The 5 Things That Really Look Good on a College Application

A strong college application is a culmination of various elements that collectively showcase an applicant's accomplishments, skills, and potential. While the specific criteria may vary among colleges, there are several key aspects that generally look good on a college application. Here are some elements that can enhance the strength of a college application:

1: Excellent Grades in Challenging Courses

One of the key factors that looks good on a college application is a strong academic record, specifically excellent grades in challenging courses. Here is a detailed exploration of why this aspect is highly regarded by colleges:

a) Demonstrates Academic Competence:

Colleges seek students who can handle the academic rigor of higher education. By excelling in challenging courses, such as Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or honors classes, applicants demonstrate their ability to thrive in an academically demanding environment.

b) Shows Intellectual Curiosity and Motivation:

Excelling in challenging courses signals a student's enthusiasm for learning and their willingness to push themselves academically. It showcases a genuine interest in acquiring knowledge, exploring complex subjects, and engaging with the material beyond basic requirements.

c) Highlights Work Ethic and Discipline:

Excelling in challenging courses requires dedication, discipline, and consistent effort. It reflects positively on an applicant's work ethic and their commitment to academic excellence. Colleges value students who are self-motivated and willing to put in the necessary effort to succeed.

d) Sets a Solid Foundation for College-Level Work:

Challenging courses often mirror the rigor of college-level coursework. By performing well in these courses, applicants demonstrate their readiness to handle the academic demands of higher education. This reassures colleges that the student can thrive in their academic programs.

e) Provides a Competitive Edge:

Excelling in challenging courses sets applicants apart from their peers. It distinguishes them as high achievers who have gone above and beyond basic requirements, making them stand out in the college admissions process. It can also contribute to a strong academic profile, which is often a significant factor in admission decisions.

f) Opens Doors for Advanced Placement Credits:

Some colleges grant college credit or advanced placement to students who have performed exceptionally well in AP courses. These credits can provide a head start in college, allowing students to skip introductory-level courses and delve deeper into their areas of interest.

When aiming for excellent grades in challenging courses, it's crucial for students to find a balance between academic rigor and personal well-being. It's important to challenge oneself academically, but not at the expense of mental health or overall well-being. Striking a balance between challenging coursework and extracurricular activities is key to a holistic college application.

It's worth noting that while excellent grades in challenging courses are highly regarded, they are not the sole determinant of admission. Colleges consider a range of factors holistically, including standardized test scores, extracurricular involvement, essays, and letters of recommendation. However, achieving excellent grades in challenging courses can significantly enhance an applicant's academic profile and demonstrate their readiness for college-level work.

B: High Test Scores

High test scores, such as those achieved on standardized exams like the SAT or ACT, are another aspect that looks good on a college application. Here is a detailed exploration of why high test scores are highly regarded by colleges:

a) Demonstrates Academic Aptitude:

High test scores indicate strong academic abilities and aptitude in core subjects like mathematics, reading comprehension, and writing. They provide colleges with a standardized measure of an applicant's intellectual capabilities, helping them assess the student's academic potential.

b) Provides a Benchmark for Comparison:

Test scores allow colleges to compare applicants from diverse backgrounds on a common scale. They provide a standardized metric that helps admissions officers evaluate an applicant's academic readiness and compare them to other candidates.

c) Reflects Preparation and Dedication:

Achieving high test scores requires thorough preparation and dedication. It showcases an applicant's commitment to academic success, their willingness to invest time and effort in test preparation, and their ability to perform under pressure.

d) Enhances Competitiveness:

High test scores can make an applicant more competitive in the college admissions process. They provide an additional data point that distinguishes the student from others and reinforces their academic strengths. Many selective colleges consider high test scores as an indicator of potential success in their rigorous academic programs.

e) Opportunities for Scholarships and Merit Aid:

Some colleges and universities offer scholarships or merit-based aid to students with exceptional test scores. Achieving high scores can open doors to additional financial support, making higher education more accessible and affordable.

f) Demonstrates Strong Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills:

Standardized tests often assess an applicant's ability to analyze information, solve problems, and think critically. High test scores reflect a student's proficiency in these skills, which are valuable in the college classroom and beyond.

g) Validates Academic Record:

High test scores can validate an applicant's academic achievements and provide additional evidence of their abilities. They can bolster the credibility of a strong academic record and reinforce the applicant's potential for success in college.

It's important to note that while high test scores can be advantageous, they are not the sole determinant of college admission. Many colleges adopt a holistic admissions process that considers various factors, including grades, extracurricular involvement, essays, and letters of recommendation. However, achieving high test scores can significantly enhance an applicant's academic profile and increase their competitiveness in the admissions process.

It's essential for students to prepare adequately for standardized tests by familiarizing themselves with the exam format, practicing sample questions, and seeking guidance or resources to improve their performance. Additionally, it's important to research and understand the testing policies of the colleges to which they are applying, as some institutions may have specific requirements or consider test scores differently in their evaluation process.

