Dr. Jeff & Dr. Brian Haig - The Experts in College Planning and Student Success.

Think Like a College Admissions Officer

With the high school year officially getting underway and summer coming to a close, it’s important that students with college aspirations understand how college admissions officers think about the admissions process. Because if a student can really understand how a college admissions officer thinks, then this will allow the student to develop an action-oriented, strategic, and purposeful game plan that will make him/her as competitive as possible when applying to college. So let’s get into the mindset of admissions officers and discuss how they think so you can maximize your chances of getting into the college of your choice.

1) Academic Performance / Competitive Courseload

As we have discussed, nothing is more important than a high school transcript showing a strong academic performance with a competitive course load. Universities, above anything else, are academic institutions, and therefore, place the most weight on students who show they can not only excel in coursework, but also take a competitive course load—meaning AB, IB and honors coursework. The higher the grades, especially in a rigorous course load, the more attractive you will be to an admissions officer.

2) Passionate Involvement in Extracurricular Activities

College admissions officers also want to know that students can balance coursework with extracurricular activities—clubs, sports, community service, research opportunities, competitions, and/or the arts. Admissions officers want to know what students are passionate about outside of the classroom, and how they have excelled in their extracurricular activities. Whether that is being passionate about a sport such as playing tennis or soccer, or a student has an interest in theater or dance, admissions officers want to see how that student excelled in that activity. Examples include taking on a leadership role, showing depth of involvement, earning measurable results in the form of awards and honors, or even being recognized in competitions at the state and national level. The more passionate and unique you can demonstrate yourself to be to an admissions officer, the more memorable and remarkable you will be to them.

3) Overcoming Challenges

Admissions officers also want to understand how students have overcome obstacles, hardships, or challenges in their lives. Whether this is moving, earning poor grades at first, or experiencing more serious challenges such as overcoming a medical condition, or having a traumatic event, admissions officers want to know how a student dealt with, learned from, and grew from a hardship.

4) Bringing your Application to Life with a Compelling Story

Students who convey a story in their application can stand-out. When a college admissions officer reads an application and there is a compelling story that resonates in a student’s application through passionate involvement in clubs/organizations, academic strength, leadership in an activity, and/or community service/outreach participation, a story can bring a voice to the application, and greatly strengthen its appeal.

5) How you are Perceived and Recognized by Others

Admissions officers also want to understand how others view you. How you are perceived and recognized by those in the school and community carries meaningful weight in the admissions process. This is why letters of recommendation are oftentimes part of the college application process. Letters written by teachers, community leaders, or in some instances, religious figures can help your application. All of these individuals can write about you from a perspective beyond your quantitative numbers and showcase qualitative attributes about your character and personality—qualities that will allow admissions officers to really get to know you as a person, instead of as just another college applicant.

6) Demonstrated Interest in a College

Finally, college admissions officers, in many instances, want to know that you have a demonstrated interest in their college. A student who applies to a college and who hasn’t shown a vested interest in the college somehow will not convey that he/she has a strong desire to attend the university. Demonstrated interest can be shown through campus visits, attending an information session, and talking to an admissions officer, current students, or alumni. College admissions officers want to know that you are serious about their college and understand the college’s mission statement, core beliefs, values, history, and overall vision. They want a student who will add value to the student body and be a great representation for their college.

Understanding how an admissions officer thinks is valuable to the admissions process. Because once you get into the mindset of an admissions officer, and understand how they think, and evaluate applicants, you will be able to better develop a winning game plan, and refine your college admissions strategy to make you much more competitive.

The college admissions process is more competitive than ever in today’s college application landscape, and getting an edge is what will allow you to get into one of your top choice universities. Use these six strategies to think like an admissions officer to help you become as competitive as possible for college.