Applying to college can be an overwhelming process, especially if you’re trying to get into schools where competition is stiff. There are several common factors that most colleges consider when looking at potential applicants; however, the key to acceptance isn’t just doing well. You want to show admissions officers what makes you stand out from the crowd.

High School GPA and Class Rank
Your GPA in high school shows colleges how successful you were in the field of academics and whether or not you buckled down and worked hard. Colleges look not only at your overall GPA but also at how well you did in individual classes. If your school has a class rank, that shows how much competition you faced with grades and performance to reach a particular level.

AP and Honors Classes
Being able to show prospective colleges that you challenged yourself academically is important. Admissions officers will look at AP, honors, International Baccalaureate (IB) and other college prep classes you take in high school to see how well you handled the course load as this is a good indicator of how you’ll do in college.

Challenging Extracurricular Activities
Colleges also want to see students who stretch themselves beyond the limits of the classroom. The kinds of activities you choose say a lot about your personality and even your morals. Whether or not you stick with your chosen undertakings exhibits your ability to commit to important projects in the long term.

Volunteer and Work Experience
Any experience you have that shows true commitment, leadership qualities and an interest in community is beneficial to your application. Include the organizations or companies you worked for and what your responsibilities were at each one. If you received any promotions or special recognitions, be sure to mention those as well.

Test Scores
Not all schools rely as heavily on SAT and ACT scores as they used to, but it doesn’t hurt to take both tests and do as well as you can. Some schools don’t look at these tests at all while others may look at scores from additional tests including SAT Subject Tests and AP tests. Check with your chosen schools to find out which ones are required for admission.

Quality Recommendation Letters
Be sure to get recommendation letters from people who know you well, have interacted with you in the classroom or are otherwise able to show why you’re a good candidate for the particular schools you’re applying to. A good recommendation letter supports a solid application by affirming all of your best qualities as a student.

A Well-Written Essay
Admissions officers want to see essays that go for a personal connection. Rather than using the essay to talk up your accomplishments, focus on showing who you truly are and what makes you interesting. Stick with the given prompt as you write and remember to include the reason why you want to attend a particular school.

Talents and Passions
More colleges are moving away from accepting students who did the most “stuff” to looking for those who focus their energy in specific areas that they’re passionate about. Schools want to see what makes you special and how hard you’re willing to work at the things you care about.

Knowing what the colleges you’re applying to are looking for helps you to make the best possible choices for college prep and to craft a better application when the time comes. Contacting your top school choices will give you a more specific picture of what they all expect, allowing you to target your applications for each and increase the chances of acceptance.

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