What Looks Good on a College Application?

Instructor: Carrie Soucy
While each college has a unique admissions process and criteria, most look at a few key indicators when reviewing application materials. Read on to learn what can make your college application stand out.

Components of a Strong College Application

A strong college application is one that demonstrates a student's academic curiosity and performance as well as his or her initiative and character. These qualities should resonate through all parts of the application, from academic transcripts and test scores to application forms and essays. In general, college admissions officers are looking for the following.

A Challenging High School Curriculum

Your high school transcript will be an important admissions consideration at most schools. This is not to say that you need to have a 4.0 GPA. Good grades are important, but admissions officers are also looking for academic curiosity and an indication that you value your learning by taking challenging coursework. For example, a B in an AP class may bring down your GPA, but will carry more weight on your college application than an A in a remedial class.

Solid College Admission Test Scores

Your college admission test score doesn't need to be perfect, but should reflect your level of performance in high school. Typically, if you're on the bubble at a particular college, the other components of your application will take precedence over your ACT or SAT score. However, admissions officers generally recommend that you prepare well for your SAT or ACT test, and retake it only if you believe you'll earn a significantly higher score.'s online ACT and SAT prep courses can help you get ready to take (or retake) these exams.

Evidence of Your Character and Integrity

Keep in mind that, along with transcripts and standardized test scores, your college application itself serves to demonstrate the attributes that will make you a successful college student. In addition to academic ability, many schools name character and integrity as high priorities when considering applicants. Demonstrate these qualities by:

  • Including a list of volunteer work, part-time jobs, or community service alongside an explanation of what you learned from these experiences and how you contributed to a workplace or organization.
  • Asking for recommendations from teachers and other adults who can vouch for your academic performance as well as personal qualities and characteristics. Check out this lesson on choosing references for tips on asking the right people.
  • Detailing any and all examples of your leadership abilities and skills. Don't think that you have to be your senior class president to make an impression; it is the demonstration of leadership skills - in any group or situation - that counts.
  • Keeping your social media presence clear of anything you wouldn't want a college admissions officer to see. Roughly 40% of schools report that they check out the social media profiles of applicants.

A Sincere and Well-Written Essay

Many schools include an essay component in their applications to get a better idea of who an applicant is as a person. While completing this part of the application might sound intimidating, it's a great chance for you to show what sets you apart from other prospective students. The most important thing to remember is to be open and honest. Don't worry about what you think you should say. Instead, use the opportunity to communicate who you genuinely are.

You should also make sure your essays are well-written and free of any errors. To get help putting your essay together, check out's Essay Writing: Help & Tutorial course.


Most college admissions officers are looking for students who demonstrate genuine interest in attending their schools. Show that you want to be a part of a school's student body by applying for early admission and taking part in campus visits. Interviewing with admissions officers could also be especially helpful. This short lesson on the college admissions interview process can help you prepare.

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