What Looks Good on a College Application?
When you’re crafting your college application, you’re essentially giving a self-report of the last four years. You want to portray yourself in a way that impresses colleges and makes you seem like a good candidate. It’s important to start thinking about college early on in high school so that you can develop a strong academic and extracurricular profile that will give you a leg up on your college applications.
What is an academic and extracurricular profile that will impress colleges? To learn more, read on.
Straight A’s/An Upward Grade Trend
Your transcript is one of the first things that colleges will evaluate on your application, and for some of the more competitive universities, it may be a deal breaker. The top colleges expect their students to have straight A’s, or at least pretty close. If you don’t have perfect grades, colleges expect you to at least show an upward grade trend.
An upward grade trend means that even if you didn’t start off freshman year with great grades, your grades improved steadily through junior year. Colleges take that as a sign that you were able to adapt to the new high school learning environment and develop your own study techniques.
Making an Impact On Your Extracurriculars
Colleges don’t necessarily care what extracurriculars you participate in. They would rather see you do what you love than see that you participated in all the extracurriculars that you think colleges will like.
However, what colleges DO want to see is that you took initiative in your activities. They want to see that you made an impact on the organization, whether it was planning an event, following through with a big project, or even doing some internal restructuring of the club or organization. You obviously don’t have to have a leadership position to make an impact, but if you can procure a leadership position in your extracurricular activity, it can certainly help your college applications.
A common question is whether depth or breadth is more desirable for extracurriculars. The Common Application offers 10 slots in the activities section. In our experience, the strongest and most successful applicants have 8-10 extracurriculars, with two or more high-level activities (involved leadership positions, state- or national-level awards, etc). What is even more impressive is when students have greatly-developed interests in two contrasting fields, like theatre and science. So, what ultimately makes you stand out is a mix of breadth and depth: two strong interests backed by a handful of activities each.
Ultimately, most people go to college so that they can secure a good job and start a career. If you show colleges that you have already held down a job, regardless of what it is, you are showing colleges that you already have some of the necessary skills that will help you thrive in the real world. Some of these skills include time management, organization, responsibility, and dependability.
It is in a college’s best interest to take students who show that they can handle real-life duties. After all, once students graduate from college and enter the workforce, they are a direct representation of the university’s efforts and educational quality.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no “magic number” of volunteer hours that colleges desire. Volunteering in itself is not incredibly impressive because it usually only involves participation. The exception, of course, is if you hold a leadership role or have started your own non-profit.
Still, colleges like to see people who were engaged in their community in some way. Volunteering is still helpful in applications because many colleges use your choice of volunteer work as an indicator of your interests and passions. Being able to juggle volunteer work with everything else you have going on as a high school student also shows colleges that you have good time management skills. It shows that you are willing to take on and successfully handle multiple responsibilities, even those that are not required of you.
Essays that Showcase Your Personality
Of course, your college essays need to be written with precise language, strong grammar and be overall of college student caliber. Colleges use your essays to make sure that your writing is on par with the expectations of the university. More than that, however, colleges read your essays to find out as much as they can about you, your interests, and your personality.
So even though you may be tempted to write your college essays in a very professional and erudite manner, you should really write your essays in your own voice. You also want to make sure that the content of your essays touch upon the core things that make you unique and not just the things that colleges want to hear. After reading your essays, the college should have a decent idea of who you are both as a student and as a person.
For More Information
Need more help with your college application? Feel free to consult these previous blog posts:
Need help with your college applications? Check out CollegeVine’s College Application Guidance Program, where you’ll work with your very own Applications Consultant and receive the guidance you need to succeed in the admissions process. We’ve helped over 6,000 students navigate the college admissions process, so we know what it takes to put together a successful application while making the process less stressful.