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Getting Into College: 7 Things Colleges Look for Besides Grades

College Student

Getting Admitted to College

So, you’ve decided to go college. Congrats! Whether you’re a first-timer or returning, you need to get accepted. It’s no secret that grades and test scores are an important part of the admissions process. However, colleges realize you are more than just your grades, and there are a lot of other factors that go into consideration when colleges admit students. Here we’ll walk you through 7 factors that colleges look for besides grades!

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular Activity

Whether you’re in high school or beyond, participating in extracurricular activities can help set you apart from other applicants when applying to college. Participating in extracurricular activities while maintaining a well-rounded class schedule or course load shows colleges that you have an ability to prioritize, time management skills, potential leadership qualities, and motivation.

Extracurricular activities can include anything from participating in a sport or activity to an internship. Being committed and deeply active in one or two extracurricular activities is also said to be considered more important than being somewhat active in a lot of different extracurricular activities. Choose something you’re interested in and passionate about, or something that applies to your (future) career and get involved!

Volunteer Work


While volunteer work can also be considered an extracurricular activity, it is also a category of its own. Colleges value students that show a commitment to serving others, and volunteer work helps show colleges you have good time management skills, teamwork skills, and altruistic qualities. However, make sure to be authentic! Colleges can probably tell when you’ve participated in volunteer work strictly to beef up your resume or application. Try engaging in something regularly that you’re passionate about and that you can stay committed to. Not only will it show your great qualities to potential colleges, but it will also be a fulfilling personal experience.

A Good Application Essay


It’s a classic: the good ol’ application essay. Not only is it a classic, it’s important to college admissions. Application essays show your reading and writing abilities and also showcase your personality. Some colleges use application essays to see if you’re a good fit for the college, some colleges use them to see your writing abilities, and some colleges use them for both reasons.

According to, there are three different types of college application essays: the “you” essay, the “why us” essay and the “creative” essay. Colleges may ask you to write about yourself and how you can contribute to the college, some may ask you to write about why you chose the college or your career path, and some may ask about creative topics.

Make your college application essay concise, easy to follow, and personal. For more tips on writing an effective college application essay, check out this link.

Awards and Recognitions


Got an award for perfect attendance? A sports team award? Leadership recognition? Recognition for excellent work? Make sure to include it on your college application! Awards and recognitions don’t necessarily have to be academically related, and they’re a great way to show you’re a student who can contribute good qualities to the college!

Letters of Recommendation

Letter of Recommendation

While you know all you have to offer to a college, having someone else vouch for you makes a huge difference in college admissions. Letters of recognition show someone is willing to speak about you on your behalf, give personal opinions about you and your character, and reveal more about you than scores and grades can.

If you want to get a letter of recommendation make sure to research if your desired school requests them from specific people. Some colleges may ask that letters of recognition come from a school counselor or a teacher. You can ask former teachers, counselors, employers, coaches, or other leaders who know you for letters of recommendation. It’s important to ask for a letter of recommendation from someone who is willing and enthusiastic to write one on your behalf. Speak with them in person to outline your goals and achievements and what you wish to get from the letter.

Ongoing Contact With the School

College Building

It may be obvious, but a great way to make yourself known and make a good impression for college admissions is to have ongoing face to face contact with your school(s) of choice. Schedule campus visits, go on tours, meet with advisors and counselors, attend local presentations, and keep in contact with academic staff. This demonstrates that you’re enthusiastic about going to college, and that you’re enthusiastic about that particular school. It also helps those in the college get to know you on a personal level, and form their own opinions about you that are not just from applications and papers. Sometimes it’s not all about what you know, but about who you know (and who knows you) as well.

Other Factors


Some other factors may impact your college admissions, although they aren’t weighed as heavily as others. These may be:

  • Location
    • Some schools have been known to pay closer attention to applicants that are from near the college, or that live in the same state.
  • Diversity
    • Colleges want a student body that is diverse so that they can offer the best experiences to everyone involved. If you come from a different racial or ethnic background, or have lived in or studied in other backgrounds, colleges may be influential.

Time to Get Accepted!


Colleges look at more than just grades and test scores when it comes to admitting new students. Remember, these 7 things may all be factors colleges look for in students besides grades:

  1. Extracurricular Activities
  2. Volunteer Work
  3. A Good Application Essay
  4. Awards and Recognitions
  5. Letters of Recommendation
  6. Ongoing Contact With the School
  7. Location and Diversity

Take these tips and get ready to start your college career!