what do colleges look for

What Do Colleges Look For in Students?

As high school students begin the college application process, one question looms: what do colleges look for in students? This question often sparks anxiety and uncertainty among applicants and their families. The application process can seem like a maze for first-generation college students, with countless factors at play in determining who gets accepted and who doesn’t.

Thankfully, Reality Changers can provide insight into this daunting process. From academic achievements to extracurricular involvement, understanding what colleges prioritize can help students confidently navigate the admissions journey.

Academic Criteria: What Classes, GPA, and Grades Do Colleges Look For?

When it comes to academic criteria, admissions officers look at a student’s high school performance to gauge their college readiness. What classes do colleges look for, you might wonder? Class selection is very telling – applicants who challenge themselves with a rigorous curriculum, including honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or dual enrollment courses often receive priority. These advanced classes demonstrate academic ambition and provide a glimpse into a student’s ability to handle college-level coursework. Of course, performance in these classes is very telling as well.

If your school does not offer these types of classes, or if these classes aren’t the right fit for you, that’s okay. Colleges are looking to see that you took a variety of courses and that you pursued your specific interests. You could explain in your application, for example, that you opted for theater instead of art because you are interested in public speaking.

What GPA do colleges look for, anyway? The answer varies from one school to the next. Generally speaking, the higher your GPA, the more luck you’ll have getting into your dream school. Context matters a lot, though. Schools look at the rigor of the coursework available and whether your GPA trended upward throughout your high school career. Perseverance and growth matter just as much as grades.

If you have a drop in your GPA, many college applications give you space to explain the reason why. Many things can factor into this explanation including learning disabilities, situations at home, competing priorities (working a job, for example), health issues, and more. Your college counselor or Reality Changers Achievement Coach can help with this.

What Do Colleges Look For Besides Grades?

So, what do colleges look for in applicants? Most schools are searching for well-rounded applicants who excel in and out of the classroom. Beyond grades, admissions officers will look to the following as a reflection of your college readiness:

Involvement in sports, clubs, community service, and leadership roles demonstrates a well-rounded personality, time management skills, and a commitment to contributing beyond the classroom.

Admissions officers are impressed by applicants who take on leadership roles within their school or community, showing initiative, organizational skills, and the ability to inspire and motivate others.

Colleges appreciate applicants who pursue their interests passionately, whether it’s through independent projects, hobbies, or in-depth exploration of academic subjects. A genuine enthusiasm for learning and growth can make a strong impression.

Letters of Recommendation
Recommendations from teachers, counselors, or mentors provide insight into an applicant’s character, work ethic, and potential for success in college. Letters can corroborate an application and provide further details about your role in your school and community.

Personal Statements and Essays
Colleges use personal statements and essays to get to know applicants on a deeper level beyond their academic achievements. These essays allow applicants to showcase their personality, values, and unique perspectives.

Colleges value diversity in their student body and seek applicants from varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. They look for individuals who can contribute to a vibrant and inclusive campus community.

What Extracurricular Activities Do Colleges Look For?

Answering the question of what do colleges look for often comes back to extracurriculars. Schools hope to see diverse extracurricular activities that reflect a student’s interests, passions, and leadership skills. Of course, different schools value different activities. A performing arts college will place more priority on students with a background in musical theater than students with a strong record in sports. However, some extracurricular activities tend to impress across the board.

Leadership roles in student government or clubs, involvement in community service projects, participation in sports teams, and engagement in academic clubs or competitions are all extracurriculars that can make a positive impression. Colleges typically value the depth of involvement over breadth, so committing to a few activities can be more impactful than just listing a wide range of interests.

What Skills Do Colleges Look For?

Have you ever wondered what colleges look for besides grades? Ideally, schools are looking for students who can be successful on campus. In addition to strong academic skills, effective communication skills are needed. Applicants should be able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly, express themselves persuasively, and engage in constructive dialogue with peers and faculty.

Colleges also seek students who think critically, analyze information, and solve complex problems. Participation in activities that require critical thinking skills, like debate, academic competitions, or research projects, demonstrates intellectual curiosity and analytical ability.

Adaptability and resilience matter a lot, too. Adapting to new situations, overcoming challenges, and bouncing back from setbacks are crucial for success in college and beyond. Colleges look for applicants who have demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity and have learned from their experiences.

What Personality Traits Do Colleges Look For?

Colleges are eager to accept students with a thirst for knowledge. Demonstrating a passion for learning, exploring new ideas, and seeking out knowledge beyond the classroom can make a strong impression on admissions committees. Of course, intellectual curiosity can only get you so far if you don’t have initiative and drive. Colleges value applicants who take initiative, set goals, and work diligently to achieve them.

Open-mindedness is another trait highly valued by admissions officers. Those with empathy, compassion, and a commitment to positively impacting their communities will do well in a college setting. Participation in community service projects, volunteering, or advocacy work highlights a student’s concern for others and desire to create positive change in the world.

Students should also be team players. Working effectively as part of a team, collaborating with others, and contributing to collective goals is essential for success in college and beyond. Admissions officers look for applicants who demonstrate strong interpersonal skills, cooperation, and a willingness to collaborate with peers and faculty.

Why Students Should Join Reality Changers

If you’re considering applying to college but aren’t sure where to begin, we can help. Reality Changers provides comprehensive support for aspiring first-generation college students. From homework helping to assistance with college essays and applications, we equip students with the tools and guidance they need to maximize their chances of admission.

Reality Changers offers tutoring, academic mentoring, and enrichment programs to help students excel academically. Whether students need help with homework, study skills, or preparing for exams, we provide personalized support to ensure that every student reaches their full potential.

Our team connects students with a wide range of resources and opportunities, including college scholarships, internships, and career exploration programs. Using these resources, students can expand their horizons, explore new interests, and access opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach.

We also provide ongoing support to students throughout their college journey and beyond. Whether students need assistance with financial aid, academic advising, or career planning, Reality Changers supports them every step of the way, ensuring they have the tools and resources they need to succeed in college and beyond. Get involved today!


Still have questions about what do colleges look for? Our handy FAQ section is here to address your most burning questions:

Does the Student Council Look Good for College?
Colleges are always on the lookout for student leaders. Involvement in student council shows that you’re a team player committed to serving your school community. Admissions officers value these extracurricular activities, indicating a well-rounded and engaged student.

Do Colleges Look At Your GPA for All Four Years?
What are colleges looking for when it comes to GPA? They typically look at all four years of your GPA to track your progress and gauge your evolution. Colleges also consider factors such as the rigor of your course load, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and personal essays when making admissions decisions.

Does Having a Job Look Good for College?
Having a job demonstrates responsibility, time management skills, and a commitment to balancing academics with real-world experience. Colleges often value applicants with work experience because it shows that they are proactive and capable of handling responsibilities outside the classroom.

Does Playing a Sport Look Good for College?
Playing a sport can enhance your college application. Colleges often value the discipline, teamwork, leadership, and time management skills students gain through sports participation. While playing a sport can be beneficial, it’s just one aspect of a well-rounded application, and admissions decisions are based on various factors.

Does Playing an Instrument Look Good for College?
Have you ever wondered what extracurricular activities colleges look for? Playing an instrument can bolster your college applications. While different schools prioritize different extracurriculars, a background in music can catch admissions officers’ eye. It showcases dedication, discipline, and a passion for the arts, all valuable qualities in a prospective student.


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