Do You Know How To Improve Your Profile For College Applications
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Here at CollegeVine, we pride ourselves on guiding students to make informed and empowered decisions about their educational futures. Sometimes, this guidance is through a formal mentor program. Other times its through a one-time, free consultation, and still more times its through thoughtful search queries here on our blog.
One of the questions that we hear time and time again is What do colleges really want in a student? Do they want to see good grades? Do they want strong test scores and impressive extracurriculars? How about teacher recommendations? Lets be honest its very rare that a student has perfect grades, perfect test scores, flawless extracurriculars, and superb teacher recommendations. In fact, its a fact of life that no ones perfect.
So, if youre applying to colleges, you might wonder where to focus your energy. What few, key traits are colleges really looking for, and where do they look to find evidence of them? How much do test scores or grades actually matter?
High School Course Selection
Perhaps the most often asked question among high school students/parents planning for college is: Am I better off taking an advanced class and getting a lower grade or taking an easier class and getting an A?
This is a difficult question to answer because it really depends on a number of factors and on the nature of the student in question. Admission officers half-jokingly say that they want you to take the advanced class AND get the A, but then they rarely expound to give students a more complete answer. So, here it goes:
Lets suppose you have the option of taking honors math or non-honors . Youre confident you can take the non-honors and get an A, but the honors class is much more rigorous.
There isnt one answer as to which class you should take, but consider these factors:
There is no one right answer to this question. If you opt-out of one challenging class, your chances of gaining entrance to a competitive college are by no means over. If you accept the challenge and dont get the A, no one is likely to write you off over one class. Can you stretch yourself a little more and rise to a new challenge? Or, will it drive you over the edge and negatively affect the rest of your work? Consider everything in a broader context and what it says about you.
Icipating In Extracurricular Activities
Students should not hesitate to participate in extracurricular activities, whether athletics, arts or any other type because these activities are aimed at increasing a students overall capacity. As a result, an excellent student is actively involved in extracurricular activities in order to develop all aspects of his or her personality. Good students, on the other hand, do not put their academics aside when participating in these activities.
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What Classes Do Colleges Look For
Its a good idea to knock out your core classes early on because what colleges really want to see is that youve challenged yourself with more difficult classes. For example, its a good idea to take classes like algebra, trigonometry, and geometry early so you can later enroll in high-level math classes like calculus.
Having a combination of biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science subjects each year is also generally looked highly upon by colleges but some of the more selective schools will want you to take laboratory sciences for three to four years.
If you already have an idea of the subject you want to major in, consider getting a head start in high school. If you want to study music in college, taking band or orchestra for all four years of high school will prove your commitment to your craft.
To start the foundation as early as you can, ideally, youll meet with your academic counselor while youre still a freshman to determine your optimal schedule. In your upper years, choose AP classes that focus on core subjects or areas where you shine.
Qualities That Scholarship Winners Have
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Winning a scholarship is not easy. Regardless of the type of scholarship you are applying for, you are sure to be up against some stiff competition. Scholarships are the single best way to get some free money for college and every opportunity out there attracts hundreds if not thousands of applications. So what exactly are the qualities that help scholarship winners stand out from the competition?
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Here are five qualities that scholarship winners possess, and scholarship sponsors look for and pay attention to during the application process.
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A Genuine Interest In The College Or University
Demonstrating a genuine interest in the school can work in your favor, particularly at the most selective colleges.
How can you demonstrate interest?
- This can involve going on tours/visits, talking to admissions officers, showing enthusiasm during an interview , or writing passionately about the school in a personal statement, etc.
For this reason, applying early decision can also be an advantage. Applying early decision demonstrates that a school is your first choice.
If You Are Beginning Your Ucas Application Be Aware Of The Most Important Attributes That Will Impress An Admissions Officer
The latest annual survey of university admissions officers, commissioned by ACS International Schools, highlights the top qualities universities will be looking for in applicants personal statements, in addition to academic qualifications.
These are the seven qualities that you should try to illustrate in your university application.
1. A positive attitude towards study
Students must demonstrate that they are ready to work hard that theyre not just applying to university for the social life, but that they will be able to cope with the workloads of their chosen course and thrive at a higher level of education.
As well as good grades, students can demonstrate this in their personal statements by mentioning their extended essay or personal projects they have taken on to expand their knowledge or study skills. Linking this to their intended area of university study is helpful. Showing the ability to manage your time and workload is important, too.
