Grades, Course Selection, and Standardised Test Scores are the most important components of the application. They give colleges insight into your academic abilities. Some students tend to ‘over focus’ on extra-curricular activities assuming that they will outweigh weak grades. This simply is not true.
In your years of experience as a counsellor, what do you think colleges are looking for in a student?
Colleges are looking for students who will succeed in the classroom and contribute to the community. Just being smart does not make you the perfect candidate. Colleges are academic communities (both parts of that phrase are important).
Extra-curricular activities: do you recommend that students pursue several different activities, or stick to just one/a few?
During Grade 9, students should explore the wealth of opportunities. Discretionary time can be filled with sports, clubs, philanthropic endeavours, part-time jobs. All are worthwhile. After Grade 9, I think choosing a couple of activities and focussing on them makes the most sense. Breadth of experience is nice – depth is nicer. If you have spent a few hours in a variety of pursuits you are less likely to make an impact on any of them when you get to college. Conversely, if you have found a love of one or twwo activities, you are more likely to actively participate once you arrive on campus.
What activities impress college admission officers?
There is no magic formula. Colleges want students who will make an impact, whether it is on the football field, with the band, in the theatre, or on the newspaper. All are important to a healthy, thriving college community. That said, the student who is a leader, or initiates a new aspect in a standard club would have great appeal.
What mistakes do you think some students make in the college application process, and how might these have been prevented?
Some students do not take the time to proof read their applications. A sloppy application is a reflection of the applicant.
Some students become too fixated on a single college. It is fine to have a first choice, but I warn against having an only choice. There are so many wonderful schools out there that would be good fits for a student. Explore, learn, and include rather than simply exclude.
Some families fail to plan accordingly for the financial commitment of college. They presume that colleges ‘throw money’ at good students. The colleges are affected by the economic downturn just like everyone else. College is expensive. Go into the process accepting that fact. Make plans according to your situation. Too many people are aware of finding an ‘academic fit’ while not many think about finding a ‘financial fit’.