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What U.S. Colleges Are Looking For

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

By Joseph Herion-Klunder One of the best independent sources of research, Independent Educational Consultants Association, has completed a survey of what colleges are looking for (available here). We have condensed the information to provide a summary of its findings for you. Same Trends, Increased Competition Many trends have been the same for decades: First, it is important to take the most challenging coursework in your local context. Doing so gets you recognized by admissions officers and trying to maximize exposure to AP and IB courses is on an excellent path to the future. Second, get good grades in those classes, as high marks mean you can perform well, especially when it is in the most challenging coursework.

Third, comes performance in standardized test scores, especially the SAT/ACT.

Fourth, comes authentic, meaningful, deep involvement in one or two extracurriculars. To a lesser extent, the college essay and demonstrated leadership are a part of this deep, authentic involvement. In truth, this same story has been true for decades. Good grades, test scores and what makes a person “uniquely good” is what is valuable to almost all US universities for at least fifty years. However, the real difference is the amount of course options that are available, especially with online community colleges and so many different summer and winter programs both domestically and abroad. Demonstrated Interest Demonstrated interest in a college can be one factor that makes a difference. It is true, most people hear about a college because of a reputation, or trust ranking systems. However, it is important to do the classic read, research and talk to people at that place to make sure it is a good environment to thrive in. Community Service Whether it is institutionalized such as IB CAS, part of a religious mission or gratifying, community service has been an excellent pathway to develop a student. In general, helping others who have had some bad luck builds character, builds a social conscience, leads by example, and genuinely is a way to spread goodwill. While some people undertake philanthropy to whitewash their name or gain other benefits (such as admission to top universities), etc. many people do community service simply because it helps improve mood, acts as a buffer against anxiety and depression, and genuinely helps understand why we are here as humans. Seeing that your efforts helped clean up trash from a park, help paperwork get filed at a community center, help feed the homeless, or other mundane activities can really add a sense of purpose and help bring up people that need it most. In all, it seems like more of the fundamentals continues to be the best way to succeed in college admissions, academia, and developing into a good human being.

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