answered those deep existential questions, how do you “fix” the D? Now, know that you DO need to retake the class. A D is NOT considered a passing grade to colleges.

What are the 5 most important things to consider when choosing a college? ›

Before making your choice, consider these factors: cost, location, size, your interests, campus life, graduation rates, and the potential return on your investment. Once you make your decision, be sure to commit to the college by the deadline.

What do college students value most? ›

As for interactive values, college students prioritize the affection, relationships and society support in achieving their goals. In these, students report solidarity, dialogue, respect and concern/respect for others and the environment.

What unique qualities do colleges look for? ›

Here are 9 character traits that colleges often cite when they describe what they are looking for in students.
  • Curiosity. ...
  • Persistence. ...
  • Risk-taking. ...
  • Compassion. ...
  • open-mindedness. ...
  • Social Consciousness. ...
  • Creativity. ...
  • Collaboration.

How do you get colleges to notice you? ›

How to Show Your Interest
  1. Build a track record of consistent contact. From college fairs to campus visits to personal interviews, take each opportunity to talk with the college representative. ...
  2. Make your case in supplemental application essays. ...
  3. Show you've really researched the college. ...
  4. Apply early.

What do colleges look at besides grades? ›

Besides grades, colleges look at SAT® and/or ACT® scores, leadership experience, course load difficulty, letters of recommendation, application essays, and more. So, it's important for students to realize that good grades require time and dedication, but so do many other important factors.

Which GPA do colleges look at? ›

Colleges will look at either weighted or unweighted GPAs in your application. They do tend to prefer weighted, because it gives more information about the difficulty of your classes, but don't worry if your school uses an unweighted scale.

Do colleges look at senior year? ›

The important thing to know is that colleges do look at your senior year grades. So, a weaker performance in senior year than in previous grades can impact your application and college admissions decisions.

What not to consider when choosing a college? ›

10 mistakes to avoid when choosing a college
  • Not taking enough time. ...
  • Choosing a college for its reputation. ...
  • Not visiting the campus. ...
  • Overemphasizing your current major. ...
  • Not applying because of cost. ...
  • Thinking you won't qualify for financial aid. ...
  • Missing deadlines. ...
  • Assuming rejection.
Jul 15, 2021

What questions do you have when researching colleges list at least four questions? ›

6 Questions to Ask When Researching Colleges
  • What about this school excites me? ...
  • Where does this school fit into my balanced college list? ...
  • It's a social and academic fit – but what about financial? ...
  • What classes, professors, and activities interest me? ...
  • Can I visit? ...
  • Can I see myself living and studying there?

What do college essays look for? ›

Colleges look for three things in your admission essay: a unique perspective, strong writing, and an authentic voice. People in admissions often say that a great essay is one where it feels like the student is right there in the room, talking authentically to the admissions committee!

How do I make my college essay stand out at least 6 tips? ›

Tips for a Stellar College Application Essay
  1. Write about something that's important to you. ...
  2. Don't just recount—reflect! ...
  3. Being funny is tough. ...
  4. Start early and write several drafts. ...
  5. No repeats. ...
  6. Answer the question being asked. ...
  7. Have at least one other person edit your essay. ...
  8. Test Your College Knowledge.

How do you end a college essay powerfully? ›

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay:
  1. Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure.
  2. Reveal the main point or insight in your story.
  3. Look to the future.
  4. End on an action.
Oct 16, 2021

What do you end a college essay with? ›

Avoid saying “to conclude,” “to summarize,” or “finally.” Your essay should end on a high note, like the ending of a movie. Think of moving sentences such as “I never saw it coming,” “I'll always remember what happened,” or “I've learned so much since then.”

What classes do colleges look at most? ›

Math, science, social sciences, foreign language, and English are the pillars of a high school's core curriculum. In the eyes of admissions officers, core courses are what make or break a transcript. These are the high school classes colleges look for on applications.

What are colleges looking for in letters of recommendation? ›

It should include any relevant projects or work you've done. Experiences that relate to your character and academic potential are helpful, too. The teacher should include specific details about their experiences with you. Letters of recommendations can be brief and bullet points are fine!

