Top 10 Things Colleges Look for in a Student

What are colleges looking for this year as they get ready to accept students into the freshman class of 2014?  According to The Independent Educational Consultant’s Association, a national association of independent college counselors, here are the ten top strengths and experiences that colleges look for.

colleges look for1.  A high school transcript that shows an academically challenging curriculum. Colleges look for students who are not afraid to take on a challenge, and that includes Honors or Advanced Placement courses.

2 . Grades that represent a strong effort and an upward trend. If you are a student who had a poor freshman or sophomore year, improving your academic performance is important.  The junior year is an especially important year as it is the last full year of grades colleges review before deciding on students.

3. Solid scores on the SAT or ACT.  Most colleges still require these tests, and taking them more than once can help improve your score.  For students with high grades, but low-test scores, there are a number of colleges where testing is optional. For a list of these colleges check out

4. A well-written essay or personal statement.  The college essay should provide insight into the student’s unique personality, values, and goals.  A mistake students often make is to rehash information that is included in their application. Essays should be thoughtful and free of spelling and grammatical errors.

5. Community service that shows evidence of being a “contributor.”  Students should engage in activities that help people and show a commitment and dedication to a cause.

6. Work or out-of-school experiences that illustrate responsibility, dedication and development of areas of interest.  This can include summer work or summer volunteer experiences.  Students who maintain high grades and are able to hold down a job show maturity and responsibility to college admission’s officials.

7. Passionate involvement in a few activities, These activities should demonstrate leadership and initiative. Serious dedication to one or two activities is much preferred over a causal interest in many clubs or community agencies. Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important.

8.  Positive letters of recommendations.  Most private colleges require at least one letter from a teacher and one letter from a high school guidance counselor.  These letters should reflect your positive academic performance, integrity and positive contribution to the classroom.

9.  Additional recommendations from adults who know the student well.  This is most often coaches, or supervisors who work with students in paid or unpaid work or activities.

10.  Anything special that makes the student stand out from other applicants.  College campuses  like  to  admit students who  will be a valuable contributor to their campuses.  This can include athletics, visual and preforming arts, debate or ethnic diversity, or cultural diversity.

Author – Jill Haley, Independent College Counselor
Jill has spent 25 years working in school settings as a college counselor. She now works directly with families as owner of Advantage College Consulting. Jill has a Master’s in Social work and is a member of the Western Association of College Admissions Counselors and Higher Education Consultants Associations

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