A rigorous course schedule through high school is important. Good grades are key. High SAT/ACT test scores certainly don't hurt. But what else are colleges looking for in students?
Genuine interest in the school
Colleges want students who show genuine and well-researched interest in their school. "A student who has gone beyond name recognition and reputation and has decided that the university's programs and environment are right for them is the ideal," says Andrew Bryan, a certified educational consultant at The Academic Institute, Inc.
Making concrete connections between what you want out of your education and what the college or university has to offer shows that you've done your homework. "Direct references to courses, programs or other academic opportunities demonstrate a level of interest that will immediately set a student apart in a crowd," says Scott Anderson, former admissions officer at Cornell University.
Interest in coursework
You need to demonstrate the same authentic interest in your proposed course of study.
"While admission officers want to hear about what kids want to study, the students are much more interested in telling us what they want to be. Lawyers. Doctors. Veterinarians. Investment bankers." Anderson says. "These professional goals are fine, but the reality is that law, medicine, and the like are not topics you can study as an undergraduate,"
Colleges would rather hear about the work you'll do before you enter the work world - such as your interest in geometry, philosophy, Peruvian literature or genetics.