8 Things to Highlight in Your College Application

Written by College Cliffs Team At, our team, comprising seasoned educators and counselors, is committed to supporting students on their journey through graduate studies. Our advisors, holding advanced degrees in diverse fields, provide tailored guidance, current program details, and pragmatic tips on navigating application procedures.

Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: March 26, 2024, Reading time: 15 minutes

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Many students and families foresee and view college applications as a numbers game. Deans, faculty, educational experts, and even the Department of Education in the U.S. have been struggling with implementing a new and temporary educational system for all students.

They understand how everyone is tackling challenges and shortcomings that have shunned your comfortable routines.

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In a press release, the U.S. Department of Education published a learning guide for families and students utilizing digital tools and platforms for the time being.

With the growing number of students attending public and private higher education over the years, it makes perfect sense for the government and private organizations and institutions to provide support and effective alternatives.

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Educational Changes Due to the Pandemic

College admission requirements are going through significant changes. Incoming freshmen college students are confronted with application requirement difficulties. Many people experience anxiety and stress about the sudden changes set in place by almost all schools.

High schools have chosen to implement the pass-fail grade system. And colleges have gone test-optional to support and lessen the stress of the class of 2025.

Conventionally speaking, schools’ and universities’ admission requirements require assessing your GPA, ACT and SAT scores, class rank, and other related examination scores. These numbers have been used as metrics for some learning institutions to mediate and estimate their student success rate.

By using these tangible measurements, they can tweak and innovate their teaching approach and systems. This has always been an effective way for them to assess applicants due to severe competition. 

Intangible Metrics as Basis for Admissions

However, you must note that universities are not only focused on and interested in these numeric records. They are on a hunt for well-rounded students who can equally excel and perform outside the classroom’s four corners.

Although academic performance is well-respected as a basis, they are interested in your skills and talents just as much.

Thus, your skills, like your essays, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation, will be evaluated. These kinds of skill sets are not quantifiable, unlike your scores.

These skills will help determine and examine whether a student is qualified and prepared to go over the rigorous process of a school’s all-encompassing learning and curriculum. In a simple context, most schools do not want to produce brilliant minds alone but people who could contribute proactively to society globally. 

What Do Colleges Mostly Look for in Applicants?

Every college institution is looking for a specific character trait that seems to be the common denominator in their learning community. It is vital to match your personality with the university’s preference.

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Be aware of the essential attributes that can transform you to be a cut above the rest.

1. A positive attitude towards studying and learning new things

Nothing is more appealing than a student who is ready to take on rigorous learnings and classes. There is more to a university than just making friends. Your education should be your utmost priority.

2. Commitment to the chosen major or program

Making the final decision as to which major to take is the most crucial step in your college journey. Emphasize your sincerity in the major that you have chosen by doing your best to excel academically. 

3. Curiosity and ability to speak up your mind

Most of the universities are hunting for curious minds. They believe that the new generation of learners always has some new things to ask and explore. Show your creative side, and don’t hesitate to speak your mind. 

4. Determination to accomplish your tasks and never giving up

If there is one thing that most colleges hate, it’s having a quitter get admitted to their school. Prove that they have made the right decision to accept you by never quitting, no matter how tough it gets.

5. Ability to work independently but seek help when needed

Never settle to be a shadow of someone else. You are studying in higher education for a reason. And that is to excel and shine in your light. 

6. Team player

Whether at school or in the corporate world, everyone needs and wants a great team player. Train to be one, and you’ll have no problem working and learning with anyone else.

Are You Applying for College? Here are the Elements to Focus On

It is crucial to stand out among the rest of the applicants when vying for a prestigious college or university position. You may have dreamt of going to a specific school, and although you have many other options, you’d be the happiest person on earth if you could get admitted to your aspired school.

Therefore, understand the college admission requirements better and set your best foot forward. 

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Here are the eight factors that you can focus on for your college admission application:

Application Essay

The application essay plays a significant role in the admission committee’s decision to consider your application seriously. It is included in your requirements for a reason. Therefore, a vital essay is deemed a deal-breaker. A well-written one could be a useful “tipper” for you to earn a place in a highly competitive learning institution.

