What Colleges Really Look For



Press Release

WHAT COLLEGES REALLY LOOK FOR – (June 28, 2010) — A new survey by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) says loud and clear that when it comes to college admissions more than ever, you need to be yourself and lever your strengths. This survey, conducted with hundreds of college admissions consultants, highlights the top ten strengths and experiences colleges look for in high school students.

Number one on the list continues to be a rigorous high school curriculum that challenges students and may include AP or IB classes. Summit-based college consultant and IECA Professional member, Carolyn Mulligan, comments, “the old realtor’s adage of ‘location, location, location’ in college admissions becomes ‘school district, school district, school district.’ Regional college admissions representatives make it their business to know the specific profiles of the high schools in their area.”

Grades and course difficulty are second in IECA’s top ten list. Admissions offices focus on the students’ progression through various core requirements. They may accept lower GPA’s in a rigorous program versus straight A’s in a less strenuous curriculum. An added comment this time is the importance of an upward trend in grades from freshman year. According to IECA members, colleges want to know what type of student will be arriving on campus, not who the student was four years ago.

“Solid SAT or ACT scores,” reflecting a consistency with academic achievement was #3 on the list. IECA members felt that terrific standardized tests alone are rarely enough to secure admission at a more competitive school, but poor scores can be difficult to overcome.

The importance of the essay moved up since the last survey, perhaps reflecting the essay’s role as more colleges move to “test optional” status. The essay was also seen as more important to private liberal arts colleges, as compared to large state universities.

Debuting on this year’s list as #8 is “demonstrated leadership in activities.” Much has been discussed in recent years about colleges seeking students who will contribute in a meaningful way to campus life. The appearance of this on the IECA list underscores this growing desire. “Demonstrated intellectual curiosity” (#9) remains an important item, particularly with those schools with more competitive admissions.

Rounding out the top ten is “demonstrated enthusiasm to attend,” an item that first appeared on the IECA list a few years ago. This reflects the college admission’s office concern over their yield: wanting to offer admission only to those who seem serious about enrolling. Just missing the top ten list: “financial resources” (despite the economy) and “out of school experiences.” This latter item fell off the top ten list, although “special talents and abilities” (#7) remained.

There has been considerable buzz in the admission community in recent months about the trend toward creative applications with videos or other unique components, but this placed far down, well out of IECA’s top ten list. Also relegated to a status of far less importance by IECA member educational consultants were several items thought by the general public to be important to decision-making: the personal interview, or being a legacy (family member of an alumnus).

The complete Top 10 List can be found at www.IECAonline.com/college.html and is attached to this press release.

Carolyn Mulligan through her Summit-based Insiders Network to College assists students and parents in their search for the best college match. The comprehensive services include forming the targeted college list, resume-writing, interviewing skills, navigating the application process and critical tracking of requirements and deadlines.

IECA was founded in 1976 as a nonprofit, professional association of established educational consultants. IECA member educational consultants are professionals who assist students and families with educational decision-making. Their specialized training, campus visitations, and professional experience equip them to help students choose schools, colleges, or programs that meet their individual needs and goals. Membership in the association requires consultants to meet IECA’s professional standards and subscribe to its Principles of Good Practice. Members continually update their knowledge and maintain skills through IECA-sponsored meetings, workshops, training programs, and information exchanges with colleges, schools, programs and other consultants.

Based on a 2010 Survey of IECA member consultants
Top Ten Strengths and Experiences Colleges look for in High School Students

1. A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes.

2. Grades that represent strong effort and an upward trend. However, slightly lower grades in a rigorous program are preferred to all As in less challenging coursework.

3. Solid scores on standardized tests (SAT, ACT). These should be consistent with high school performance.

4. Passionate involvement in a few activities, demonstrating leadership and initiative. Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important.

5. Letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselor that give evidence of integrity, special skills, positive character traits, and an interest in learning.

6. A well-written essay that provides insight into the student’s unique personality, values, and goals. The application essay should be thoughtful and highly personal. It should demonstrate careful and well-constructed writing.

7. Special talents or experiences that will contribute to an interesting and well-rounded student body.

8. Demonstrated leadership in activities. Colleges want people who will arrive prepared and willing to take leadership of student activities and events.

9. Demonstrated intellectual curiosity through reading, school, leisure pursuits, and more.

10. Demonstrated enthusiasm to attend, often exhibited by campus visits and an interview, showing an interest toward attending the college.

Independent Educational Consultants Association
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