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Huntington Learning Center: Colleges look for 4 key things as student applications roll in

Huntington Learning Center: Colleges look for 4 key things as student applications roll in

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When college is on the horizon for your high school student, it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the entire process. From researching financial aid to exploring schools to applying, there’s a lot to do in a relatively short period of time.

Keeping the big picture in mind is important, says Gwyn Morris of the Omaha Huntington Learning Center. “Parents and students can easily get bogged down with the ‘college tasks’ but forget to focus on what really matters,” she says. “Teens should put most of their effort toward being the best student they can be in order to be attractive candidates for admission to the colleges to which they apply.”

And what exactly are colleges looking for? Here are four of the most important student traits, according to the 2017 State of College Admission report released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. 

Strong grades

No surprise, grades are admissions officers’ top decision factor for first-time college students. This includes both grades in college preparatory classes as well as all other classes. And don’t think that all A's are created equal. Your teen’s strength of curriculum matters as well. Admissions officers will look for Advanced Placement classes, honors classes, International Baccalaureate, and other similar classes that suggest how your teen might perform at college.

SAT or ACT scores

While a student’s GPA is one important measure of achievement, his or her scores on a standardized college admissions exam are another good way to assess knowledge of the subjects needed for college. These exams also are intended to evaluate readiness for college, measuring students’ ability to apply what they learn in school outside the classroom.

Writing skills

Not all colleges require an admissions essay, but those that do so are looking to get to know prospective students “off paper” and get a feel for their ability to articulate experiences. Of course, admissions officers are also interested in understanding whether applicants can communicate effectively and organize their thoughts and have a good command of grammar and writing style. 


Colleges seek to create a rich campus community with a diverse student body. Although the factor, “extracurricular activities” was ranked by the NACAC’s report as being of “considerable importance” by just 7.9 percent of colleges surveyed, “strong essay” came in at 18.9 percent and “student’s demonstrated interest” in the college at 13.7 percent. The latter two factors prove that students who express their interests, passions and poignant experiences effectively and take initiative to show their interest in a college will set themselves apart and increase their chances of admission.

Morris reminds parents to encourage their teens to check specific admissions information on each college’s website.

“Often, colleges are forthright in sharing what they’re looking for in candidates,” she says. At any school, however, academic performance and strong preparation is of utmost importance.

If you have questions about making sure your teen is ready for college and has a strong resume in place, call Huntington at 1-800CANLEARN or click here.


About Huntington

Huntington is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, algebra through calculus, chemistry and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence and motivation to help students succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington’s mission is to give every student the best education possible. Learn how Huntington can help.

©2017 Huntington Mark, LLC. Huntington Learning Center®, the three-leaf logo, and 1 800 CAN LEARN® are registered trademarks of Huntington Mark, LLC. Each franchised Huntington Learning Center is operated under a franchise agreement with Huntington Learning Centers, Inc.

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