What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?
A fundamental truth of the admissions process is that schools’ decisions depend as much on their institutional needs as on an applicant’s record. Admissions professionals at each school are building communities–educational communities–but they are looking at education in the broadest sense. Consequently, while academics are a critical component, more central to the decision making is what an applicant will bring to the community. Every applicant need not have a special talent, an all-around good guy is important, as is a great academic record, but applicants must recognize that they are pieces in puzzles being assembled by admissions offices across the country.
Strong grades in a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. After these first major academic requirements, then it depends on the mission and needs of each college. Certain schools may use the SAT scores in considering candidates, other schools are test-optional. Some schools weigh extracurricular interests and leadership potential more heavily than recommendations and essays. For other colleges, the essay plays an important role. Some admission offices utilize the evaluations from interviews while others consider the interviews to be informative rather than evaluative. Each admissions office has its own mandate and requirements.
Admissions officers are looking for students that will best thrive and contribute to the unique milieu at their college. Specifically strong grades in a rigorous curriculum along with strong standardized test scores are seen first. Then they look for well written and thoughtful essays, leadership in a community, athletic or artistic talent, and desire to attend.
Basically, almost everything that makes ones a good friend, citizen, and person also makes them attractive to an admissions officer.
Great grades and maturity.
1. Great grades.
2. Strong academic classes, including AP and honors (Ivies want to see that you have exhausted your coursework at your high school and achieved consistent excellence).
3. Maturity. If you have done poorly in a semester or two, admissions officers want to see you take responsibility for it without placing blame on various people or situations.
4. They want to see that you have not sacrificed your grades for too many extracurriculars.
5. They want to see that you have settled on one or two extracurricular interests and have pursued leadership opportunities.
6. Excellent writing and thinking skills. The fact is, anyone’s Mom can write the essay, and it can be just as readily purchased off the Internet. So admissions may or may not formally count the SAT writing score in the application process, but they will definitely take note of how well you did.
7. They want to see that you followed their instructions.
The admissions process is purely subjective. Each admissions officer looks for different things. But one thing is for certain–you must stand out from other applicants. Each applicant needs to market themselves to the admissions officer. Find a hook and make yourself shine. Spend time on your essay and your personal statements. Those are documents they look at and hook them.
Having acceptable #’s, a successful interview, has had correspondence with admissions personnel or the Provost or has met them personally. Going out of your way to impress upon them that you want that precious, all-important admission ticket!
Here is my video response to the question.
One of the main myths students have when it comes to university admissions is in thinking all universities look at are their grades, when in reality, universities look at the whole person. They look into academics, extracurricular activities, summer jobs or internships, after school jobs, community service, and some schools require a personal statement or personal essay. This essay or statement should reflect what the students have gone through, without going into details such as extracurricular, etc… For example, are there any factors that have prevented you from obtaining better grades? Did you overcome any obstacle during high school? Anything that the regular admission application doesn’t ask. Remember, they want to know who you are, not a make believe person. Be truthful!
On May 28, 2009, eleven years after she began her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, 41 year old Cathy Watkins delivered the valedictorian speech to her fellow classmates.
Watkin’s classmates are also her fellow inmates at a maximum security state prison for women. In her speech, she reminded her audience that, “Even though these walls can restrict our physical movement, they cannot restrict our imagination, nor our connection to the outside world.”
While many students graduating from college this year may not know what the future holds, Watkins and many of her classmates who graduated from the Marymount Manhattan College program with bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees and high school equivalency diplomas know that their future will play out within prison walls. The question is simply how they will stimulate their intellect.
For those who return to the outside world, there is promise. According to Marymount Manhattan’s president, Judson R. Shaver, the relapse rate for women who have been through the program is zero.
Most admission officers, if asked, will tell you that they are looking for students who are well-rounded, involved, academically motivated, and who have demonstrated success in the classroom. Depending on the individual programs to which a student is applying, admission officers may be looking for more specific criteria such as an art portfolio, additional testing (i.e. TOEFL for international students), or auditions for performance majors.