3: Sincere, Specific, and Well-Written Essays

Sincere, specific, and well-written essays are a crucial component of a strong college application. Here is a detailed exploration of why essays hold significant weight in the college admissions process:

a) Showcases Personal Voice and Storytelling Skills:

Essays provide applicants with an opportunity to share their unique experiences, perspectives, and aspirations. They allow students to showcase their personal voice, creativity, and storytelling abilities. A well-written essay can captivate admissions officers, making an applicant's application memorable and distinct.

b) Reveals Personal Growth and Self-Reflection:

Essays can provide insight into an applicant's personal growth, challenges overcome, and lessons learned. They allow students to reflect on their experiences, values, and goals, demonstrating maturity and self-awareness. Sharing personal growth through essays can make an application compelling and memorable.

c) Demonstrates Writing Proficiency:

Writing skills are essential for success in college. Well-crafted essays demonstrate an applicant's ability to articulate thoughts, convey ideas effectively, and communicate in a coherent and organized manner. Strong writing skills showcased in essays are highly regarded by colleges.

d) Highlights Fit with the Institution:

Essays present an opportunity for applicants to convey their genuine interest in and understanding of the college they are applying to. By addressing specific aspects of the institution, such as academic programs, campus culture, or research opportunities, applicants can demonstrate their alignment with the college's values and illustrate why they would be a good fit.

e) Displays Critical Thinking and Intellectual Engagement:

Well-written essays can demonstrate a student's ability to think critically, analyze complex ideas, and engage with intellectual concepts. They can showcase a student's intellectual curiosity, passion for learning, and their ability to contribute to classroom discussions and academic environments.

f) Provides a Personal Touch to the Application:

Essays humanize the application process by allowing applicants to share personal stories, passions, and motivations. They provide context to an applicant's achievements, extracurricular activities, and academic record, helping admissions officers understand the person behind the application.

g) Addresses Potential Weaknesses:

Essays can provide an opportunity to address any weaknesses or challenges in an applicant's profile. If there are extenuating circumstances that affected academic performance or extracurricular involvement, essays can offer an explanation and allow applicants to demonstrate resilience and determination.

h) Demonstrates Ability to Follow Instructions:

Adhering to essay prompts and word limits showcases an applicant's attention to detail and ability to follow instructions. It reflects the applicant's respect for the application process and their understanding of the college's expectations.

It's crucial for students to approach their essays with sincerity, authenticity, and self-reflection. They should spend time brainstorming, drafting, and revising their essays to ensure clarity, coherence, and proper grammar. Seeking feedback from trusted mentors, teachers, or counselors can provide valuable insights and help refine the essay.

Each college may have different essay prompts and requirements, so it's essential for applicants to carefully read and understand the instructions. Adhering to the specified guidelines while showcasing personal experiences, perspectives, and aspirations can make essays powerful and effective.

Remember, essays are just one piece of the holistic admissions puzzle. Colleges consider various factors, such as grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation, alongside the essays. However, a well-written essay can make a significant impact on an applicant's overall impression and enhance their chances of admission.

4: A Spike in Your Extracurriculars

Having a spike in your extracurricular activities can greatly enhance your college application and make you a standout candidate. Here is a detailed exploration of why a spike in your extracurriculars is highly regarded by colleges:

a. Demonstrates Passion and Dedication:

A spike in your extracurriculars indicates a genuine passion and dedication to a specific area of interest. It shows that you have invested substantial time and effort in pursuing and excelling in an activity or field that you are deeply passionate about. This level of commitment demonstrates your ability to go above and beyond and showcases your drive and motivation.

b. Shows Leadership and Initiative:

A spike in your extracurriculars often involves taking on leadership roles or demonstrating initiative within your chosen activities. Colleges value students who show leadership potential, take on responsibilities, and make a positive impact on their communities. Holding positions of leadership, such as club president, team captain, or committee chair, highlights your ability to motivate and inspire others.

c. Reflects Specialized Skills and Expertise:

When you have a spike in your extracurriculars, it typically means that you have developed specialized skills and expertise in a particular area. Whether it's in sports, arts, community service, or academic pursuits, your focused involvement allows you to hone your abilities and become proficient in your chosen field. This expertise can set you apart from other applicants and demonstrate your potential for success in that domain.

d. Demonstrates Time Management and Balance:

Successfully managing a spike in your extracurricular activities requires effective time management and the ability to balance your commitments. Juggling multiple responsibilities while maintaining academic performance shows colleges that you can handle the demands of college life and excel in various areas. It signifies your ability to manage your time effectively and prioritize your commitments.

e. Exhibits Personal Growth and Character Development:

A spike in your extracurriculars provides opportunities for personal growth, character development, and the acquisition of essential life skills. Through your involvement, you may face challenges, overcome obstacles, learn from failures, and develop resilience. Colleges value applicants who can demonstrate growth, maturity, and the ability to navigate real-world experiences beyond the classroom.

f. Highlights Alignment with Academic and Career Goals:

When your extracurricular activities align with your academic and career goals, it reinforces your commitment and dedication to your chosen field of study. It shows colleges that you have a clear direction and purpose and have taken proactive steps to pursue your interests outside of the classroom. This alignment indicates a focused and determined mindset, which is highly valued in the college admissions process.

g. Provides Opportunities for Unique Experiences:

A spike in your extracurriculars opens doors to unique experiences, opportunities, and collaborations. Whether it involves participating in research projects, attending conferences, competing in national-level competitions, or engaging in community initiatives, these experiences can broaden your horizons, foster personal development, and contribute to your overall growth as an individual.

