What Colleges Want

Elizabeth Hoyt

April 07, 2018

What Colleges Want
College admissions officers are forced to go through piles of mundane applications, so let yours reflect your individuality and you'll shine.
There's a reason college applications are comprised of more than your GPA and test scores. Admissions officers utilize all aspects of the application to assess if you’re right for the school you’re applying to. Who you are and the qualities you possess are important because you’ll become a part of the school, bringing any unique aspects of your individuality along with you. So, what type of person are colleges actually looking for? According to CollegeBoard, these are the top qualities that colleges look for when sifting through that pile of hopeful applicants.


Colleges value leaders. They look for students that will enhance the quality of life on campus for the students around them and for the future leaders of tomorrow. This quality will likely be indicated by your involvement in extracurricular activities and any leadership positions you may have held or taken part in, whether it’s in school on student council or organizing a food drive within your community.

Willingness to Take Risks

Are you the type of student to sit by and watch while others gain life experience? That’s what colleges really want to know. They want students with a hunger for life that hope to experience the world and will utilize every opportunity within their college environment to do so. This will likely be indicated through your personal statement or answers to any questions on the application. There you can detail your previous experiences, how you've grown and changed and how you’d like to push yourself further.
In addition, activities that are unusual or demonstrate your willingness to broaden your horizons into new areas will always help exhibit the risks you’re willing to take.


Students with initiative are resourceful, inventive and creative. Colleges want students with fresh ideas that are willing to take what they've learned, put their own spin on it and apply it to life.
When building a class, admissions officers must read tirelessly through essays. Students with initiative will likely stand out as those that took different approaches to essays or are active in school and the world around them.

Social Responsibility

Colleges are interested in students who are willing to go against the grain for what’s right and are conscious about the people and the world around them. Mainly, they want people that care about others, not just themselves. This will likely be indicated by your community outreach efforts, social activism, morals and values mentioned within your personal statement and any volunteer experience you may have.

Commitment to Service

A commitment to service not only demonstrates what you’re willing to take on and the type of moral fiber you possess but, also, that you take on tasks that are worthwhile. The indicators of your commitment to service are similar to that of social responsibility, though a little more example-related. Have you volunteered recently? Organized an event for your church? Tutored students? Any of these would be wonderful examples to demonstrate that you have a commitment to service. However, please note that it’s a commitment to service, not just service. If you volunteer one time and never go back that really doesn't demonstrate much service and it certainly doesn't demonstrate commitment. Make sure your examples are worthy and valid; you wouldn't want to appear flaky on your application, as that’s the opposite intent of adding such experiences.

Special Talents or Abilities

There’s not a college admissions office in existence that has the goal of creating a boring environment. If you have something special to offer, colleges want to hear about it. If you’re unique in any way, be proud of it and highlight it your applications. Whether it’s through an oddball hobby or groups you’re active in–make sure you put it down. Otherwise, they will likely never be aware of the individual that’s applied for admission. Make sure, of course, that the talents and abilities you list are appropriate but they can range from interesting and unusual to the downright bizarre, and that’s absolutely OK. Anything to help you stand out and be remembered as an individual is likely in your favor. It’s your job to make sure your application reflects who you are as both a student and a person. Admissions officers don’t just look at your essays to understand the type of person you are, there are other indicators as well such as your listed extracurricular activities, job experiences, activities and community involvement. Letters of recommendation will also help speak to the type of person you are and the type of character you possess. Make sure when asking teachers, counselors and other individuals to write letters of recommendation you’re asking people that are aware of both your academic strengths as well as the strength of your character. Keep in mind, however, that it’s not the number of extracurricular activities that’s important, it’s the quality of your experience and involvement that colleges are looking to learn about. By and large, college are looking to recruit a diverse group of individuals that will create a campus full of learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. In the end, read over your application. Do you feel it truly reflects who you are? It’s hard to communicate everything you’d like to, but you should be able to get the main aspects across. Would you be interested to learn more about the individual it reflects? If not, go back and add more details about yourself and your activities until you’re confident that your application will stand apart from the others.

What other qualities do you think colleges look for in potential students?

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