There’s one question every high school student asks at some point, ‘What do colleges look for in applicants?’ If I knew the perfect formula, I would be a millionaire, but alas, there is no easy answer; each college has its own unique way of determining who gets in and who gets a rejection letter. There are, however, certain things students can do to help improve their odds. Most students know that their college applications are a key component to gaining admission. Their essays, recommendation letters and personal statements will all factor into the final decision, but college officials will be also looking for other qualities when determining which students are right for their campuses. The following factors often carry a lot of weight in the college admissions process.
1. Challenging Classes
Most colleges are looking for students who will push themselves to be more than average, so those who challenge themselves with Honors, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs will typically fare better than those in regular classes. Students should keep in mind that they will still need to score high marks in these rigorous courses, though, as earning a ‘C’ or ‘D’ does not necessarily translate to a ‘B’ or ‘C’ in a regular class.
2. Solid Grades
As previously mentioned, the grades students receive are also an important factor in the admissions decision. Students should show steady progress throughout their high school years, increasing their grade point average (GPA) as they head into senior year. Any sudden change or decrease in grades may send up a red flag to admissions officers.
3. Test Scores
Although there has been some discussion on whether test scores should be given less weight in the decision process, the fact remains that most colleges still use them to weed out potential students. It’s important for students to find out which tests are required and to be prepared to take them more than once, if needed. Scores on the Standard Aptitude Test (SAT) and ACT are often used to award institutional scholarships, as well.
4. Outside Interests
To get the attention of admissions officers, students will need to show how they are more than just a set of transcripts. One way to do this is for students to figure out what motivates them and throw themselves into it; whether it’s extracurricular activities, student leadership positions, athletics, the arts or volunteer work. In most cases, quality is valued much more than quantity, so picking two or three activities to continue with throughout high school may help more than tackling several different new activities each year.
5. A Hook
Unfortunately, students can no longer rely on a perfect GPA and stellar test scores to gain admittance into the college of their dreams. The competition is fierce, so students must have a ‘hook’ if they want to wow the admissions committee. Anything that can be considered unique or extraordinary, such as starting an online business or creating charity, will help to impress those who hold the acceptance stamp.
Students can be proactive and hedge their chances by implementing these guidelines, but they should also be realistic in their expectations and have a backup plan ready. Even students with a 4.5 GPA, who are also captains of their high school teams, are being rejected from colleges. More students are applying to more colleges, which is decreasing the percentage of students being accepted at many schools. Yes, it can be upsetting for students to work hard throughout high school only to see their dream of attending a specific school crushed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t build a new dream someplace else.
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