Summer is winding down and high school seniors are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their college essays (or perhaps, just beginning their college essays); but let us not forget about high school freshmen, sophomores , and juniors. It is very important for them to know what colleges are looking for in an applicant so that they can begin to build their profile as a future candidate. Colleges are not looking for grade grubbers, for there are more perfect SAT – perfect GPA students out there than ever. Being in the top 1% of one’s class is no longer held an extraordinary feat, but a lesson in survival of the fittest. In order to make yourself stand out, take time for self-reflection in order to probe who you are and how you can accentuate your strengths and demonstrate your motivation through academics, extracurricular, work, community service, etc.
To know exactly what college admissions officers seek may require a crystal ball for some selective colleges and universities; however, there are several common characteristics that all institutions take into consideration. Admissions officers generally assess the student’s standardized test scores, the rigor of a student’s curriculum, as well as the student’s grades in his classes. This information is reviewed for the sake of identifying consistency and breadth in the student’s performance. Overall trends and patterns in a student’s academic history are looked at closely to see if standardized test scores reflect the academic performance shown in a student’s transcript. Nuances can reveal such things as whether: a student’s academic performance is consistent; there is an ebb and flow of success; a student met with success by challenging himself with rigorous classes or remained in “safety classes” for fear of mediocrity. As one begins his career as a high school student, a consistent demonstration of mastery from the beginning to end of a student’s secondary education indicates to the applicant’s reviewer that the student is competent, mature, and determined. Additionally, success is not defined just in terms of a letter grade. Of course, this does not mean that one should take the most difficult classes and be satisfied with a very poor grade. What it does mean is that you should want to challenge your mind and not be bored. If you are achieving the top grades for the level in which you are enrolled and it is possible to take a higher class, it would be good to consider well how your skills would match the challenges which a course of the higher level would present. If you are confident that you can ascend to doing the higher level course work, why not?
Next, colleges look at extracurricular involvement to determine the person behind the application. Balancing the time spent after school, on evenings, weekends, and during summers is a very important part of getting to know how an applicant will fit in on campus and whether he or she can mesh with the college’s culture. Admitting students based solely on academic criteria is one-dimensional ; but looking at a person’s interests and characteristics in addition to grades contributes to a richer perspective. An appreciation of all of these particular facets paints a much broader picture and a better image emerges of who the person is.
The quality of the effort which a student devotes to his activities is more valuable than the quantity of those activities. A college does not need to see that a student has committed to every single club which his school has to offer. The level of engagement should reflect a connection to the student’s interests and abilities. For example, leadership demonstrated by serving as a student government officer, by fulfilling internship at a senators office, or by volunteering at a local hospital and compounding these interests with lasting participation throughout high school is looked upon favorably. In short, it is better to be seriously involved in several activities or clubs than to be floating through multitudes of fleeting ones. Involvement should be meaningful and measurable. If you can answer how your involvement made a difference , you are on the right track. One should look at your resume and be able to see clearly the initiative you have shown, the influence you have made, the recognition you have earned, the determination you have shown, and the intellectual curiosity that sets you apart from the rest. Anyone can load his or her resume with fluff, but an admission’s officer will see right through that and look for the candidates whose qualities glisten with passion, focus, maturity, ingenuity, an responsibility.
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