What Do Colleges Want to See on Applications?

Fall is here and for many this means leaves turning, pumpkin season, and sweaters making a heavy debut in our wardrobes. For high school seniors and college admissions, it’s application season! High school seniors will spend hours pouring over applications, analyzing every word, and anxiously awaiting their college decisions. Applying for college can be an anxiety provoking process for students and we’ve broken down what makes a strong application to help.

The Application Itself

Do: Show your best qualities through your student activities, list any academic awards you’ve received or any leadership opportunities you’ve had.

Don’t: Add in “fluff” information because you believe your application isn’t strong enough. Don’t add in every single club meeting you’ve ever been to. Try your best to highlight your strengths. Think: Quality over Quantity.

Test Scores

Standardized testing scores are typically required by college admissions. However, to confirm, check the school’s website to see if they are test optional or self-reported test scores. Test optional means that a school does not require scores, however they will consider them if you submit them! If you do not want your scores to be considered, do not send. Self-reported means the school does not require the official test score on the date of application. They will require it to confirm when you decide to attend.

Test scores are a huge source of anxiety for students. The best practice for students is to ask the admissions department. Your decision will not be reflected on you asking them their opinion on the score. They may advise you to take it another time or tell you that they believe it is a strong enough score. Reaching out to discuss it is a vulnerable thing for students but very normal for admissions professionals. Remember that!

High School Transcripts

Your high school transcript will be used as a tool to identify if you are ready for the college you’ve applied for. Admissions will look for not only grades, but the types of classes you have taken and their academic rigor. Your transcript does not have to be filled with AP, IB, PSEO (etc) classes, but it does need to show an interest in academics. Whether that’s a few more academic electives or honors classes, your academic record indicates what type of student you will be.

It’s important to note that college admissions are looking for an incline in your academic record. For example, if you had a rough semester along the way, chances are that is OK as long as you can demonstrate improvement and provide an explanation.

The Essay

Let’s make it short and sweet about the essay:

  • Personal narratives typically preferred.
  • Get creative! Go beyond the mission trip or the final sport game. Show them how you’re unique!
  • Tell them challenges you’ve faced and what you learned from them.
  • Feel free to get vulnerable! This indicates to college admissions that you’re willing to share, explore, and learn.

Letter(s) of Recommendation

  • Choose an academic teacher or school counselor as a base for at least one letter of recommendation.
  • Ask someone who you feel comfortable with and knows you as a student well! This will reflect best.
  • If you are applying for a specific program or sport (music, football, etc.) perhaps have a coach or music teacher provide a “supplemental recommendation” so that program can look at it.

There you have it! Five elements of a strong application. Take one element at a time and try to not get overwhelmed by the process. It seems more daunting than it actually is. Now is the time!