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What Do Colleges Look For In Students & How To Stand Out

16 SEP 2021

College application officers look at thousands of college applications each year. How do you make your application stand out? Building a solid application that attracts their attention is challenging but not impossible.

What Do Colleges Look For in Students?

If you want to learn how to stand out to colleges, do your research and learn as much as you can about the school and why you’re the perfect fit for their campus. Did you know schools keep track of your interactions with them? They want to see that you’re excited about them and that you’re eager to bring your knowledge and enthusiasm to the school. Consider visiting the campus, attending information sessions, communicating with various academic departments, or interviewing alumni. Your invested interest in their school might be the difference between your application and another student’s similar application.

In addition to evaluating the standard application criteria, most U.S. colleges take a holistic approach to their application review process. They look at applications as a whole, taking into account a student’s academic achievements and how they believe the student will contribute to the college community as a whole. This approach is particularly beneficial for students who may not have perfect test scores or grades but can contribute to the college in different ways.


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12 Ways to Make Your College Application Look Good and Stand Out Above the Rest

1. Research Your Major

Research your major to stand out to colleges

Knowing how to make your college application stand out can be difficult, so it is important to research your chosen major at each college. Each major will vary in its modules, so personalizing your application to suit each course will show the college that you are interested in them. The more relevant your application is, the more likely it is to stand out.

2. Read Books About Your Chosen Subject

Read books about your subject to stand out to colleges

In addition to researching the major, read literature on your chosen subjects. Many university application officers want to see that a candidate is fully engaged in their subject. The more knowledge you have of it, the more likely you will stand out from the crowd. Reference these books naturally within your application to show your desire to learn and engage with the subject area. This will also help you come across as a more confident candidate.

3. Apply Early and Follow the Application Instructions Carefully

apply early to stand out to colleges

If you get your application in early, it will reach the admissions panel sooner. Make sure you leave enough time to complete your application, ensuring it follows the guidelines that the university has published.

4. Volunteer

volunteer to stand out to colleges

With so many great applicants applying for universities, it is important to allow your character, personality, and personal interests to shine through your application. Volunteering stands out because it not only helps you better understand the world, it shows that you are eager to support and help those around you. Many charities run volunteering programs around the country. Sign up for one of those programs. It’s a powerful addition to your application.

5. Get Course Related Work Experience

work experience looks good on college applications

Undertaking work experience in your chosen major shows that you are not only dedicated and eager to learn more about your chosen field, but you also understand what’s involved in studying that subject at the university. Adding a list of completed work experience and a summary of what you gained from these experiences is an excellent addition to your application.

6. Improve Your Grades

Improving your grades looks good on your college application

To increase your chances of standing out in your college application, it’s important to improve your grades. Your grades are one of the first things admissions officers look at on your application and what will ultimately get you through the door. If you struggle to improve your grades, consider looking at alternative revision techniques or hire a tutor to help coach you through your exams.


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7. Choose the Right Standardized Test

choose the right standardised test to look good on your college application

Your standardized test scores are also one of the first things admissions officers look at when reviewing your application. It’s essential to take these as soon as possible. Consider which test (ACT or SAT) is better for you. Colleges don’t have a preference. However, the SAT will likely get you a better score if you are more mathematical and logical. If you excel within the arts, the ACT may be a better option.

8. Participate in Extracurricular Activities

extracurriculars make your college application look good

In addition to grades and test scores, college admissions officers look at your extracurricular activities. Choose one or two activities and discuss them in-depth. Colleges look for quality over quantity. While many students will detail their time on sports clubs, you can actually include anything you do outside of school hours, such as campaigning for a political candidate, running a marathon, or writing a blog. Extracurriculars show you can effectively handle your time and can increase your skill set in several areas.

Download our free eBook to read a list of successful extracurricular activities of students who got into the Ivy Leagues!

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9. Consider Your Recommendations

recommendations look good on your college application

Most colleges will ask for recommendations from those who know you well to get further insight into what you are like as a person. Carefully consider who you will ask to write these recommendations. Ideally, you want to select someone (a tutor or instructor) who has known you for several years. They can speak about your growth as a person and your achievements over many years.

10. Check Your Social Media

check your social media to stand out in your college applications

Colleges want to accept the highest standard of applicants, not only academically but also socially. One way that they find out more about you is by searching for your social media accounts. A study by Inside Higher Ed found that about 36% of admissions officers looked at social media profiles, and this percentage was increasing each year. Additionally, admissions offers have been rescinded due to previously undiscovered content. Check what you are making public!

11. Proofread Your Application

proofreding your application to make sure it looks good to colleges

Although this may be an obvious piece of advice, it is no less important. Many mistakes are identified during the second or third review. You must review your materials and ask family members or friends to do this for you. For example, writing several applications at once makes it easy to write the wrong college name. This would definitely create a negative impression, so keep an eye out for this.

12. Add Supplementary Materials

what looks good on college applications

Many colleges allow you to include supplemental materials in your application, allowing you to further stand out against your competition. However, check the entrance procedures because you don’t want to submit materials if they are not allowed. If a university accepts supplemental materials, send several materials related to what you want to study, including musical scores, portfolios, academic papers, or audio recordings.

Final Thoughts

There is no magic formula to the perfect college application, but researching your top colleges and determining what they value most will help get you closer to acceptance. Follow these 12 tips for an even higher chance of getting into the college of your dreams. Sometimes, simply taking the time to proofread and double-check your work one more time will make all the difference.

Crimson offers exceptional college application support services. Through our admissions support program, we walk with you through every part of the application process and help you stand out from the crowd!

Need Help Making your College Application Stand Out?

Crimson lifts students above the global applicant pool, addressing every aspect of the application with equal intensity. Speak to our expert admission advisors to learn more!