The 2010 survey of independent college consultants was released in June 2010 and highlights the“Top Ten Strengths and Experiences Colleges Look for in High School Students.”  The list changes every time it’s compiled, an event that occurs every few years.  Your grades, test scores, and the rigor of your high school curriculum still top the list.  But there are some changes from prior years.getting_into_college stret sign

Guess what?  The importance of the application essay has moved up in the list  — from #7 to #6 — since the last survey!  Part of the reason for this is that many colleges have begun to make the SAT and ACT optional with “test optional” policies.  The admissions essay continues to be more important to private liberal arts colleges than it is at large state universities, so if you are targeting Ivy League and other top private schools, put some focused attention on the essay part of your application.

It’s hard to write a good essay without good material.  Not surprisingly, factors #4 and #7-10 are all essay-related as well.  “Passionate involvement in a few activities, demonstrating leadership and initiative,” which ranks #4, gives you great essay material.  “Special talents or experiences” comes in at #7 and is also fodder for an outstanding essay, as is “demonstrated leadership in activities” (#8), a factor that showed up for the first time on the list this year.

It is crystal clear from this list that schools are not looking for well-rounded students – they are looking for leaders.  It is much more important to get deeply involved in a few activities than to do a little of everything.  And you’ll have a lot more to write about in your college application essay if you take on leadership positions that require you to manage people, organize big projects and events, and grow as a person.

Note that succeeding in these areas requires some planning ahead.  If you are not a harp player already by the time you are entering your senior year of high school, it is unlikely that you will become one.  If you haven’t been deeply involved in a student organization, it might be difficult to take on leadership suddenly.  It’s more important than ever to find your passion early and follow it.

Finally, “demonstrated enthusiasm to attend” ranked #10 in the survey.  Take this factor under advisement as you write your college essay.  You would do well to write something about why you want to attend a particular school, especially if it’s your first or second choice.  Just make sure to send the correct essay to each school, mentioning the school you’re applying to and not another school!  Mixing this one up is a great way to get yourself into the “no” pile (and it happens all the time).

Thankfully, you have a lot of guidance about how to get into the “yes” pile.  Determine where you will most stand out as an interesting candidate with leadership abilities, and write a great essay about it.

For help on your college essay from The Essay Expert, contact us at or by phone at 608-467-0067 OR 717-390-6696.Enhanced by Zemanta


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