What Colleges Look for in a Student

Every college has its own standards of screening applicants to decide which potential students to take on. However, most of them want to maintain a balanced and varied student population that consists of people who are well-qualified, involved and self-motivated. Prospective students can expect college admissions counselors to check for these qualities in their interviews, applications, recommendations, essays and extracurricular activities.

Together, each of these things form a general idea of the student that the school will then use to judge their qualifications. Naturally, schools that are ranked higher receive more applications from qualified students than there are places available. Because of this, applicants must work even harder to distinguish themselves from the rest. Here are some of the things that colleges take into consideration when accepting new students.

Course Load

A stringent schedule of classes displays motivation, an interest in learning, and the desire to rise to new challenges. It also shows that a potential student is okay with doing hard work. While many students believe that excellent grades in their normal classes are enough to get accepted into a college, high grades in advanced placement and honors classes are always more convincing.

High School Rank

Colleges tend to look back on a student’s performance for their junior and senior years. Performance during the freshman and sophomore years is not as closely scrutinized so long as the student has shown steady improvement. High schools will send a student’s senior class profile to prospective colleges, who will then use it to see how the student did compared to other applicants.

SAT/ACT Scores

The scores that students receive on these standardized tests are a critical factor in gaining admission to most colleges. The higher the score, the more impressed the college will be. These scores give colleges a standard method of comparing applicants that come from different schools and locations.

Interests and Extracurricular Activities

While most successful college applicants have classically been high-achieving and well-rounded, there has been an increasing demand in recent years for students that are more focused. Most often, ideal candidates have special characteristics or interests that distinguish them from other applicants. Good colleges seek quality over quantity and consider experience to be an important factor when choosing students. Many of them prefer to see that a potential student is focused on a specific area. If a student can show evidence of initiative, passion and commitment, then it will go a long way toward being accepted.

Community Service

Although most colleges don’t require students to have experience in community service, it is considered to be an excellent display of compassion, strong character and willingness to help people in need. It also shows dedication and an acceptance of responsibility that will impress admissions counselors.

Job Experience

There is no better way for a hopeful student to make a good impression on their application than having job experience. It can be a summer job, internship, volunteer work or even an entrepreneurship. This tells colleges that the applicant possesses the work ethic, maturity level, management skills and motivation that it takes to become a successful alumnus.


Prospective students who provide an essay with their application have a better chance of standing out among the dozens of other applicants. Thoughtful, well-written essays can tell colleges a lot about their applicants, such as their personalities, goals, talents, intellectual abilities and personal values.


Many colleges, especially Ivy League ones, prefer to have letters of recommendation from their applicants. These are letters from people such as teachers, employers, heads of organizations and coaches that vouch for the student’s qualifications and abilities.


When students apply to a college, they will most likely be called in for a personal interview with an admissions counselor. Colleges use the information garnered during this interview to judge the student’s qualifications and confirm information from other sources. This provides students a good opportunity to display their interests, knowledge, personality and desire to excel.


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