Jun 23, 2010

10 Strengths and Experiences Colleges Look for in High School Students

Every few years, the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) surveys member consultants to determine what they think colleges want to see from high school students applying to their institutions. The results published in a report titled, “Top 10 Strengths and Experiences College Look for in High School Students,” represent the collective wisdom of many of the most experienced and knowledgeable advisers in the field of college admissions.

Last week, the IECA released the results of the 2010 survey. According to IECA members, number one on the list is an academic curriculum that is both rigorous and challenging with the inclusion of Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) coursework—if offered.

Additionally, IECA members felt grades need to show an upward trend. Mediocre grades in the freshman year may be overcome by demonstrating that grades improved with maturity, as colleges are most concerned with where a student is intellectually at the time of application and not four years earlier.

Solid standardized test scores, consistent with academic achievement, appeared as number three on the list. IECA members thought tests are seldom enough to secure admission alone, but poor scores can be difficult to overcome especially at more “selective” institutions.

Educational consultants also support the importance of showing passionate involvement in a few activities by demonstrating leadership and initiative. Depth, not breadth of experience, continues to be most important. According to the IECA membership, colleges are clearly interested in what applicants may be able to bring in the way of meaningful contributions to their campuses.

Moving up on the list was the importance of the essay. This could reflect increased reliance on more holistic candidate reviews especially among test-optional colleges and universities. The essay was viewed as more important at smaller private liberal arts colleges, a large percent of which have already moved to diminish the role of standardized testing in their 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 desire among colleges to admit students who seem most serious about actually attending their institutions. Yield, or the percent of admitted students actually attending a particular institution, may be a factor here.

Interestingly, “financial resources” did not appear among the top ten despite the current economy. Also considered of less importance by IECA educational consultants were the personal interview, legacy status, and “demonstrations of responsibility.” Creative supplements—videos, uploads, or websites—appeared very low on the list.

Located in Fairfax, Virginia, The IECA is a nonprofit professional association of established educational consultants who assist students and families with educational decision-making. Members—and I am one—must meet IECA’s professional standards and subscribe to its Principles of Good Practice. The complete list of the “Top 10 Strengths and Experiences Colleges Look for in High School Students,” may be found on the IECA website.

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