This question will probably be answered differently by each admission officer that you asked. But, for the most part they are looking for well rounded students. Meaning they want students with good test scores, good GPA and curriculum and involved outside of the classroom. However, in any given year they might also be looking for more women, athletes, anthropology majors etc. It will depend on what they have determined that they need that year.
High School course Rigor
Letters of Recommendations
These are a few of the things. If an office brings you in for an interview, then we want to see that you can form clear and concise thoughts. We want to see a level of maturity, and we are looking for intellectual originality.
Harvard’s admissions office is sorting through more than 4,000 applications for students who applied to the College under an early action plan, Harvard has implemented Single-Choice Early Action this year.
Students admitted under this plan could not apply to other colleges under Early Decision or Early Action.
Students’ fate and future are held hostage until Harvard decides, in mid-December, who is in or out of the first round of applicants. Harvard’s website clearly states that their isn’t a minimum SAT score required for consideration, but data drawn from their Common Data Set, reveals the facts on last year’s entering class.
More than 30,000 applications were received last year for the entering class of 2011. Ninety-one percent of 2011 applicants submited SAT scores and 32% submitted ACT scores.
The middle 50% of students’ SAT scores for Critical Reading: 690-800; Math 700-790; Writing 710-800. The ACT range for the middle 50% was 31 – 34. Harvard doesn’t consider class rank, a question asked on the Common Application, the online application shared by several hundred colleges.
For students who attend highly selective public or private high schools, such as Lowell High School in San Francisco, Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, CA or Hunter College High School in Manhattan, class rank could put otherwise highly qualified students at the bottom of that list.
Harvard’s practice is a benefit to students who might, for example, rank in the bottom 25% of a high school class that is made up exclusively of academically talented students.
Harvard isn’t looking for students with just good grades and high test scores. Their admissions website goes into great detail about how they craft their entering class. Extracurricular activities, leadership, service, and work experience are all considered.
They seek well-rounded students, “lopsided” students wtih achievements in research or extracurricular activites, students with unusual backgrounds, and most importantly, students who will in combination make for a dynamic learning environment.
That desire for creating a dynamic learning community means that there is no way to game the system. While one student may have a flawless academic record, another student might offer the university a special talent in music or the performing arts, a history of scientific research, or speak four languages.
Nonetheless, like other highly selective universities, the admission rates are low, and hundreds, if not thousands, of bright and talented students will be turned away. Last year 2,205 students were offered admission at Harvard.
Most college deadlines haven’t passed. Students who aren’t accepted under Early Action or Early Decision plans still have time to complete applications to other universities. Students shouldn’t consider these other colleges “back-up schools.” They should only apply to colleges where they would be happy to go –even if it isn’t considered a highly selective school.
Students who have done their research wlll find many outstanding colleges that will provide a terrific undergraduate experience. Within that well-chosen list, admission to any college should be considered a success.
That depends on the college to which the applicant is applying. Some of the larger schools, such as Penn State and Rutgers are concerned primarily with the numbers–your GPA and your standardized test scores. Regardless of your leadership position in clubs, volunteer activities, or sports under your belt, if you don’t have the right numbers, you will not make the cut for such colleges (unless you are a superstar athlete).
Other schools take a more holistic approach to the admissions process. True, GPA and standardized test scores may be important, but so are the rigor of your classes (i.e., whether you are challenging yourself or taking an easier road), you clubs and sport activity, volunteer work, student government, letters of recommendation, your essay, and possible work history.
The most important thing you can do if you are wondering about what admissions officers at a certain college are looking for in an applicant is to contact the admissions department itself. The question, “What are you looking for in a successful applicant” is a fair one, and one that most admissions officers would be more than happy to answer for you. Granted, you may not know exactly what happens during the closed-door application review process, but you will be more informed than applying without that knowledge. Remember, you should look for a college that is a good “fit” for you. Part of that fit deals with whether the admissions department will look at those portions of your application that truly shine.
