Top 10 Things Colleges Look for in a High-School Student

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What are college admissions officers looking for as they review your child's application? The admissions process varies and can be subjective to some degree, but here are 10 things that could help your child stand out and score acceptance letters from his or her favorite schools.

what colleges look for, female high school student studying for test
A Challenging High School Curriculum
A transcript that reflects the student takes on challenges can put her a step ahead. Academically successful students should include several honors and Advanced Placement classes.
what colleges look for, report card with good grades
Strong Grades and an Upward Trend
Admissions officers value grades that represent strong effort. Grades should show an upward trend over the years. However, slightly lower grades in a rigorous program are preferred to all A's in less challenging coursework.
what colleges look for, standardized test with pencil
Solid Scores on Standardized Tests
Scores on the SATs and ACTs carry considerable weight in the college admissions process. Scores should ideally be consistent with high school performance.
what colleges look for, boy playing cello instrument
Quality Involvement in Activities
Passionate involvement in a few activities — and a demonstration of leadership and initiative in those activities — can only help a student. Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important.
what colleges look for, group of student volunteers
A Record of Community Service
Community service activities serve as evidence of a student being a "contributor." Volunteer activities should demonstrate concern for other people and a global view.
what colleges look for, girl into the environment
Work or Out-of-School Experiences
Jobs, summer programs, and other out-of-school activities can demonstate a student's sense of responsibility, dedication, and personal development in areas of interest. Meaningful use of free time can show maturity.
what colleges look for, male high school student writing essay
A Well-Written Essay
A strong college essay provides insight into the student's unique personality, values, and goals. The application essay should be thoughtful and highly personal. It should demonstrate careful and well-constructed writing.
what colleges look for, male student getting help from teacher
Positive Recommendations from School Personnel
Hopefully the student's letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors give evidence of integrity, special skills, and positive character traits. Students should request recommendations from teachers who respect their work in an academic discipline.
what colleges look for, football coach watching game
Additional Recommendations from Adults Who Know the Student Well
Supplementary recommendations by adults who have had significant direct contact with the student can also bolster a college application. For example, letters from coaches or supervisors in long-term work or volunteer activities are valuable. However, recommendations from casual acquaintances or family friends, even if they're well known, are rarely given much weight.
what colleges look for, academic award certificate
Other Special Attributes or Awards
Don't overlook anything special that makes the student stand out from the rest of the applicants! Include honors, awards, evidence of unusual talent or experience, or anything else that makes the student unique. Overall, colleges are seeking students who will be active contributing members of the student body.

Check out other tips to help students nail their college application.

Published with permission from Independent Educational Consultants Association.