9 Things That Look Good on a College Application

Did you know that more Americans have college degrees than ever before? If you’re junior or senior in high school, it’s likely much of your time is taken up by focusing on the prospect of applying for and going off to college. Applying for school can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get conflicting information about standing out in your dream school. Let’s take a look at 9 things that look good on a college application to help you get into the best school you can.

1. Class Rank and GPA

Probably the most important thing you can do to make yourself a competitive college candidate is to work as hard as possible in school.

The single most influential factor any college will consider is your GPA. This is a reflection of your performance as a student for almost four years of your academic life and offers a preview of what type of college student you would be.

2. Honors and AP Classes

Taking honors and AP classes can help boost your weighted GPA. On top of this, challenging classes can demonstrate that have the ability and interest to take on higher-level work for the admissions committees. This portion of your application is usually referred to as academic rigor.

When choosing which AP classes to take, choose ones that are in subjects you’re likely to study in college.

3. Challenging Extracurricular Activities

When thinking about what looks good on a college application, it’s easy to focus solely on the academic aspects. However, colleges are typically looking for students who work hard in school and have a well-rounded life outside of class. This doesn’t mean you should join every club your school offers, but it does mean you should choose a few extracurricular activities with care.

While you’re in high school, you’ll want to join two or three clubs. What do colleges look for in your club membership? Ideally, they’ll see that you ascended to a leadership position in at least one of these clubs over the course of high school. You want to show the colleges you’re applying to that you’re deeply involved in at least one of your activities outside of school.

Another way to display your well-rounded nature is to join a sports team. Colleges are well aware that playing sports is often a huge time commitment, so don’t feel like you have to overload yourself with sports and several clubs.

If you hope to play college sports, it’s a good idea to work towards a leadership position in one or more sports groups in high school.

4. Work and Volunteer Experience

Having a job during college can be a great way to start saving up for the expenses of college and to show schools that you have a good work ethic. Don’t worry too much if your job takes away from your ability to participate in clubs and sports, as colleges are well aware that it’s a time investment to work a part-time job.

When it’s time for you to get your first job, it’s a good idea to try and find one that’s in an area where you know you want to gain skills. Check in with your family friends and college counselors to find out if they know of any openings that would suit a high school student.

In addition to having a paid job, an impressive college application will often include some volunteer experience. This is a great way to show schools that you want to give back to your community.

Every school year, you should try and volunteer for at least 20 to 30 hours. There are a lot of schools that offer community service options for you to choose from. If not, check out nonprofits like animal shelters, local food pantries, or larger organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

5. Test Scores

Not all schools consider standardized test scores, but many still do. For schools that still take this into consideration, it’s generally the second most important factor. Even schools that don’t use standardized test scores for admissions often still use them to make determinations about merit-based financial aid.

Taking the SAT or the ACT seriously is an important step in the college admissions process. When you’re making your list of possible schools to apply to, take a look at the range of typical schools at the various schools. You can also take practice SAT or practice ACT scores to find out where you stand.

If you’re trying to figure out how to stand out, you might consider taking one or more SAT subject tests. Sometimes schools require these, but even if they don’t it can help demonstrate your proficiency in a subject and even get you placed in college classes starting at a higher level.

Are you planning on applying for college and university scholarships? If so, check out these online scholarship practice tests.

6. High-Quality Recommendation Letters

Your teacher recommendation letters are an important part of your college application. Take the time to choose teachers that know you well and will write thoughtful letters of recommendation.

You’re probably going to need at least two teachers’ letters of recommendation. Make an appointment with each teacher to speak with them about what aspects of your background have yet to be covered in your application. You can give the teachers a copy of your application or a resume, and make sure to allow them at least a month to finish writing the letter.

Letters of recommendation don’t necessarily have to come from teachers, either. There is a required number of academic recommendations, but it’s fine to include a letter from a boss, coach, or other non-teacher. Just don’t overdo it, as no admissions team wants to look at 8 letters of recommendation.

7. Passions and Talents

Sometimes it’s better to show that you are focusing your energy on specific areas rather than doing a little bit of everything. Having passions and talents that you focus on can show schools what makes you special and different from other applicants.

If there is a specific skill or interest that is your passion in life, that’s something you definitely want to communicate with a college. Whether it’s playing the oboe, doing gymnastics, or any of the other millions of possibilities, let schools know that you are passionate about something.

8. Well-Written Essay

When you’re learning how to write a college application, you’ll quickly learn that your college admissions essay is an important part of the process. This is your opportunity to show colleges your own unique voice. This can be a good time to include information that didn’t fit into the rest of your application.

Your essay should be error-free, polished, and thoughtful. Most importantly, though, it needs to be authentic. This is your opportunity to tell a story about your life, your perspectives, your values, and your personal growth.

9. Awards and Honors

Most schools have one or more honors societies, for example, foreign language honor societies or the National Honor Society. You can also work toward earning awards that are given out by your school, generally in an annual ceremony. These prizes don’t necessarily have to be academic, it is also valuable to win awards for sports or for club activities.

Alternatives to Traditional College

It’s worth noting that while a lot of people go to college these days, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you. There are a lot of other options, such as taking a gap year, taking community college courses, starting a business, or going to trade or technical school.

Before applying to colleges, you want to think seriously about what it is you want to get out of it. Many students take on tremendous college debt that they spend decades paying off. If you’re going to be taking on such a significant financial commitment, you want to make sure your career field is lucrative enough to make it worth it.

Take the time to think about what you want out of your life and your career path. If you aren’t sure what you want to do yet, this might be a good reason to take a gap year before leaping into school. You might want to consider shadowing some people in careers you’re interested in to give you a sense of what you really want to do.

Use These Things That Look Good On a College Application to Help Plan Out Your High School Career

Since colleges will be looking at your entire high school career, it’s best to be aware of these things that help you look good on a college application before you even start high school. This way, you can take the time to dive deep into clubs, activities, classes, and testing.

Did you find this article on how to write a college application helpful? If so, be sure to check.

By Fahad