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What Are Colleges Looking For?

Mike Pugh

June 04, 2008

What Are Colleges Looking For?

Extracurricular activities

While academics are key, colleges also want students who will enhance their campus community in some special way. They seek students who will be leaders, communicators and active members of their college community. "We look for interesting volunteer work, internships, athletic achievement and other good extracurricular activities when we evaluate a student," says Kate Wells, former admissions officer at State University of New York College at Potsdam.

But don't start joining organizations by the dozen for appearance's sake. "In-depth participation in one or two extracurricular activities is preferred over superficial membership in many," says Diane E. Epstein, a certified educational consultant.

That extra "something"

With all the qualified applications coming in, colleges are frequently looking for the elusive extra "something" that can set a student apart from the crowd. This can be any number of things: job experience, involvement with a certain group or even the extra enthusiasm or thought that a student puts into their essay.

That extra "something" can also be an obstacle overcome: financial hardship, English as a second language, serious health problems. "Something special a kid has overcome will make them appealing," says Sue Bigg, a Chicago-based educational consultant.

Finding the right match

When admissions officers review your application, they'll be looking to make a good match. You need to show them that you've chosen them for the right reasons. At the same time, try to show colleges your "real" self.

If you offer a glimpse of the individual behind the grades and the test scores, you'll help the admissions officers make your perfect college match.

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