What Do Colleges Look For?

When colleges and universities assess potential students, they want to feel comfortable they are accepting a well-rounded and, most of all, prepared student; one who will succeed at their institution.  Ranked in order of importance, most colleges review the following aspects of student applicants:


Course Schedule

Colleges want to see you have challenged yourself in high school.  Taking “cupcake classes” will not prepare you for the rigors of college and admissions personnel know this.  Start early, this is not something to consider when scheduling for your last semester of high school.

Standardized Test Scores


Schools look for a solid score, but this does not mean a perfect 36 on your ACT, or blowing the roof off the SAT (that will now be administered in Michigan High Schools).  Admissions personnel want to see your ability to perform well on standardized tests, but just because you receive a 19 does not mean you will not get into a good school.  Work hard, retake the test, and show improvement.  Most students who make the effort to retake standardized tests see some gain in score, simply by being more familiar with the testing experience. (Remember, TRIO UB and TRIO TS offer two fee waivers to take or retake the ACT or SAT; it doesn't hurt to take both.)

High School Grades

If you bombed Biology as a freshman, this does not mean you will not be accepted at a good school.  Still, admissions personnel want to see consistency and improvement also known as an "upward trajectory".  This means colleges appreciate student growth. Take difficult classes, and do your best in them.  Grades are not everything, but remember that they are a part of the whole package colleges are looking for. 


Think of a related story about you no one else will have.  Admissions personnel want to see you as a person, not a robotic student or boxes on an application.  Talk about life experiences that set you apart from other students and how you are a well-rounded applicant.  There a essay writing tips online and/or ask for support from teachers, friends, and family as well. 

Extra-curricular Activities

Schools want to see you are a leader more than being an all-conference player.  Students who are leaders in and outside of the classroom and have good grades are ideal college students.  These students show their ability to juggle various responsibilities, while maintaining a good GPA.  Work hard, be involved, and don’t forget about volunteerism when you are completing college applications.  Colleges respect students who have continual relationships and experiences with the people or organizations they volunteer with in their communities, as they seek such impact and postivie attitude on their campuses.


Letters of Recommendation

Collect at least three letters of recommendation from people who know you well as a student and/or leader.  Examples are teachers, principals, coaches, and other school personnel, as well as other important people in your life - supervisors where you might volunteer/work, clergy, personnel in sports or activities outside of school (TRIO Pre-College Programs staff), and anyone else who can say what a great person you are.  Please do not forget to request these letters with plenty of time to spare. 

Tips and worksheet for obtaining Letters of Recommendation - Click Here


Include anything that shows admissions personnel who YOU are and what sets you apart from others.  This might even be a personal letter about something that sets you apart from your peers.  Another example might be to include a note about retaking the ACT test and the fact you are sending your score to the school.  Take the initiative to separate yourself from the application and show "who YOU are". This is a difficult task, so do not be afraid to ask for help.  It is important to know what colleges look for, while also investigating your best fit.