What Colleges Look For

The college application process is extensive and daunting. You are essentially trying to pool together a portfolio of yourself that will make you stand out in a sea of thousands of other applicants. The worst part is there is no right answer to what will guarantee you an acceptance to any certain college.

Every college regards their applicants on a case-by-case basis. From experience it seems as if one of the most important factors is that the applicant is well rounded. If you have a perfect GPA, but your only strong point is academics, it may not pay off as generously as you think it will.

For tips from an expert, check out this thread from Reddit.com: Q&A with a college admissions officer.

Here are some aspects of a college application that will make you stand out:

Leadership Experience

What colleges look for is leadership experience. They want to see you actively engaging yourself in something other than school. Whether you are on ASB, Editor in Chief of the yearbook staff or captain of your sports team, having a leadership position says a lot about your personality.

It means that you are able to lead an organization, delegate tasks to the members, take responsibility and be held accountable for its success.

Rather than being a passive member of multiple organizations, you should take on a leadership role in something you are passionate about.

Volunteer Work

Colleges also look for volunteer work. It is a huge bonus for college admissions to see volunteer work on your application. This is the only aspect of your application that will show selflessness and good content of character.

There are many organizations to get involved with such as animal shelters, retirement homes, national charity leagues and food banks. Consistently working with the same charity will also show your commitment and dedication to something important.

A Unique Essay

The essay is potentially the most stressful portion of the college application. To avoid having a mundane and repetitive application, choose a topic for your essay that the admissions office could not find anywhere else. This means steer clear of writing about your grades or the extracurricular activities you were a part of in high school.

This is your chance to show the college who you are as a person and what you can bring to their campus. What colleges look for in your  admissions essay is what makes you unique.

You could write about an experience in your life that shaped who you are as a person. Another option would be to provide a famous quote or motto that you live your life by and explain why. These are just some ideas, but this is your opportunity to get creative so take it.


This is always a highly debated topic when it comes to the college application process. Some people believe that colleges unfairly favor minorities to meet a quota of some sort. Everyone has an aspect of diversity to bring to the table, so this conundrum should not affect anyone’s chances negatively or positively.

Colleges want their student body to consist of a wide range of people, so use your college application to show them what makes you unique. This could be your ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religious beliefs, etc.

AP/Honors Classes

Many counselors advise students to take AP and honors courses in high school. They say that colleges would rather see Bs in honors courses than As in regular courses. This shows that the student is willing to challenge themselves and work hard to succeed in school.

AP classes are regarded as college-level classes anyways, so you will be better prepared for what’s to come. Also if you pass the AP tests at the end of the year you can earn credit and be exempt from those courses in college. It will be beneficial for you in many ways.

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Natalie Alexander

Natalie Alexander

Natalie Alexander is a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo pursuing a degree in journalism with a concentration in public relations. In her free time she enjoys traveling, dancing, exploring, swimming, laughing, shopping, napping, writing and spending time with her family and friends.
Natalie Alexander

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