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A student at Regent University, Virginia Beach: Learn what colleges look for.

What Do Colleges Look for in Applicants: A Q&A Guide

“What do colleges look for?” It’s the big question every prospective college student asks at some point. You want your application to stand out above the rest—but how? We’ll walk you through some critical answers to questions you may have about the admissions process as a prospective student.

What qualities do colleges look for in applicants?

Colleges want to know that you’ll be a valuable, productive, and well-rounded asset to their institution. What’s most important is to craft your application to indicate you have these academic and personal qualities. Most colleges like to see initiative, drive, achievements, intellectual curiosity, and diversity of experiences.

What are the five things colleges look for?

SAT/ACT Scores

These standardized test scores aim to reveal whether your GPA and transcript accurately represent your preparedness for higher education. These scores reflect not only your knowledge, but your chosen university’s aptitude as well. SAT or ACT scores will be incorporated into the school’s yearly SAT/ACT statistics as an admitted student. Keep in mind that not all colleges will look at these scores, so take a close look at admission requirements.

GPA/Transcript/Class Rank

This will tell the college admission officers what classes you chose to take and how well you did. They’re looking for academic excellence in high school grades.

Extra-curricular activities

Extracurricular activities are an excellent way to demonstrate your versatility as a well-rounded individual. A college community is meant to be a place of diversity, with culture and activities outside of academics. Regent has 56 student organizations dedicated to enriching the lives of the community. At Regent, students are not only learning to be scholars but also to be healthy and productive members of communities and society. An active interest in extracurriculars can show your versatility and leadership potential. Extracurriculars include clubs, sports, music ensembles, volunteer work, student government—or other activities that display your diverse involvement.

Recommendation letters

Colleges want to know the real you through the eyes of people who have taught you. Choose a trusted teacher whose class you excelled in or the leader of one of your extracurricular activities—someone who describe your character, experiences and growth.

Personal essays

SAT scores, transcripts, and tests provide valuable information. But a well-written essay is the final piece of the puzzle in the college admissions process. It’s a window into who you are as a person.

How important are personal essays?

Essays can be the icing on the cake for a college application. Your grades, extracurricular activities, achievements, and test scores are all strong indicators of academic prowess and performance. However, colleges are particularly interested in how you can present yourself. It may be tempting to use big words in a college essay and impress them with lofty prose, but that’s the wrong approach.

They’re looking for the authentic story of you, both academically and holistically. They want to know how you learn inside and outside of the classroom. They may look for how you approach challenges, what matters most to you, or how you find solutions. In a survey administered by the National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), 70% of admissions counselors said character traits were “considerably” or “moderately” important in their admissions decisions. An essay that demonstrates your character could be the push you need for an admissions officer who’s on the fence.

How do you impress college admissions?

Many components of the admissions process measure your past performance. There are, however, a few things you can do to go above and beyond to impress your prospective college.

One of these is to submit your application early. Being proactive shows that you are comfortable taking initiative. It also gives reviewers the chance to see your information while the number of received applications is relatively small.

This gives your application a better chance of standing out among a smaller pool of applicants. However, it’s important to note that you should not rush through the application process. The earlier you can start, the better.

What makes a college applicant stand out?

Many college applicants try to stuff their application with any activities, accomplishments, and accolades they can think of. However, you should condense your application to experiences and achievements relevant to the question being asked. Anything you put on your application should be directly connected to highlighting your initiative, drive, intellectual curiosity, diversity of experiences, and academic strengths.

A relevant, sharp and robust application cuts out all the filler and gets straight to the point. Admissions officers want to quickly find relevant info and achievements within the first few minutes of reviewing college applications. You only have a short time to impress them, so make it count.

What do colleges want to hear?

Colleges and admissions committees want to hear that prospective students have a vested interest in their schools. Sign up for email updates and respond to any that are pertinent. Go on a campus visit (or two) and meet new people in the program of your interest. Show them that you’ve done your research and believe that their school is the best fit. They want to hear that you’re qualified, have a demonstrated interest, and are willing to go the extra mile. Regent University hosts College Preview Weekends for high school juniors, seniors, transfer students, and their families. These allow you to enjoy campus activities, make connections, meet professors, as well as get answers to your questions. 

Regent offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from a Christian perspective in a comprehensive range of study areas. What sets Regent apart is our mission to prepare men and women to excel both in mind and spirit. We look for prospective students who express and illustrate a desire to share a calling, founded on biblical principles, to make a significant difference in the world.

What year of high school do colleges look at the most?

Your high school career is like a marathon. Every year is an integral part of your race, and you can’t stop running for any part of it. You’re laying the foundation of knowledge and experiences that will carry you to the following year.

In the 9th and 10th grades, you’re “setting up” your trajectory. During these years, you take the prerequisite classes for high-level courses and join the activities in which you will hopefully rise to leadership roles. Colleges like to see a strong performance in challenging classes throughout high school. They also like to see an upward trend of improvement each year.

Your junior (third) year of high school is the last full academic year colleges will use to determine admissions. This is when you want to buckle down and start the “sprint” toward the finish line. 11th grade should be the most challenging course load year on your transcript so you can demonstrate your full capabilities. It should most closely resemble a college course load. That way, colleges can estimate how you would handle their academic rigor.

Take the most challenging courses that you can reasonably handle. This is the time to push yourself, especially in subjects you are passionate about or areas you want to pursue.

Do colleges care about final transcripts?

Yes. Many colleges ask for a final transcript after you finish your senior year of high school. In the “marathon” metaphor, your final transcripts are essentially “crossing the finish line.” Colleges want verification that you graduated from high school. So, at a very minimum, you can’t flunk out of your senior year classes.

But colleges also want to see that you’ve maintained (or improved) your grades during your high school senior year. Evidence of continued hard work in your classes tells colleges that you’re ready to work hard at their university. Poor performance in your  senior year could even lead to revocation of acceptance for admitted students.

In addition, maintaining and improving your academics senior year can potentially move you off an admissions waitlist to acceptance. Maintaining your grades in the final stretch will give you a leg up on students who have let their grades slip. Good grades, especially in AP classes, can also give you potential college credits if you score well on the exams!

Do colleges look at AP classes?

Yes. Many high schools offer AP courses that are challenging. If you’re enrolled in AP, International Baccalaureate (IB) or dual enrollment college classes, performing well will mean you earn college credit while in high school. Regent University allows students to transfer up to 90 credit hours. This can save you time and money on core subjects later. Your grades in AP classes are also an excellent indicator of how you will perform in college.

Do all colleges use the same standards for judging applications?

Different colleges have different applications. Some use the Common Application which allows prospective students to complete one application to apply to several colleges. Others create their application with specific essay prompts or requirements for admitting students to a particular school. You should also consider the average high school GPA and SAT scores of students previously admitted to the school. This will give you a better picture of the school’s standards for accepting students.

Liberal arts colleges encourage students to study a wide range of areas. Therefore, they may pay more attention to factors such as essays and demonstrated interests. Many top universities have such high academic standards that extracurricular activities hold more weight in admissions than other aspects. More varied extracurriculars illustrate that admitted students are not just intelligent and hardworking. They’ll also be active leaders in all aspects of their college career and beyond.

The road to success at Regent University

When choosing colleges to apply to, consider Regent University. Both new students and transfer students achieve academic excellence in over 150 areas of study at Regent. They also can benefit from customized financial aid, scholarships, online classes, and military support. Request information  or contact admissions today!