What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?

Allen Regar

What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?

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.

Janet Elfers

What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?

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.

Renee Boone
The College Advisor

What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?

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.

Lina D'Orazio
Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology University of Southern California

What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?

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.