What Do Colleges Look for in a Candidate?

Before applying to college, it’s important that you understand how you’re going to be evaluated. What are your chances of getting into your top-choice school? What are your chances for getting into your “safety school?” No matter where you’re applying, admissions officers search for similar things in applicants:

  • Perhaps the No. 1 thing colleges look for in a high school student is a challenging class schedule. While good grades are important, many institutions would rather see slightly lower grades and a rigorous class schedule, than to find that you did not challenge yourself.
  • GPA is always a crucial part of the admissions decision. Many colleges have a minimum GPA requirement to apply, and your score on a 4.0 scale is telling of how much time and effort you put into your studies. It’s also a preview of how motivated you will be in college.
  • Standardized test scores (SAT, ACT) are important to colleges. While they do hold a lot of weight in the application process, many students are false in their belief that it is the most important thing to admissions officers. Make sure you are well prepared before taking the SAT or ACT tests.
  • Extracurricular activities and jobs are key in proving how well-rounded a student is. While clubs, sports and hobbies are important, colleges are more interested in depth rather than quantity. It is important to be highly involved and interested in just a few activities, as minimum involvement in many activities may portray that you are flaky or trying to find your niche. In addition, being involved in a few activities shows you have time management skills and you will be a good asset to a college community.
  • The application essay allows colleges to distinguish you from the other intelligent and well-rounded candidates they receive. Many times it is reviewed by as many as five people, and may be used as the deciding factor of whether you get into a particular school. Use this opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and to add that extra “umph” to your resume. Remember – your writing skills will be scrutinized, so make sure your grammar and spelling are perfect.
  • Recommendations are proof of what you’re trying to portray in your application and essay. While you should essentially be trying to “sell” your strengths to colleges, third party statements are evidence of your integrity, skills and positive personality traits.
  • Some colleges, especially specialized/specific major institutions, require applicants to be interviewed. In this case, interviews are a last chance for students to prove they are motivated and professional, so conduct and presentation are key factors.