2. A passion for the chosen course subject
Students must demonstrate a passion for their chosen subject. Independent extended interest in a subject that goes above and beyond what is required in the classroom, a personal achievement and extracurricular activities can all help to illustrate this. Its beneficial for students to show how learning within and beyond the classroom links to their chosen course.
Ultimately, passion and perseverance are qualities that are also highly sought after by employers, not just universities.
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Myth : Essays Aren’t That Important
After Time published a 2014 article on why college application essays don’t actually matter all that much, students began to fear that all their hard work on their statements wouldn’t mean much in the end, if at all.
But while some colleges don’t require personal essays, most colleges do require at least one or two essaysand will place a decent amount of emphasis on it, especially if it is being used as a deciding factor between two otherwise equally qualified applicants.
Even though you should approach the essay seriously, it’s still generally rare for an exceptionally well-written essay to make up for tons of low grades and poor test scores. On the flip side, if you have a great application but a badly written essay, that essay alone could get you rejected!
Therefore, make sure that you are following all the steps listed above so you can craft the perfect statement for your application.
The Courses Youve Taken
Suppose, for example, you have a 97 GPAnot bad! Consider, however, that during high school you have opted never to take an honors or AP/IB class, despite breezing through your coursework. Consider, also, that you dropped your foreign language after only 2 years and science after 3 years in favor of less rigorous electives. Are you lazy??? Do mere grades mean more than substance?
On the other hand, think about a student with a slightly lower but still respectable GPA who has shown academic rigor and taken challenging high school classes including higher-level foreign language. You have taken some honors classes and even a college-level class or International Baccalaureate ). The GPA, while a little lower, will be recognized as rigorous, and make you a more appealing candidate.
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Travel Opportunities For Students
A good education should prepare you to go out into the world. All employers want to see that you are open-minded and aware, and some even expect you to be adept at international relations. As you search for the perfect college, find out whether a school offers travel opportunities and programs for students in the best places to study abroad. You should be able to choose from short-term, semester-long, or year-long study abroad experiences.
Ask yourself these questions when you deciding:
- How many study abroad options are offered? You should have a wide variety of places to choose from that meet your interests and goals. Look for branch campuses in other countries that make the study abroad process smoother by handling financial and academic matters internally.
- How is study abroad funded? Find out whether study abroad experiences offer financial aid. If not, determine whether they will cost more than staying at school.
- What are travel course options? You shouldn’t take classes that don’t interest you just to be able to travel. Research all courses with travel components to find the best fit.
- How will study abroad affect the trajectory of my college career? Make sure a semester abroad won’t negatively impact your projected graduation. If course credits don’t transfer, a study abroad experience can make it difficult to graduate on time.
Success Through A Difficult Start Or Background
As you might have already understood, universities dont look just at your grades, they want to really get to know you. And this is why 42% of university admissions officers declared that they are interested in applicants backgrounds.
The ability to overcome certain hurdles in life and getting through a difficult start can prove strength of character. Do not feel shy about telling your personal story if you feel that there is something worth mentioning. We all have a story worth telling, so do not keep yours a secret.
These were the top seven attributes most valued by surveyed UK and US university admissions officers. Other aspects that are often taken into consideration by universities include: awareness of global or cultural differences, work experience, entrepreneurial attitude and participation in community or voluntary services.
Do not think about these elements as rules, but more as guidelines to help you show off your qualities and ensure the road to your university admission ends in success. If you are ready to walk down this road, check out our QS World University Tour #StudyinUSA Virtual Fair.
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The Qualities Colleges Want
What is it that makes you unique, and how will you contribute to the life of our campus? Thats what admission officers want to know, according to Earl Johnson, dean of admission at the University of Tulsa. To gauge what students can bring to their campus, they look for these types of qualities:
- A sense of social responsibility
- A commitment to service
- Special talents or abilities
Overall, colleges want a mix of students to create a rich campus community. They want the class valedictorians, says Marty OConnell, executive director of Colleges That Change Lives. But they also are looking for students who are going to be involved in a lot of activities and students who are musicians and students who are athletes and everything in between.