They want to see someone who is balanced, self motivated, someone who will be an asset to their learning community. They often want to see students who have considered other options, and who understand the advantages of attending their university.
The answer to this is “it depends on which college” you are talking about. All colleges like to see a challenging curriculum, good grades, and solid test scores. They like to see students who have dedicated interests, do community service, play sports. There is room at most colleges for many different types of individual, and this is the best kind of student body to be a part of.
More than anything else, admissions officers are looking for student who will be a good fit for their university. They are looking for applicants who, not only represent themselves well, but represent the college in a very positive light, as well. This is why it is important to be genuine and truly yourself as you apply to schools. Put your best foot forward, but remember that it is most important to be yourself. Every college is looking for something a little different.
Having acceptable #’s, a successful interview, has had correspondence with admissions personnel or the Provost or has met them personally. Going out of your way to impress upon they that you want that precious, all-important admission ticket!
Admissions counselors are looking for students who have grit, resilience, are humble, wise, and demonstrate courage, to name just a few desireable character traits. They want you to have something to offer the college community. That could be a political bent, interest in community service, musical ability, athletic prowess, etc. Schools are looking for students who will be engaged while on campus, both academically and socially.
They want a student who will be successful, interested, focused, and engaging in college classes. They want a student who has the will to work hard and do his/her best. They want someone who will contribute to the college community in a positive way. If you can show admission officers that you have these qualities, they will be more likely to offer you admission.
The biggest factor they look at is: Is this student academically prepared to be successful at our college/university. So you can show that by classes you’ve taken, grades in those classes, ACT/SAT tests, and letter of recommendation from teachers. Admissions officers are also looking for student who get involved and are engaged in their community. Well-rounded students have a much better chance of acceptance than “flat” students. Clubs, activities, community service, athletics, employment, leadership, and other hobbies are all ways to show multiple sides of you. If there isn’t an “organized activity” that you are wanting, innovation (creating your club or activity) is a huge asset to your application.
Admissions officers look for students who are engaged, curious, honest, eager to learn and willing to contribute to the vibrancy of the campus. Most colleges hope to attract a diverse pool of students whose unique and individual perspectives and experiences will enhance learning opportunities for all. Whether strong in athletics, the arts or science or gifted in special talent or kindness of spirit, students who can express their intellectual curiosity and an excitement for what lies ahead are generally well sought after. Although most admissions folks are forgiving of the bumps in the road that students experience growing up, they do become cautious when they suspect patterns of bad behavior that may be detrimental to the common good. I always advise my more impetuous students to reflect on ways to continue to embrace their notions of freedom of expression while considering the plight of a committee charged with creating a freshmen class that is welcoming and glad to be there.
What admissions offers look for in an applicant will ultimately depend on the type of college or university they represent. While most schools place a fair amount of emphasis on grades and SAT scores, many are looking for a well-rounded student with potential. In addition to looking for maturity, commitment, and intellectual potential, admissions officers are also interested in what the school will gain from an applicant. How will you contribute to scholarship? How will you contribute socially? These are more subjective factors that can make a difference between falling in the “maybe” pile and the “accepted” pile. Given that an SAT score or your high school grades are simply objective measures of your academic performance and ability, you need to show schools your other strengths through your essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters. Make sure your resume or list of activities shows you can commit to tasks with long-term projects or group memberships. Also, involvement in a diverse array of activities can suggest your flexibility, adaptability, and curiosity. In your essays, show your strengths and potential in creative ways, through narrative descriptions and examples. The more diverse your experiences, the more you’ll have to write about, and the more depth you can demonstrate to admissions staff who only know you as stats and text. If you’re interested in starting student organizations or have an idea for research, make sure you share that. Also make sure your letter writers mention notable achievements. If you’re not sure they will, gently remind them what you feel will be important to include in your letter. Think about how you can set yourself apart from the pack. This can be in impressive school endeavors or thought provoking essays that show how your mind works and what’s important to you. Keep in mind that the more selective the school, the more they will look for these objective measures of your potential.
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The sources for school statistics and data is the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
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