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What Colleges Are Looking for In Students

As the application process to colleges and universities becomes more and more competitive, students are needing to find ways, in addition to good grades, to stand out. When all things are equal concerning a student’s transcripts, it’s often something else that helps set them apart from the competition and win the entrance slot.

In an effort to help you and your student start thinking about what that “something else” will be for them, we offer this list of five things that will help an applicant stand out:

  1. KNOW HOW TO TELL YOUR STORYThe Cushman School: SAMx

First and foremost, know your story and know how to tell it in a captivating manner. This will require being able to write it down in a way that is engaging and being able to answer questions about it that come naturally. The sooner you start this process the better. Not only will writing down your story get you ready for the college application process, it may also help identify weaknesses in your story while there’s still plenty of time to strengthen them.

  1. DEMONSTRATE YOU ARE WELL-ROUNDEDThe Cushman School: High School Students

One of the top trends in college and university settings is “interdisciplinary instruction.” Simply put, this is the use of a variety of different areas of study, all working together to build student’s critical thinking, problem-solving capacity, and passion by leveraging different learning styles, talents, backgrounds, and interests. There will be ample opportunity in the application process to give real-world examples that show off your analytical, artistic, athletic, and/or introspective sides. The goal is to demonstrate a willingness to learn new things and develop new skills.


There’s a reason your high school made you accumulate all those community service hours. That’s because being active and involved in your community shows colleges and universities that you will likely be active and involved in their community as well. Students who are highly engaged with their school community are seen as being more likely to succeed in their studies, complete their degree, and become an active alumnus.

  1. GATHER LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATIONThe Cushman School: High School Students

This is an opportunity to have colleges and universities learn about you from the people who know you best. Getting a variety of different perspectives, teachers, employers, pastors, coaches, etc. is often a way to help the institutions get a more three-dimensional picture of the applicant. Additionally, these third-party endorsements allow you to highlight your accomplishments without actually having to brag about them yourself. In short, letters of recommendation add color, context, and credibility to everything else you will say in your application.


The most important reason to talk about your extracurricular activities in your college or university application is to demonstrate how you manage your time outside of the classroom. Students who get good grades and participate in other passions show that they can manage multiple priorities. This is not only an important skill set to have in college, they are critical for the career you will have after college as well.

While these five points won’t guarantee that a student will get into the school of their dreams, they will help them stand out from the rest of the competition. And remember, it’s never too early in a student’s career to start thinking about college or university. The earlier you start, the more prepared you will be.