Grades In All Courses
Your overall GPA also serves as an indicator of your academic success in high school. Colleges may look at your transcript to get an idea of how you performed in your classes. A transcript is a list of every class taken throughout high school and the grade received in each class. Some colleges will also look at the types of classes you took in high school and note whether you took honors and AP courses if they were available.
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Ability To Excel At A Competitive School
Although class rank is less of a factor than it has been in the past, some schools still look at class rank, and it can set you apart from otherwise similar applicants.
- The schools that do look at class rank are particularly interested in seeing if you managed to come out on top of a highly competitive class.
If you attend a competitive, rigorous school and are still in the top 10% of graduates, colleges will rightfully view this as a major accomplishment.
Compelling Letters Of Recommendation
Most colleges require at least one letter of recommendation from either your high school counselor or a high school teacher .
The 2019 NACAC survey indicates that 54% of colleges consider teacher recommendations at least moderately important, while a higher 55% consider counselor recommendations the same. Therefore, we can say it’s pretty important to secure great recommendation letters for your application.
If you’re asking for a letter from a teacher, make sure to choose someone whose class you got a high grade in and who is familiar with your abilities, ambitions, and interests. Typically, you’ll need to submit at least one letter from a teacher who taught a core class .
It’s a good idea to also get a letter from a teacher who works in the field you plan to major in. So if you got an A in AP English and plan to major in English, asking that teacher for a recommendation letter would give a great boost to your application.
While you don’t have to be best buddies with the teacher you ask, they should definitely know you well, beyond the classroom, so they can effectively explain to admissions committees what makes you special, that is, what makes you worth admitting.
For example, if you did research with a particular teacher, are part of a club this teacher coaches or leads, or helped out this teacher with a project, this would be a good person to ask to write a letter for you.
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At Ease With Diversity
In college, your student will encounter people from a lot of backgrounds different races, cultures, religions, political affiliations, sexual orientations and economic backgrounds. Whats great about this is theyll not only learn from their professors, but also from the various students they go to school with.
What Do Colleges Look For In Their Applicantsspecifically
You know that you need to be a good student to get into the college of your choice, but what does that really mean? Its so important to understand what colleges want and what your high school transcript and extracurricular activities say about you. Its also important to know this early so that you can make choices throughout your high school career that convey what you really want.
Virtually all colleges will tell you that there is an important factor in evaluating your admissions application in fact, three, but before sharing those three items with you, its important to understand what the college itself is trying to accomplish. They want to do more than admit good students. Colleges see themselves as communities, and they want students who will strengthen that sense of community. So, to be prepared to do college-level work is not enough. Colleges will want to know what else you bring with you to enhance this sense of community.
They will look at you as a whole person, not just as a student.
Now that you know what colleges want, here is how they will evaluate you to see if you add value to their campus community:
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Clubs And Activities Within Your Interests
“Quantity over quality” applies when it comes to the clubs and activities present at a college. Before choosing a school, make sure they have your extracurricular interests covered.
Consider hobbies old and new. If you loved something in high school and want to continue practicing it, find ways to go after it in college before you get there. College is the time to chase new interests too, so don’t close your mind to options you had not considered. You may discover lifelong passions when you try new things.
Campuses have their own personalities and priorities. For example, they may place more emphasis on anything from performing arts to Greek life. Find schools that complement you. Academics are the most important feature of your college career, but you also want to ensure that your life will be stimulating and fulfilling outside of class as well.
What Are Colleges Looking For And Why
As you know, every college is slightly different in terms of what it looks for in applicants, and finding a good fit between a particular applicant and a particular college is very important. However, its possible to make some broad statements about the kinds of qualities and skills that competitive colleges are seeking.
To get admitted to a top college, you need to stand out. As weve discussed in our blog post Why Are Acceptance Rates So Low?, competitive colleges attract a far larger number of qualified applicants than they could possibly admit, so simply having high grades and test scores isnt enough to obtain any guarantees of admission.
When youre facing this kind of competition, youll need to take special care to ensure that your application will pique admissions committees interest. Emphasizing particular skills and qualities that colleges appreciate, such as those we list below, will help to round out your applicant profile and give colleges a sense of who you really are.
Competitive colleges need to know that youll be a positive addition to the campus. A college isnt just a place where you go to school its also where you work, socialize, build communities, and live your life for four years. Similarly, you dont attend college alone, so how you interact with the people around you is important, whether theyre peers, instructors, or others.
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