Giving Colleges What They Want

Each year, thousands of students hoping for acceptance to the college or university of their choice flood admissions offices around the country with applications. Limits on the number of new students force admissions officials to sort and evaluate all of the applications to determine who to invite to attend the school. While the criteria for each school will be different, here are seven things that nearly every college or university will require from an applicant.

High School Curriculum
Colleges want their students to be successful in the pursuit of higher education. Therefore, they want to know that you are prepared for the courses you will take when you attend their school. Your high school transcripts should clearly show courses that were challenging and provided the academic tools necessary. Admissions officials will look for honors or advanced placement courses and the number of college preparatory courses as opposed to electives. However, the elective courses are important as well, provided that they are in some way related to your future educational objectives. Much like the desire to provide you with a well-rounded college education, most schools want you to have a well-rounded high school experience too.

Grades and Grade-Point-Average

Despite popular belief, grades are not the primary determining factor in the application process. Grades and grade-point-averages show how well you did in the past and do not always provide a reliable indication of how well you will do when you move to the next level of your educational pursuit. There are many factors that influence high school grades, including variations in the way schools compute grade-point-averages. While it is still important to do the best you can, not receiving straight-A’s will not necessarily keep you out of a highly competitive school. Receiving a “C” in Advanced Physics will carry much more weight that an “A” in Introductory Golf.

Standardized Test Scores
While generally compared to high school GPAs and evaluated for constancy, standardized test scores are important. For instance, a student who does extremely well on the SAT but has a low high school GPA may lead school admissions officers to believe the student has a poor work ethic that may carry over to their college career. On the other hand, college personnel know that taking standardized tests can be stressful so if a student with a high GPA does poorly, they are more likely to be forgiving. Students whose test scores show a drastic discrepancy in either direction will benefit from including a short note explaining the situation and why you believe you will do well.

Involvement in Extra-Curricular Activities
Being well rounded is another non-academic factor that admissions officials take into consideration when evaluating applications. Not only do they look for school activities but the also consider community activities as well. However, it is not the number of act ivies but the depth of involvement that tends to make the difference. Being a member of numerous organizations that you join in your senior year will have little impact while moving into leadership positions with organizations you have been active with for several years will have a significant one. It is the skill learned because of the activity as opposed to the membership in the organization that makes the difference.

Work Experience
Working while going to high school will likely not influence your acceptance into a particular school. On the other hand, having work experience will certainly not hurt and should be mentioned in your application materials – particularly if the job is in some way related to your course of study. Holding down a job while in school also indicates maturity and responsibility that will benefit you in college and later in life.

The Essay
Many colleges and universities are requiring applicants to write an essay as part of the application process. A well-written essay can be very beneficial and have a significant impact on the admissions officer. The structure of your essay will make the first impression on those who read it so you need to show that you have a strong grasp of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Your thoughts should be well organized and demonstrate your creativity while providing a glimpse of your personality, values and goals. Your essay should be a tool to illustrate your uniqueness and to highlight any honors and awards that are related to your academic and career goals.

Letters of Recommendation
You would not take the time to fill out the length application materials for a school you do not believe will accept you. However, admissions officers are more interested in the opinions of others who know you and want to know what they think of you. Most schools require a minimum of two letters of recommendation and some want more. In fact, there are schools who will tell you exactly who they want to see letters from including school counselors, teachers, work supervisors or other leaders you have interacted with during your high school career. If you have the option of making your own decision, select people who can speak to your skills, abilities and character. Make it as easy as possible by supplying information they need to write a favorable letter. Unless specifically asked, do not submit letters from friends or family members.

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