What Are Colleges Looking For?

Let’s Talk About IP Why Extracurricular Involvement?

As students embark on their college research and application journey, it may feel like colleges have all the power in the process. That’s not entirely true. With almost 2000 four-year colleges and universities in the US and thousands more worldwide, students have a lot of choices and options. However, for 20, 50, or 100 of the most popular colleges, let’s call them the “Sweatshirt Schools,” it’s important to understand that they have institutional priorities (IP) that can shape their admissions process.

What are Colleges Looking For?

Academic excellence holds the most weight in college admissions. Students should dedicate themselves to their studies, challenge themselves, and strive for intellectual growth. They should also be engaged and showcase involvement in extracurricular activities or projects that positively impact others. If you need more info on extracurricular involvement, reach out!

How is the student showing up in class? What would their teachers say about them? Letters of recommendation can play a role in college admissions. Students should authentically engage with their learning and avoid being a passive recipient. Effective communication skills are also highly valuable. College essays should be clear, compelling, and effective.

Colleges, as educational institutions, have priorities encompassing various factors. Thus, admitting students is a strategic process aligned with their priorities. Colleges seek candidates who not only meet academic standards but also contribute to the institution’s overall objectives. Institutions may prioritize geographic, gender, socioeconomic, or learning diversity to foster a rich and varied learning environment. Others may heavily consider students for their athletic programs, research prowess, or community impact. Admissions decisions reflect the dynamic interplay between an applicant’s profile and the institution’s strategic goals. The aim is to assemble a student body that collectively enhances the college’s educational ecosystem and contributes to its broader societal impact. “Sweatshirt Schools,” with no shortage of qualified applicants, weigh their IPs heavily in the admission process.

Source: October 2022 “Mother Jones”

Let’s Put the Student in the Driver’s Seat

When students understand that some colleges rely on IPs for admission purposes, focusing on what they can control makes sense.

  1. Feel good about their strengths.
  2. Embrace their unique qualities.
  3. Maintain a healthy school/life balance.
  4. Enjoy the learning process and do well in school.
  5. Be a part of a supportive community and choose their friend group wisely.
  6. Pace themselves in the college search and application process; don’t start too late, you’ll be super stressed
  7. Find their cheerleaders (family, teachers, college counselor)


For students navigating the college admissions process, remember that the journey is as important as the destination. Suppose you were a competitive applicant at one of the “Sweatshirt Schools,” and your application is denied. Remember, it is not a reflection of your worth but an opportunity to find a college that values your distinctive qualities. A college will not make you awesome. Remember, you are already awesome, and you will take that with you wherever you land. Believe in your abilities, stay true to your goals, and remember that success is not defined solely by the name on a college acceptance letter.


“Sylvia is a phenomenal college counselor. She is patient, kind, organized, and extremely knowledgeable about the college application process." - Susie

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