What colleges/universities look for in applicants??
Applying to colleges is an overwhelming process. Students start preparing for the same as early as in their 11th grade (2 years in advance). There are several common factors that admission officers look for in a candidate. It is important for a student to highlight not what every student has but what makes him stand out from the rest.
High Grades: While multiple factors are important one must remember that grades are and will be one of the most important factors for your college applications. Your goal, from the first year of high school forward, is to achieve the best grades you can. If you had a rough freshman year, but have since rebounded with much stronger grades, fear not, because colleges certainly look for trends in academic achievement. So it’s never too late.
AP and Honors Classes: Being able to show prospective colleges that you challenged yourself academically is important. You certainly do not need to enroll in an International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at your high school, but where you have the strengths, skills, and aptitude, you should at least strive for Honors or Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
Extracurricular Activities: Experiences beyond classroom define your personality and also help in holistic development. Some of these activities could be playing a sport, societies, cultural clubs, music and debates amongst others. Being a leader in one or two organizations means much, much more than simply being a member in 10 clubs and organizations. Not only does leadership show a certain level of maturity and character, but colleges also have an eye to all their student organizations and their need to recruit future leaders.
Community Service and Internships: Any experience you have that shows true commitment, leadership qualities and an interest in the community is beneficial to your application. It seems to be one of these unwritten rules that applicants who volunteer many, many hours in the service of supporting others will become a key campus activist. Include the organizations or companies you worked for and what your responsibilities were at each one. If you received any promotions or special recognition, be sure to mention those as well.
Test Scores: Not all schools rely as heavily on on SAT and ACT scores as they used to, but it doesn’t hurt to take both tests and do as well as you can. Some schools don’t look at these tests at all while others may look at scores from additional tests including SAT Subject Tests and AP tests. Check with your chosen schools to find out which ones are required for admission.
Quality Recommendation Letters: The recommendation letters that you ask your teachers and your guidance counselor to write can play a key role in your college application. Be sure to get recommendation letters from people who know you well, have interacted with you in the classroom or are otherwise able to show why you’re a good candidate for the particular schools you’re applying to. A good recommendation letter supports a solid application by affirming all of your best qualities as a student.
A Well-Written Essay: Admissions officers want to see essays that go for a personal connection. Rather than using the essay to talk up your accomplishments, focus on showing who you truly are and what makes you interesting. Definitely take the time to carefully consider the questions and write, edit, rewrite, and proofread your essays — with an eye to what the essays reveal about you and your personality.