Concordia Shanghai Jul 3 2020

Characteristics of a College Student: What Qualities are Valued by American Admissions Officers?


In today's competitive university landscape, it often takes more than just excellent exam results for a student to get into their best-fit university. 

Admissions officers now look beyond grades and use the admissions process to get to know the student in order to determine how good of a candidate they are for admission to their institution.

Below, we explore the changing nature of the admissions review process and outline five important qualities valued by American admissions officers. By including these characteristics in your children’s application, they will stand out as quality candidates and have a greater chance of getting into their best-fit university. 

Admissions Review Process

According to Dr. Grace Cheng Dodge, former Director of Admission, Wellesley College, MA, U.S. as well as the former Associate Director of Admissions, Harvard College, MA, U.S., beyond the specific requirements to study in the U.S., admissions officers look at two sets of factors when determining if an applicant is the right fit for their institution.

Primary factors:

  • Quality/rigor of academic courses and academic experiences
  • Academic performance/grades or marks
  • Test scores, including SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, AP, etc.

Find out more about the specific marks American universities look at during the application process

Secondary factors:

  • Personal statement/supplemental essays
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Demonstrated interest
  • Demonstrated insights and personal qualities

Admissions officers use the factors above to predict if a potential applicant will be able to handle academic challenges and to discover the benefits they will bring to the school. Though stellar grades can get an applicant far, the secondary factors can help push your children ahead of the pack.

What Qualities Reflect Positively During the Admissions Process

Admissions officers who take a holistic approach to acceptances are looking for students who will benefit the university at every step, which includes more than just academics. 

According to Dr. Dodge, there are five qualities in a student that add value to their application. 

1. Strong Leadership Skills

Our children are the leaders of tomorrow, and having strong leadership skills are indispensable in today’s job market. 

Up to 35% of admissions officers reported looking for candidates who held some form of leadership position in their community

Admissions officers will often ask faculty how an applicant has demonstrated leadership while at their school, both on and off campus. Students can showcase their leadership skills in many areas around campus, be the in student government, athletics, service learning initiatives, or other clubs and activities.

Leadership skills and other positive qualities in your children can also be showcased to admissions officers via co-curricular records or in personal statements and essays.

2. Perseverance

Holistic approaches to admissions processes now consider student life experiences, as they have recognized the importance of getting to know an applicant on a deeper level.

According to one study, 42% of admissions officers considered a student’s background as an aspect of their application

Perseverance doesn’t only apply to personal challenges, it can also apply to difficult high school course loads, such as AP or IB. It can be detrimental to an application for students who have dropped courses, students would benefit more from trying their best to get through the workload.

Having the ability to not only overcome challenges, but to thrive and make it through them, proves to admissions that an applicant can persevere through anything.

3. Grit

Students who demonstrate strength of character prove that they will be a positive influence on campus life. 

The university experience can be a difficult time for many, but students with strong core values, such as grit, tenacity, perseverance, etc., they have the right attitude to succeed in a post-secondary setting.

Admissions officers are looking for students who exemplify the best of the best, and by not limiting that to academics, they search for students who meet these expectations.

“All universities are not the same with each having their own values and culture, so finding students that are aligned with the specific school’s beliefs is key in setting the student up for success,” said Michelle Klar, a high school counselor at Concordia.

4. Passionate and Driven

An aspect of increasing importance during the application process is student passion and drive. 

According to one survey of admissions officers, 93% of admissions officers considered passion for a student’s chosen subject as important or very important. Admissions officers know the challenges that lay ahead for students, and those who lack passion for their chosen studies may not have the lasting determination and dedication required to stick to their major until graduation. 

Students can showcase their passion for their chosen studies by seeking new and exciting learning opportunities on the topic and documenting this throughout their application. 

5. Community Involvement

Campus life has increasingly become more intertwined, and a university community that values student involvement can help battle any personal or academic issues brought on by feelings of isolation.

Admissions officers know that a student involved in their community knows how to build their own network of people who can help them through difficult times.

Conversely, community involvement can indicate to admissions officers that a student has the ability to work well with others, something that becomes incredibly important in academia. 

“Involvement and impact are looked at by universities because they not only identify where a student’s commitment lies, but also the skills they hold such as working with others and showing initiative,” said Klar.

Now that you have a grasp on the qualities valued by American admissions officers and how including these characteristics helps greatly strengthens your children’s application, how exactly do you go about helping give your children the best chance to actually receive admission from their best-fit university? Click the link below to find out.

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