They will remark you as someone more than just the numbers on your grading documents. You won’t only come off as literary smart, but you can portray an image of someone mature and confident in delivering your genuine thoughts and ideas through the paper.

On the contrary, a poorly written essay may result in your application belonging to the reject pile.

There is more to an essay than you perceive it to be. For one thing, the readers of your paper will not only discover your writing abilities but will also allow them to get to know more about who you are.

Next to your GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities, the essay should be treated with importance.

Most people who know better would tell you to think of a smart topic, write early, and perhaps rewrite it a couple of times if you’re not content with the output. The Princeton Review puts it perfectly by advising you to be yourself and write about important things for you. 

Since admission to a highly-ranked school is far more competitive than anyone can imagine, each candidate has a fair chance to prove their worth.

However, one important thing to note is that some schools may not include this admission requirement as their main priority. Thus, research about the schools that you want to apply for and know what their preferences are.

Recommendation Letters

Another great tool that you can use to focus on earning a place at your desired school is your recommendation letter. More importantly, if a college or university applies the holistic approach of admitting a student, they value how others think of you as a real person.

There is no other much more effective basis for them to use but the recommendation letter. These types of information offer insight into your strength, character, and background.

Getting admitted to a school where most applicants are academically excellent is challenging, especially against brilliant people. Your letter will help you leave a palpable impact and allow the admission committee to consider you for your admirable curiosity, dedication, commitment, and determination.

A compelling letter written by your previous professor who knows you very well will encourage colleges to give you a chance to share your potential and skills with them as well.

Aside from your scores and transcripts, a recommendation letter will contain qualities absent in these academic performance reports. A teacher can back you up in terms of qualifying characteristics that most colleges look for.

Schedules and Deadlines

This may be more of common sense than a piece of solid advice. It is a given fact always to organize your schedules and take note of deadlines.

Some learning institutions set deadlines for their applications, and they are usually stern about it. You need to start early if you have already decided which major to take and what university or college to attend.

You may have previously researched about their programs and even visited their campus and checked their facilities. If you have a strong background for your academic records and high scores for both ACT and SAT scores, these can help you move forward and go to the sequential application process.

You can benefit from an early application by cutting the costs of applying to other colleges and saving time to do other things instead.

On the other hand, if you have second thoughts about everything, it would be best to reconsider your choices. Compare and evaluate the admission and financial aid offerings of different college institutions before deciding to apply.

Don’t let peer pressure or any form of stress and pressure push you into choosing a significant phase in your life. College is meant to be well-thought-out carefully. 

Whichever timeline you fit in, if you want to apply early or later, make sure you’re right on time. Organize and prepare a list for your admission application processes and take note of the designated deadlines. Every college will have its respective date for admissions applications.

Standardized Test Scores

Standardized tests are considered an opportunity for students to demonstrate their talent and strengths. Many colleges have also used it as a common standard for assessing a student’s academic capability. Although this does not prove anything, it’s a moot point. Schools have depended on this factor in the past years.

Both private and public schools have set benchmarks for their test scores standards, and they vary from school to school. Although it’s genuinely authentic that standardized test scores do not pretty much explain your admission to a respective school, they still belong to the most critical admission requirement.

Some colleges find it more accurate to quickly glance at test grades than spend time and energy evaluating essays and recommendations. Some even utilize systematic computer algorithms to sort applicants through their GPAs and ACT/SAT scores.

But if your school is a test-optional college, then it means you have the liberty to choose whether you would want to present your ACT and SAT scores or not. 

The growth of test-optional colleges has been reaching its peak due to America’s current critical health situation. Some universities have forgone requiring incoming applicants to take the standardized tests due to inconvenience and risks. reported that there are currently more than 1630 schools that have turned test-optional, making it last temporarily for a year or two or rather permanently. Somehow, this had been quite controversial for some educational experts.

Still, some believe that it is the best solution to decrease the pressures and stresses of incoming freshmen students in the new fall session.

In conclusion, though, whether your school requires an ACT or SAT score or not, it would be advisable to take it as additional support or backup for your admission requirements. You must give these exams all you’ve got so you can obtain good results!

Extracurricular Activities

Although some schools majorly base their admission decisions on test grades and academic performance, extracurricular activities have been a significant and impactful metric nowadays.

