What Are Colleges Looking For?
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By Henry Wang

What are colleges looking for when they review your application? They not only look at your numbers (GPA and test scores) but also your character and the qualities you can bring to their community. As a consultant, I often ask my students: “What makes you unique? What can you bring to a college?” In fact, when college admission officers review applications, they are looking for students who can handle the academic rigor and at the same time bring the following qualities to their campus:

  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Initiative
  • Passion
  • Special talents
  • A strong commitment to service
  • A strong sense of social responsibility

Overall, colleges want a diverse campus community. They want the future scientists and engineers. They want the future economists and business professionals. They want the future politicians, historians, musicians, and artists. They also want students who are going to commit themselves to various activities. They are looking for the real “you.”

So how can you demonstrate to colleges your unique qualities? Personal qualities are hard to measure, but in general college admission officers look at the following items to gain insight into your character:

Academics
GPA and standardized tests scores are not everything in college admission but they reveal a lot about you. GPA your long-term academic performance indicator and standardized test scores measure your reasoning skills and your mastery of specific subjects.

Extracurricular Activities
Your activities really say a lot about you. Always remember that the quality of the activities is much more important than the number of activities. Instead of participating in 10 different activities, perhaps you should focus on 5-6 activities that really interest you.

Summer Activities
Working at Safeway can also be as valuable as attending an expensive summer program at a prestigious university. Honestly, it’s really about the experience and what you have learned.

Letter of Recommendation
Recommendation letters provide additional insight into your academic performance but also personal qualities you demonstrate in class.

Application Essay
This is your only chance to demonstrate to the admission committees who you really are, how you stand out from other candidates, and what you can bring to the college.