The college admissions process can seem like a mystery, with students and parents often wondering what exactly admissions officers are looking for. Understanding these key qualities can help students present themselves as strong, well-rounded candidates. Here’s an insight into what admissions officers typically seek:

Academic Achievement and Rigor: A strong academic record remains a fundamental criterion. This includes not just high grades but also the rigor of courses taken. Admissions officers look for students who challenge themselves with advanced or honors courses in their areas of strength.

Passion and Commitment: Colleges seek students who demonstrate deep commitment to their interests, whether it’s in academics, extracurricular activities, sports or community service. Long-term dedication and passion in certain areas suggest that a student will bring that same enthusiasm to their college community.

Leadership and Initiative: Leadership experience is highly valued, but this doesn’t mean holding a title. It’s about demonstrating the ability to lead, inspire or make a difference, whether in a club, a team or a volunteer organization.

Character and Personal Qualities: Admissions officers look beyond academics and extracurriculars. Qualities like resilience, empathy, creativity and a willingness to take intellectual risks are important. Essays, recommendation letters and interviews are opportunities for students to showcase these traits.

Diversity of Perspective and Background: Colleges aim to create a diverse and dynamic student body. Students who can offer a unique perspective or who have overcome significant challenges add to the richness of the campus community.

Fit with the Institution: Admissions officers also consider how well a student’s goals, values and interests align with what their institution offers. Demonstrating an understanding of and a genuine interest in the college can make a student a more attractive candidate.

In summary, while grades and test scores are important, admissions officers look for well-rounded individuals who exhibit a blend of academic success, personal qualities and a genuine interest in learning and contributing to the college community.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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