The Ultimate “Back-to-School” Blueprint!

This blog is focused on giving students a successful “back-to-school” game plan and strategy so that students will be able to follow a game plan that is aligned with what college admission officers look for in a successful college admissions applicant.

Comprehensive Review Process

The first thing that students need to understand is that the college admissions “blueprint” focuses on a comprehensive review process that has both a quantitative component and a qualitative component.

Students need to realize that universities are first and foremost academic institutions. Therefore, college admission officers look for students who are “academically focused” and who have demonstrated proficiency of course material, mastery of subject matter, and most importantly, have conveyed this knowledge through their performance in the core subjects. The core subjects are the A-G coursework as defined below:


A = History / Social Sciences
B = English
C = Mathematics
D = Science
E = Foreign Language
F = Visual and Performing Arts
G = College Preparatory Elective

The above core subjects make up the biggest part of the quantitative profile for college admissions, and therefore students should place a great emphasis on earning the highest grades possible.

Strength of Course Planning

Next, all courses aren’t equal. There are different types of courses with different levels of complexity and rigor. There are standard courses, honors coursework, and AP and IB coursework. Students should push themselves to the best of their abilities while keeping mental health and well-being the most important factor, obviously.

Each student is different and unique, and has college admission goals that are personalized to him/her, and therefore should push themselves in coursework that makes sense to their level of ability, and their desired college admission goals.

The general rule is: the more competitive the university the student is desiring to attend, the more competitive the course load the student should be taking.

Standardized Test Scores

Next, to assess proficiency of course material, and to be able to compare students’ mastery of course material from one high school and class to another high school and class, standardized tests are used by many university admission officers.

Standardized tests give admission officers the ability to use an “equal measuring stick” to compare one student’s proficiency of course material against another student’s. This is why anytime there are standardized tests including SAT/ACT and AP or IB exams, students should take these tests very seriously. These tests can be the determining factor of a student’s ability to earn an acceptance into their choice college.

Qualitative Factors

However, grades and standardized test scores are not enough to earn admission into many universities, especially the competitive ones. The more competitive the university, the more the admission officers rely on a comprehensive, holistic review process because admission officers aren’t looking for just straight “A” students, but more interesting, dynamic, impactful and unique students.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are incredibly important in the growth and development of a student which is why admission officers place great weight on factors including clubs, organizations, and service-based initiatives. Through taking part in extracurricular activities, students are able to complement their academic curriculum studies by growing and developing in areas of their interest, especially those related to their future college major, and career choice.

When students join extracurricular activities, what really matters is not so much joining activities, but what the student does in the activities he/she joins. Students should have meaningful involvement, significant contributions, and cultivate their interests and passions in exciting and impactful ways.

Also, leadership in activities—going above and beyond just a “membership” role is looked on with great favorability by admission officers. They aren’t looking for followers, but leaders who are able to lead in some interesting and compelling way.

And you don’t have to lead a big organization, or have to be leading many individuals if the student tends to be shy and introverted. However, the student should have some demonstrated leadership in some capacity if he/she desires to be more competitive for college admissions.

Depth of involvement, and consistent involvement in the activities a student joins is also important along with understanding that clubs and organizations are there for one sole purpose: to allow students to grow to the best of their abilities in unique, impactful, and exciting ways!

Letters of Recommendation 

Letters of recommendation are incredibly important to college applications as they can “make” or “break” an application depending on how much weight they carry. Students are evaluated on many different criteria including the following:

Academic achievement, intellectual promise, quality of writing, productive class discussion, respect accorded by faculty, disciplined work habits, maturity, motivation, leadership, integrity, reaction to setbacks, concern for others, self-confidence, initiative, and independence.

Students should try to get letters of recommendation from teachers who they earned an “A” grade in their coursework. Also, students should get letters of recommendation from teachers in the core A-G coursework.

Lastly, students should only ask teachers who will be their “cheerleader” and write compelling, impactful letters of support.

Internships/Work Experience

Getting real-world experience taking part in an exciting internship, or getting a part-time job in your chosen field, or pursuing innovative research allow students to grow in their chosen areas of interest while adding to their college admissions story. Taking an active role in these type of areas can really add meaningful weight to your application through real-world applications and projects that can truly allow a student to learn and grow in compelling and rich ways!

Personal Character

University admission officers have a vested interest to attract students of integrity, high morals and ethics, and who have demonstrated to have strong initiative. Also, they want action-oriented “get stuff done” students. They want students who take action and who have demonstrated they are willing to put in the work, fail forward to successful outcomes, and who don’t live their lives in the “comfort zone.”

College Admission officers want students who are growth-minded, continually learning and who are open-minded, and collaborative. They also want students who are inclusive, tolerant, respectful, and embrace diversity.


Students who are vibrant, curious, intellectually driven, and who have shown a passion for continual growth, learning, and contributing is what they are after.

Lastly, and above all, they are interested in students who have demonstrated that they want to use their talents and abilities to better the world in some way. Making a positive and meaningful difference and serving at the high school, community, and world is ultimately what will be a driving force for how decisions are made for who is admitted to colleges and who is not.

We hope this educational blog resource has helped you in your path to make strategic decisions in how to get the most out of your educational journey.

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To Your Success!

Drs. Jeff and Brian Haig