What are colleges looking for?

The pressure put on students today to be involved, get good grades, and maintain a sliver of a social life is insane. They are on from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., and then it’s time for homework. Most extracurriculars and AP classes aren’t even about pursuing one’s passion anymore. It’s all done in the hopes of standing out on a college application, but what are colleges actually looking for on applications? Are students running themselves ragged just for their hard work to go unnoticed? 


Here are six things colleges look for on their applications, and tips to check all these boxes and avoid unnecessary stress.


GPA & Course Load

Colleges will obviously look at your academic progress. What many students don’t know is that they tend to prefer slightly lower grades in challenging courses as opposed to high grades in easy classes. Try to challenge yourself by taking AP, honors, or CIS courses that interest you – not classes that don’t spark your curiosity. If you are interested in the topic you are studying, you will be more motivated to do well and learn more!



Although ACT and SAT scores are not looked at as much as they used to be, they can still significantly help. Scores that make sense given your GPA are what colleges look for; a high score doesn’t necessarily replace a low GPA. Put in the time to research what the colleges you are applying to are looking for, regarding these tests. For example, schools in the Midwest tend to not require an SAT score while schools on the East coast look at this one primarily. If you aren’t sure where you are applying, it doesn’t hurt to take both.



Contrary to popular belief, the more clubs does not always mean the better. Showing your dedication to a few clubs for your entire high school career can be better than joining every single one. Working up to leadership roles in these clubs shows colleges your leadership skills and that you can be depended on. Find some clubs that you love and stick with them! They are looking for well-rounded individuals that are passionate about what they do.


Volunteering & Involvement in the Community

Your success in school is not the only aspect of you, so colleges like to see people involved in their community, whether that be through work or clubs, and that you are helping. They like to see you are spending your free time participating in meaningful activities that show qualities such as leadership and responsibility. Try to find a few organizations that work for a cause you support and you enjoy volunteering for. Being very involved in a few of these for long periods of time shows dedication to those looking at your application.



College admissions counselors are always looking to hear from people that know you well and have seen you at work. A stellar recommendation from someone you trust can sometimes make all the difference. Ask a teacher, counselor, or trusted adult who knows you well and would have good things to say about you and your character. Letters of recommendations can give colleges insight into who you really are and why you would be a good fit for their school.



The essay is another opportunity to show colleges what you are like. Instead of rambling about your accomplishments, use it to show the college admissions counselors why you are a good candidate for their school and what you are like. Write about what makes you interesting and stand out, not what test scores they can read off your transcript.


Whatever you do, just remember to be yourself and show who you really are – that’s truly all colleges are looking for. They want to see your character and qualities that make you, you!

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