Beyond Grades and GPA: What Are Colleges Looking for?
While your grades, class rank and test scores are important, they aren’t the full picture of who you are. College admissions officers are looking for candidates with curiosity, passion and persistence that will make an incoming class with diverse interests and backgrounds.
Now that you’ve got the scores and grades you want, it’s time to put the final touches on your college application. Here’s what you should focus on as a junior or senior in high school.
If You're A Junior
Start researching colleges and going on visits. Talk to your college counselor about what you want out of your college experience. Access to environmental internships? A prestigious campus newspaper? Think about what’s important to you in terms of academics, campus culture and financial aid. What are the features of your best fit college?
Keep up with your extracurriculars. Commitment to a sport, hobby or job over four years of high school is much more compelling than a smorgasbord of scattered activities. What you do with your time shows colleges who you are and what qualities you’ll bring to campus.
Build relationships with your teachers. You’ll end up asking at least two of them (and maybe a coach, adviser or employer) to write letters of recommendation for you later. Participate in class, ask for help when you need it and keep in touch with the teachers you like most.
Make your summer count. Some students enroll in university programs to start earning college credits. Others dive into outdoor activities or find a summer job. Whatever you do, your summer activities can make your college application stand out from those of your peers.
If You're A Senior
Compare colleges and make your final list. Talk to your counselors about researching your best options, and try to visit as many of the schools you’re considering as possible. You should be able to articulate WHY the schools on your list are a good fit for you (something you may be asked to do in an application essay or college interview!)
Finesse your interview skills. Since many colleges consider optional interviews as part of your application, it’s a smart idea to prepare seriously. Practice with a parent or friend, and spend some time drafting a list of creative questions to ask (that can’t be answered by skimming the admissions website).
Polish your college essays. Look at your personal statement from the point of view of an admissions officer. Is your essay interesting? Does it reveal something about you? Triple check that your essay is free of typos, spelling mistakes and grammar errors.
Ask your teachers for recommendation letters. Give your teachers plenty of notice and all the tools they need to write a fantastic letter. Copies of your transcript, personal statement and a list of your extracurricular activities will help them with specific examples for their glowing rec letter!