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College Admissions: The 3 Things College Really Want

Monday, November 07, 2011


Top-shelf leadership gigs: Model UN gets noticed on applications

Despite the economy, the nation’s top colleges aren’t getting any easier to get into. Every year, parents ask me the same question “What do the most competitive colleges want?” Clearly, straight A’s in honors and AP courses and 700s on your SATs aren’t enough anymore. Often, it’s not easy to understand why one student is accepted to Brown, Harvard, Georgetown or Duke, and another with a similar profile is rejected. However, there are some elusive factors that often make the difference.

One: Passion

Colleges love students who have a consistent and demonstrated passion for something (outside of sports and their friends). Unlike the 70’s when colleges wanted well-rounded students, today the most elite colleges want students with depth and expertise in a particular area. Then, these students of varied deep interests will make up a well-rounded student body. A few years ago, I had a student who loved engineering. At five, he began taking apart his mother’s radios and televisions. At 16, he computerized his car to a level that exceeded what any major car manufacturer was offering. He even took on the daunting task of redesigning his high school’s antiquated website. In the summer, he worked in an IT department at a local company and ran a business fixing neighbors’ PCs. Another student was an award winning dancer. She traveled to competitions in Italy and France, and in her spare time she taught younger children with Down Syndrome to dance. She choreographed her school theatre productions, and in the summer she started a hip-hop program for the Boys and Girls Club. These students exhibited the type of passion that colleges love.

Two: Leadership

Being class president or the head of student government is a great accomplishment in the eyes of a college. Roles in which your peers elect you, show that you are a respected and trusted member of your school community. The way that you get the highest extra-curricular rating during the admissions process is to have several leadership positions. These might include being president of the Drama Society, French Club, Environmental Club, Debate Team, Mock Trial, Math Team, or any other organized group at school. Captain of a sports team is also a feather in your cap. Positions outside of school also count, whether you are the head tutor at your local synagogue or the founder of your own community service group. For students who must work and can’t participate in many extra-curricular activities, an upward progression of responsibility at an after school job can also be very impressive.

Three: Awards and recognition

This is perhaps the most elusive category. Depending on your school policy, there may not be very many awards or honors to glean. Book awards from colleges like Princeton or Yale catch an admission officer’s eye. Being a National Merit Finalist is considered very elite. Organizations like Model UN, Future Business Leaders of America and the National Forensic Society hold regional and national competitions where winners emerge. Science fairs are famous for recognizing promising research and discoveries. Colleges also love students who pursue opportunities to get their history, English or science papers published in national magazines like the Concord Review, The Claremont Review or The Empiricist. If your high school doesn’t have opportunities for you to gain recognition, you need only search the Internet for a venue that matches your talents and interests.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, individual counseling for college-bound students. http://www.collegeadvisorsonline.com, www.facebook.com/collegeadvisors
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