What Looks Good on College Applications?

by | Sep 21, 2023

For many high schoolers, college applications seem stressful. It is a student’s chance to stand out from the competition when applying to a university. Depending on how the application is completed, it will even determine admittance or not. I am going to discuss what looks good on college applications and how to stand out from the competition!

Tip 1: Good Academic Standing

Colleges will first look at your academic standing among other peers in your high school. This is in the form of your GPA. Having a good GPA gets your application through the first filter in the college application process. Because colleges receive so many applications a year, certain “hard” filters are setup to automatically deny certain students. The first and most common filter is based on GPA. Colleges that are competitive will be looking for students with a GPA of a 3.0 or higher. While having a GPA below this won’t guarantee a denial, it puts you in a worse competitive position in relation to your peers.

Tip 2: Academic Motivation

When looking at a student’s transcript, colleges wish to see a desire to take upper-level courses. AP, IB, and Dual Credit classes are a great way to stand out from others applying to the same college. With that being said, it is still very important to maintain a good GPA. While these higher-level classes look good, you run the risk of lowering your GPA as they are harder. It’s a common mistake among students to “bite off more than they can chew”, by taking too many advanced level courses. If you are taking AP classes make sure to score at least a 3 on your AP exams to further stand out on your application.

Tip 3: Good Character

Colleges want to accept a student that has good character. What I mean by this is a student whose willing to go the extra mile for those around them. Someone whose dedicated in both academics as well as being in good standing with the school. This is done by not having any disciplinary marks on your transcript, good attendance, and little to no tardies. This one seems simple enough, but for many will end up being the hardest. Maintaining good attendance and tardies is easier said than done. Making sure you set an alarm early and giving yourself plenty of time to get to school is a great way to maintain good character.

Tip 4: Applying Early

One of the best ways you can get ahead of the competition is by applying early. Many students will begin applying to colleges during the Fall semester of their senior year. While this is normal, you can actually begin applying late junior year and into the summer before senior year! I would recommend applying during your junior year ONLY if you have good grades and standardized test scores. If you have received your ACT or SAT scores and did well, I would recommend starting your college applications.

Tip 5: Good Standardized Test Scores

This leads us into tip 5. Scoring well on the ACT or SAT is extremely important for standing out on your college applications. Many colleges are now going test optional, but the best applications include good scores on either the SAT or ACT. In general a 1200 score on the SAT is considered above average while a 27 on the ACT is considered above average. Many students begin taking these tests in their junior year and improve their scores into senior year. If you have not reached an above average score by the fall of your senior year, it is better to not submit your scores for test optional applications.

Tip 6: Volunteer Work

While good grades and test scores are important, showing you do things outside of academics is a good way standing out too. Volunteer work is a great way to do this. Colleges wish to see the ability to balance good grades and activities outside of school. Volunteer work is a great way to do this, as it is more flexible with hours than a job or extracurriculars. Ideally you would be volunteering all through your high school academic career but starting in your junior or even senior year can help you stand out. When wondering what looks good on college applications, volunteer work is a great and effective choice!

Tip 7: Extracurricular Activities

Much like the tip before this, extracurricular activities help show universities that you are able to balance your school and social life. Being involved in more extracurriculars will help you stand out, especially if you are also maintaining good grades. If you aren’t involved in any extracurriculars, getting a job will also help you stand out in this category. The reasoning behind this is that schools want students who will be involved on their campus outside of strictly just academics.

Tip 8: Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters are one of the most important parts of your college applications. You can go the extra mile by having multiple recommendation letters from different teachers. Colleges want to see you maintain a good relationship and standing with your teachers. The reasoning behind this is that colleges want students that the professors enjoy having. It ends up being a win-win for everyone involved.

Tip 9: Clean Social Media Presence

Believe it or not, colleges will in fact look at your social media pages. Making sure there is nothing incriminating or demeaning to yourself or others is important. When you are accepted and attend a university, you represent the college. This representation is why the college wants to make sure you fall in line with the schools message and branding. This does not mean that you need to delete your social media accounts. Take a deep dive on your pages and delete any posts or pictures you wouldn’t want your college seeing.

Tip 10: Complete Optional Essays

If you are wondering what looks good on college applications, this is a great tip! Many colleges will have optional essay components on their applications. This is really a test to see which students will go above and beyond for their application. It is always a good idea to complete these if they are offered. In most cases it will only improve your chances of getting accepted. Even if there is no essay required, writing a letter describing why you wish to attend the university would really show you are willing to go the extra mile!

Stand Out on Your College Applications!

Employing these strategies is a great way to stand out on your college applications. While you do not need to incorporate all of these tips, I recommend implementing at least half of them to increase your chances in applying. I hope these strategies helped answer the question of: what looks good on college applications? If you need help in crafting your college essays or applications, schedule time with our college counselor today!


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