Top 10 things colleges look for in a student |

Top 10 things colleges look for in a student

What are colleges looking for this year as they get ready to accept applications for the freshman class of 2013? According to The Independent Educational Consultant’s Association, a national association of independent college counselors, there are 10 top strengths and experiences that colleges look for.

1 — A high school transcript that shows an academically challenging curriculum. Colleges look for students who are not afraid to take on a challenge, and that includes honors or advanced placement courses. The University of California campuses have a list of all classes offered at each high school and look to see that prospective students have taken advantage of rigorous courses offered.

2 — Grades that represent a strong effort and an upward trend. If you are a student who had a poor freshman or sophomore year, improving your academic performance is important. The junior year is an especially important year as it is the last full year of grades colleges review before deciding on students.

3 — Solid scores on the SAT or ACT. Most colleges still require these tests, and taking them more than once can help improve your score. For students with high grades, but low-test scores, there are a number of colleges where testing is optional. For a list of these colleges check out

4 — Passionate involvement in a few activities. These activities should demonstrate leadership and initiative. Serious dedication to one or two activities is much preferred over a causal interest in many clubs or community agencies. Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important.

5 — Community service that shows evidence of being a “contributor.” Students should engage in activities that help people and show a commitment and dedication to a cause.

6 — Work or out-of-school experiences that illustrate responsibility, dedication and development of areas of interest. This can include summer work or volunteer experiences. Students who maintain high grades and are able to hold down a job show maturity and responsibility to college admissions officials.

7 — A well written essay or personal statement. The essay should provide insight into the student’s unique personality, values and goals. A mistake students often make is to rehash information that is included in their application. Essays should be thoughtful and free of spelling and grammatical errors.

8 — Positive letters of recommendation. Most private colleges require at least one letter from a teacher and one letter from a high school guidance counselor. These letters should reflect your positive academic performance, integrity and positive contribution to the classroom.

9 — Additional recommendations from adults who know the student well. This is most often coaches or supervisors who work with students in paid or unpaid work or activities.

10 — Anything special that makes the student stand out from other applicants. College campuses like to admit students who will be a valuable contributor to their campuses. This can include athletics, visual and preforming arts, debate, ethnic or cultural diversity.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who worked for the Nevada Joint Union High School District for twenty years. Jill currently operates a college admissions consulting business and can be reached at or at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User