Admission officers consider these as “soft factors” because they can assess their skills in terms of time management and field of interest.

Extracurriculars are a means of expression of welfare among students, and they get involved not only because they love doing it but also because they develop their skills more and more.

Colleges take note of which initiatives and clubs you’ve taken part in because it can say something about you as a person and not only as a student.

Data from U.S. News and World Report confirm that most college admission experts assess the quality of your extracurricular activities. You won’t impress the admission officers with your countless yet irrelevant or empty activities.

Strong academic credentials with proactive and successful participation in some or a few extracurricular activities are a great combination to be rendered as the right candidate.

If you want to be involved in numerous activities for the sole purpose of leaving an impact on your future college, make sure to choose high-quality training and participate proactively and responsibly.

This specific admission requirement may depend on your preferred school. The weight of extracurricular activities in college application varies from school to school in both private and public institutions. 

Admission Interviews

You might think that the interviews may not count so much compared to all the other components of your admission application. But this is where most people fail because they take their interviews for granted, and it costs them to lose against an applicant who has entirely the same standing as them.

The reality of the matter is that everything counts! Never in one minute grow complacent about your college application. If you put so much importance and priority in this phase in your life, then you might as well give it your best shot.

This interview will give your future school a chance to get to know the real you, and you likewise discover more of it.

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It’s safe to say that a bad interview will not entirely lose your chances of gaining admission, but you may lose your advantage against a competing candidate.

A good talk, on the contrary, will help the balance to side more in your favor. It is an effective method for them to shed some light on areas that have not been exposed through standardized tests or academic performance results.

Depending on your selected college or school, interviews would vary. In some cases, you will have a simple informative interview, and this is where you can gather more information about the school and learn more about it.

Another kind of interview is an evaluative one, where you will need to speak more about yourself and answer more questions from the admission officer. Remember not to sweat these interviews out because most colleges do it for your own sake, to help you gain perspective.

Class Ranks

Class rank is a deciding factor in most college admission processes to determine how an applicant performs academically. Of course, it is a given fact that most high schools have a different set of educational standards. Some may have a more rigorous academic system than others.

While some institutions generously hand out As to many students, some are very keen and careful in selecting students who deserve such a high grade. In this sense, colleges should also be aware of the level of standards for various high schools.

Class rank is an effective way for college admission officers to compare them with others who share the same resources. It is unjust to measure and judge an A student and compare him or her with another A student in a different school, as these two schools may have different teaching styles and curriculums.

Thus, it is more understandable to compare your performance with your classmates who have also experienced the same prospectus and programs.

You don’t need to be the Valedictorian in your high school to be accepted into a highly-ranked college of your choice. That discredits the purpose of class ranking. The specific reason universities assess class ranks is to know your classes’ performance among your classmates and competitors. 

School Profile

Following the class, ranks come to your school profile. Admission officers consider this factor only because it can provide them with vast information about your school. It will give them an idea of what your previous school system has executed and how you have been educated for your secondary education.

Along with the class ranks assessment, this can help them understand your academic profile better.

You may be wondering what kind of information should be included in a school profile. It should contain basic information like their name, address, contacts, school codes, and school representatives.

It must also have the school’s background and history, demographic data, curriculum, grading system, acceptance, disciplinary policies, and student engagement. Through these details, the admission officer can fully understand your learning environment. 

Although you will not be categorized and stereotyped according to the school where you graduated from, some universities can understand your background better because of this factor. Make sure to prepare for a school profile in case this is needed. You can request and ask for help from your counselor.

Their profile should contain and emphasize your school’s strengths and uniqueness, and these should be presented in clear visuals. However, this is not a mandatory requirement.

It is an optional component to help the admission committee to decide better about your application. If you want to give them a glimpse of your educational background, show them your school profile. 

Additional Factors to Consider

Some colleges may have more key components and criteria to follow, and it is their sole right to fulfill as they do so. Diversity is a priority for most learning institutions these days.

They also consider factors such as racial and ethnic background, geographic location, overseas learning experience, and other life circumstances.

Along with their conventional requirements added to these extraordinary factors, they will then decide on the perfect balance of diversified and qualified students.