It's important to note that colleges value both depth and breadth of involvement. While a spike in your extracurriculars can be advantageous, it's not the only factor that colleges consider. They also value applicants who have explored a range of interests and experiences, demonstrating a well-rounded approach to personal and intellectual development.

When pursuing a spike in your extracurriculars, choose activities that genuinely interest you and align with your passions and goals. Seek opportunities for growth, leadership, and meaningful impact. Remember to prioritize quality over quantity, as deep involvement and significant contributions are more valuable than superficial participation in numerous activities.

Ultimately, colleges want to see applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to their interests, made a positive impact, and shown personal growth through their extracurricular pursuits. Your spike in extracurriculars should complement your academic achievements and provide a well-rounded picture of your abilities, interests, and potential contributions to the college community.

5: Compelling Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation play a significant role in the college application process and can have a strong impact on your candidacy. Here is a detailed exploration of why compelling letters of recommendation are highly valued by colleges:

a. Provides an Objective Assessment:

Letters of recommendation provide colleges with an external perspective on your abilities, character, and potential. They offer insights into your academic strengths, work ethic, leadership skills, and personal qualities from someone who has observed your performance in an educational or professional setting.

b. Validates Your Achievements:

A compelling letter of recommendation can validate the achievements and experiences you have highlighted in your application. It adds credibility to your claims and provides evidence of your accomplishments. When someone highly regarded, such as a teacher, mentor, or employer, vouches for your abilities and achievements, it carries significant weight in the admissions process.

c. Demonstrates Personal Attributes:

Letters of recommendation shed light on your personal qualities that may not be evident from your grades or test scores. They can highlight your integrity, resilience, teamwork, critical thinking skills, creativity, and other characteristics that make you a well-rounded and valuable candidate. These insights help admissions committees understand your potential contributions to the college community.

d. Offers Comparative Context:

Strong letters of recommendation can place your achievements in a comparative context, allowing colleges to assess how you stand out among your peers. When a recommender can speak to your exceptional qualities, growth, or standout performances in comparison to others, it helps colleges gauge the level of impact you may have on campus.

e. Provides Insight into Your Potential:

A compelling letter of recommendation can provide insights into your potential for future success. Recommenders who have worked closely with you can discuss your ability to handle challenges, adaptability, leadership potential, and intellectual curiosity. This information helps colleges determine how well you may thrive in their academic environment.

f. Demonstrates Positive Relationships:

Letters of recommendation reflect the quality of relationships you have built with your teachers, mentors, or supervisors. Positive and supportive recommendations indicate that you have made a lasting impression and have developed meaningful connections with individuals who can vouch for your character and abilities. This can speak volumes about your interpersonal skills and how you engage with others.

g. Offers a Different Perspective:

Recommendations provide a different perspective on your abilities and accomplishments, complementing the self-presentation in your application materials. They offer an external view of your strengths, potential, and personal growth that can add depth and nuance to your overall profile.

To secure compelling letters of recommendation, consider the following tips:

a) Choose Recommenders Thoughtfully:

Select recommenders who know you well, have observed your abilities in a relevant context, and can speak genuinely about your strengths. This may include teachers, mentors, employers, or community leaders.

b) Cultivate Meaningful Relationships: Build strong relationships with your recommenders by actively engaging in class, seeking guidance, participating in extracurricular activities, or undertaking research or internship opportunities. This will allow them to write personalized and insightful letters based on a deeper understanding of your abilities and potential.

c) Provide Relevant Information: Share information about your goals, achievements, experiences, and any specific points you would like your recommenders to address in their letters. This can help them craft a more tailored and impactful recommendation.

d) Give Ample Notice and Materials: Approach your recommenders well in advance of application deadlines to provide them with sufficient time to write a thoughtful letter. Provide them with all necessary materials, such as your resume, personal statement, and any specific forms or instructions required by the colleges.

e) Express Gratitude: After your recommenders have submitted their letters, express your sincere appreciation for their support. A handwritten thank-you note or a personal message can go a long way in acknowledging their efforts and maintaining positive relationships.

Remember, it is essential to choose recommenders who can provide insightful and positive recommendations. It's better to have a few exceptional letters than multiple generic ones. Focus on cultivating meaningful connections, excelling academically and in your extracurricular activities, and showcasing your personal qualities throughout your high school years.


Remember, each college has its own priorities and values, so it's essential to research and understand the specific requirements and preferences of the institutions to which you're applying. Crafting a well-rounded and authentic application that highlights your strengths, achievements, and unique qualities is key to presenting yourself as a strong candidate.