What do colleges look for in students essay? ›

Colleges look for three things in your admission essay: a unique perspective, strong writing, and an authentic voice. People in admissions often say that a great essay is one where it feels like the student is right there in the room, talking authentically to the admissions committee!

What are the three C's in college? ›

These aspects are competition, collaboration, and complementarity, both on the level of policy and on the practical level of impact on students and staff.

What qualities are important in college? ›

Take a look at this list of skills your student should start developing in preparation for college.
  • Assertiveness. ...
  • Responsibility. ...
  • Self management skills. ...
  • Communication skills. ...
  • Collaboration skills. ...
  • Independent work skills. ...
  • Critical-thinking skills. ...
  • Study skills.

What 3 factors are most important for student success in college? ›

Factors That Influence a Student's Success in College
  • Family and Peer Support. No matter how independent the student, successfully transitioning into college often begins with strong family support. ...
  • Academic Habits. ...
  • Life Skills. ...
  • Decision-Making.

What high school year do colleges look at the most? ›

Your first year and sophomore year affect your cumulative GPA, which is important to most colleges. However, a solid academic record in your junior year is likely to carry more importance with an admissions committee.

What grade do colleges care most about? ›

Your junior year grades are essential: it's the grade a college will look at most, along with your senior year. Your grades predetermine your academic performance for your final year. Your GPA and the “sturdiness” of it matters.

What is the most important thing colleges look at? ›

Courses and Grades

A student's grades in college-preparatory classes remain the most significant factor in college admission decisions.

What is a strong recommendation letter? ›

A great letter of recommendation includes specific examples and anecdotes that demonstrate the applicant's skills and qualifications. It backs up descriptions of your qualifications with examples. You want your letters of recommendation to demonstrate that you not only possess good qualities but also apply them.

What are good recommendation words? ›

They do this by invoking the linguistic terms mentioned above: standout terms or phrases, such as “unparalleled,” “one of the best I have worked with,” “incredible,” “fantastic,” “prodigy,” “unrivaled,” “outstanding,” “rising star,” “as good or better than” (a well-known person), “amazing,” and others.

How to get letters of recommendation if you don t know anyone? ›

What to Do if You Don't Have Anyone to Write You a Recommendation Letter
  1. Reach out to your academic advisor. ...
  2. Reach out to former professors. ...
  3. Ask your boss (or former boss) ...
  4. Take a class and build a relationship. ...
  5. Talk to Admissions.
Nov 15, 2021

What 3 things need to be included in a college essay? ›

11 Things Students Should Include In Their College Application...
  • Write about yourself. ...
  • Focus on one facet of yourself. ...
  • Tell a good story. ...
  • Keep it real. ...
  • Present yourself in the best light. ...
  • Include information not elsewhere in your application. ...
  • Leverage your native culture, traditions, and experiences.
Jul 20, 2016

What is considered a good college essay? ›

The best way to tell your story is to write a personal, thoughtful essay about something that has meaning for you. Be honest and genuine, and your unique qualities will shine through. Admissions officers have to read an unbelievable number of college essays, most of which are forgettable.

Do colleges care about your essay? ›

A large part of the applicant review process is envisioning how the student might fit into the campus community. Because written communication is present in college coursework, it makes sense that the admissions essay is considered an important admissions factor to pay attention to.


1. College Admissions: Inside the Decision Room
(Bloomberg Originals)
2. 5 Activities That Don't Help Your College Application
3. Don’t Fall Into This College Application Trap
(Gohar Khan)
4. COLLEGE Interview Questions & Answers! (College Admissions Interview TIPS + What Colleges Look For!)
5. lies you've been told about college admissions.
6. College Admissions PRINCIPLES 1–5
(Gohar Khan)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Van Hayes

Last Updated: 20/09/2023

Views: 5556

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Van Hayes

Birthday: 1994-06-07

Address: 2004 Kling Rapid, New Destiny, MT 64658-2367

Phone: +512425013758

Job: National Farming Director

Hobby: Reading, Polo, Genealogy, amateur radio, Scouting, Stand-up comedy, Cryptography

Introduction: My name is Van Hayes, I am a thankful, friendly, smiling, calm, powerful, fine, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.