College application season can be stressful, especially if a student is unsure of what a school is looking for.
According to Susan Dileno, vice president for enrollment management at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, and Kim Gentile, director of admissions at the University of Akron in Akron, enrollment offices search for various attributes in applicants.
“The first thing we look for is academic preparedness,” Dileno noted. “We want to make sure a student has taken the right courses to be successful in the school of their choice. We want to see students who challenge themselves, knowing it will be challenging but will prepare them for college.”
Dileno added schools look for strong college transcripts and a commitment to a few extracurricular activities. But, there is such a thing as too many activities, she said.
“We’re very much in tune to what a student does, like their motivations and what drives them,” she said. “Their activities give a good look into what makes them tick and what they enjoy.”
Gentile said many schools start with a holistic review of a student.
“We talk about several bullet points, one of which is if the student simply completed their college requirements,” she said. “Colleges will then look at performance and with that the strength of the curriculum in the courses they took.”
She added schools also like to see a demonstrated interest in going to college.
When looking for extracurricular activities to add to their resume, extra padding doesn’t necessarily ensure acceptance.
“Students need to be genuine,” Dileno said. “We like to see students with a passion for a particular activity. It is OK if you only have a few (activities) as long as you’re giving them your all. I think colleges would rather see students being passionate about something and trying to excel at it instead of just throwing something on.”
Gentile noted, “Leadership should get into your list of activities. You shouldn’t just be a member of a club, you want to hold office and lead the effort.”
In terms of the essay, both professionals said they look for writing that evokes an emotion and allows them to learn about the student in a new way.
“The essay is really an opportunity for students to tell their story in their voice and really promote themselves and advocate for themselves,” Gentile mused. “It is a chance for admissions to get to know the student and determine whether or not the student would be successful (at our school). Essays give students the opportunity to share something about themselves other than grades or test scores.”
Dileno mentioned essays stand out when it gives a glimpse into a student’s personality.
“It is really important to try to allow us to learn about them in their essay,” she said. “When they talk about their feelings or a relationship they’ve had or a cause that is close to their heart, those are the ones that really set someone apart from others. They are demonstrating whom they are by telling a story.”
A student should do some soul searching before involving a parent in the process.
“It always starts with making a list,” Dileno said. “A student has to start with themselves regarding what is important to them. They should do some soul searching regarding a place where they will thrive. The parent’s role is guiding the student because they know the kind of person their child is.”
Gentile added, “The role of the parent depends on the student. We feel that a parent’s involvement is a positive thing, but the student has to be empowered to involve them in the process. Parents know their students better than anyone. The parent role is really one of support and guidance.”