It’s never too early to start thinking about the future. Do you have what college admissions officers really look for?

It is so exciting to start thinking about where you want to go to college and what you want to do as an adult. It’s really the beginning of the rest of your life, and your decision about how you spend the four years after high school plays a huge role. Hopefully, you’ve thought long and hard about what you want out of life and what kind of school can provide the most promising future for you. And hopefully, it’s not too late. Knowing what colleges are looking for is something you should start thinking about early on in high school because what you do in your high school years will affect what kind of college you get accepted into. Follow the tips below listed in order from most important to least important to see what colleges look for in an applicant and how to win them over.

1.Classes, Grades, and Class Rank

Colleges definitely want to see good grades, but if that means taking all easy classes, don’t do it. If you can take rigorous classes and still get good grades, colleges will be impressed. However, they also want to see a balanced schedule that includes extracurriculars, so try not to take on too much. When you sign up for difficult classes, it tells colleges that you’re willing to take on a challenge and can work hard. When you do well in your classes, class rank will come naturally, but striving to be in the top 10% is a good idea to catch the attention of your desired college.

2.Test Scores

Even though standardized tests like the ACT and SAT sometimes get a bad reputation, they are a good way for colleges to compare students across the board without bias. These are important to colleges, but not as much as your grades. Start studying for these tests early if you can, take ACT/SAT prep courses, and try your best to overcome any test anxiety that may negatively affect your score. The better you perform on these tests, the more accepting colleges will be.

3.Extracurriculars and Community Service

Have all that colleges look for in extracurricular activities

Colleges used to be interested in how well-rounded a student was, but now they want to see examples of true passion. Rather than try to be involved a little bit in everything, choose 1-3 extracurricular activities that you are truly passionate about and can demonstrate leadership in. If you excel in something unusual that sets you apart from the group, you’ll add a stroke of diversity to the school, which is what many colleges are looking for. Volunteering is a great way to show that you have integrity and determination. You want to give, not just take, and show you are a responsible citizen. Though it’s not number one on the list of what colleges look for in applicants, volunteering could lead to a great scholarship.


It can be difficult to balance a job with high school, but anything from part-time work, internships, and summer jobs look really good on a college application. This shows colleges that not only can you handle a rigorous class load and do well, but you are hardworking, mature, and know how to manage your time well. Consider even starting your own small business, which is simpler than ever nowadays, to show entrepreneurial interest.


The essay portion of your college application is important because it shows colleges your personal side and allows colleges to get to know you without an in-person interview. Try to insert as much of your personality as you can in your essay by sharing a story from your past where you learned something meaningful. It can be touching, funny, or thoughtful, but it should provide an idea of who you truly are.


Besides good grades, an online high school could help you develop the personality traits that colleges look for.

You’ll need to ask people you know well, like teachers and school counselors, for recommendations, so start building relationships of trust with these people early on. Colleges want to know what your leaders think of you and your performance as a high school student from a perspective besides your own.

While it can feel like a lot of pressure to start doing all these things as a freshman in high school, don’t stress too much. Just do your best in your classes and try to maintain a balanced life. When you want more control over your schedule, consider online high school classes like those offered at High School of America. When you study high school online, you can control when and where you complete your courses, allowing you more flexibility for jobs, volunteer work, or hobbies that you are passionate about. More and more colleges are accepting the best online high schools that are accredited, like High School of America. Completing online high school at your own pace may also give you more time to consider which college you want to go to and how to best prepare to apply. Contact us to learn more about enrollment!

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