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What Does it Mean to be a Great Student Now for College Admissions?

The college admissions process has become increasingly more competitive and selective in how students are chosen each year to be admitted to the next year’s entering class, especially at the more competitive colleges. The application pool is not only increasing in size, but also in how students have made an impact during their high school years.

Earning acceptance into a great college is the big goal for most students. But what does it mean to be a great student with respect to college admissions, especially in a constantly ever-changing college admissions landscape? We are going to break down how students should develop themselves in a way that leads to success in their college admissions goals.

In a “nutshell”, college admission officers want to see students who have developed themselves to their fullest potential. They want to see bright, vibrant, engaged, curious, and passionate individuals; but more importantly, they want to see that students have shown through action how they have developed over time, and how they have contributed to their school and community in meaningful, significant, and impactful ways. Those students who passionately pursue their education, both inside and outside of the classroom, and who are constantly growing, learning, and contributing, and understand that developing oneself in a comprehensive manner, rather than singularly focused, are the students who have the most success in earning acceptances.

Let’s break this down more:

First, it’s important to remember that colleges, above anything else, are academic institutions. Therefore, college admission officers place great weight on student’s academic performance. They want to see through a student’s grades, mastery and proficiency of course material. Grades represent a student’s promise and potential in school. What better indicator of a student’s ability to be successful in college than assessing the student’s high school academic performance.

College admission officers also want to see that students have been pushing and stretching themselves with the courses offered in their high schools. They want to see that students took competitive course loads, if possible, when they had the opportunity to do so. The strength of the curriculum is an important factor in the college admissions formula. Taking “weighted” classes that are more rigorous, and performing well in these courses, is an important component to the college admissions formula. Therefore, whenever possible, and if the student feels that he/she can perform well, taking more advanced, honor’s, AP and/or IB coursework is beneficial.

However, it is not only what students do inside of the classroom that is important. It’s also important what students do outside of the classroom. There is more to a student than just going to classes, studying for quizzes and tests, and performing academically well. Colleges want students who demonstrate the full expression of themselves, both inside and outside the classroom. They want students who have cultivated their interests and passions, and who have taken full advantage of their high school and community resources to develop themselves.

This is where many students fall short with their college admissions strategy and game plan. They do not develop themselves in extracurricular activities including clubs, organizations, and service-based opportunities. Taking an active approach outside of a student’s coursework and cultivating interests, talents, and abilities while pursuing those areas that align with their long-term growth, development, and college and career goals is how students will not only grow as individuals, but will allow them to be more attractive to college admission officers.

Lastly, college admission officers want to know personal qualities about students including their mindset, values, core beliefs, and what drives them as human beings. They want to know what students find important, and why? What is meaningful? Also, they want to know about student’s maturity, character, leadership ability, self-confidence, sense of humor, and how compassionate they are. Understanding the students through college admission essays, interviews, and/or portfolios that may be requested as part of the college application process is one way college admission officers assess students’ personal qualities and values in relation to their mission statement, core beliefs, and philosophy. Leading a life of integrity, service to the community, and being a person of strong character and values is an important ingredient for success in college admissions.

In summary, being a great student comes down to being the “best version” of oneself each day and growing to one’s fullest potential, both inside and outside of the classroom, in a comprehensive way. College admission officers like to see that students have really been pushing themselves, have not been passive and apathetic about their educational pursuits and the way they run their lives. They want to see driven, ambitious, passionate, curious, and talented students who have led vibrant, productive, and impactful lives. Colleges want to fill their student body class with interesting, talented, and serious students who will grow and learn, and contribute as much as they benefit from the education that will be offered to them.

Being a great student begins with the mindset, personal desire, drive, and wanting to be successful in the pursuit of educational goals—and being successful means continued growth and pushing oneself to develop to the best of one’s abilities.

Dr. Jeff & Dr. Brian Haig