Your college application is the best way to make a great first impression and create a clear image of your abilities, goals, and morals. Another bonus is that a strong college application gives you an advantage in the already competitive process.

If you’re feeling lost or confused during the admissions process or if you want to get a head start on preparing your college application, in this article, we’ll cover the following:

  • What looks good on college applications?
  • What stands out in a college application?
  • What do colleges look for in applicants?

What Looks Good on College Applications?


The college admission process may seem mysterious, but it’s far from it. There are tested and proven things that help your college application look good and stand out. While you may not need to include all pointers mentioned below, you should still consider the ones that spark interest. 

High GPA

One of the most important things that make your college application look good is having a high GPA, as it reflects your performance during high school and what kind of student you’ll likely be. 

If you want to boost your GPA, you should take honors classes during your freshman years and sophomore years and AP classes during your junior and senior years. An A in these classes is worth 5.0 points, more than the 4.0 in regular courses. 

AP classes will also give you valuable information about your selected major. For example, if you want to pursue a pre-med major, you should take biology and chemistry AP classes.

Excellent test scores

While there are schools that don’t take into consideration standardized test scores, for those schools that do, high SAT or ACT scores will make you stand out and even earn scholarships. Before taking the SAT or ACT, you should take practice tests to sharpen your test-taking skills and receive the best test scores possible. 

Well-written essays


While GPA and high test scores reflect the kind of student you are, well-written essays reflect your personality, values, and goals. Universities are always looking for students with unique personalities whose values align with the schools. So, by writing personal, thoughtful, and refined essays, you’ll stand out and increase your chances of attending your favorite school. 

Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation are an excellent way of foolproofing your application and offering a third-person perspective into your abilities. While you may provide outstanding test scores and essays, statements from respected individuals who’ve seen you in action and know your academic capabilities, social skills, and character in-depth will only validate your claims. 

Generally, universities require one to three letters of recommendation written by your teachers or counselors that confirm your worthiness as a candidate. 

Internships or job experiences


Many high school students work part-time jobs to cover their expenses or help their families, sometimes preventing them from joining clubs or participating in extracurricular activities. If you’re in a similar situation, it doesn’t mean your college application will be less worthy. Many schools find job experience as proof of your work ethic and additional skills and will likely see you as a strong person who knows how to balance school and work.

So, working part-time jobs or even taking internships in the field you want to pursue a career is a great way to develop your skills and improve your college application.

Leadership roles

One of the most important things that help your college application immensely is participating in activities where you can best display your leadership skills. Most universities lookout for applicants with leadership skills or leadership potential, as it demonstrates a strong commitment to your interests and the ability to make a difference. 

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Some activities where you can take leadership roles are club president, editor of the school newspaper, student council positions, sports team captain, being in charge of a school campaign, community project or volunteer project, etc. 

Academic clubs

While high grades and test scores display your academic achievements, most colleges also want you to show academic dedication and commitment through academic extracurriculars like academic clubs and teams. Not only do they look good on your college application, but they also help you deepen your knowledge and improve teamwork skills. For example, you can join the debate, chess, model UN, mock trial, science, or math clubs. 

Community service

Doing community service by volunteering shows that you care about your community. You can build homes with Habitat for Humanity, sort cans at your local food bank, serve meals at the community center, or volunteer in nursing homes. The opportunities are endless if you’re determined to make a difference in your community. Plus, you’ll also benefit by giving back, as most colleges look for applicants who care about the world. 

Artistic activities


Most colleges want applicants that, besides showing academic valor, also show a wide range of interests that don’t relate to their chosen field. So, if you’re a creative person and love art in all its forms, you should participate in artistic activities like theater, orchestra, dance, other performing arts, painting, fashion design, sculpting, etc. These extracurriculars will help you develop your skills and talents and show colleges that you are dedicated to your pursuits and can work well on a team. 


Because sports take a lot of time and require strong commitment, partaking in a sports team during high school will help you immensely in your college application. Colleges look out for students that work hard to achieve their goals, can work in a team, and can follow instructions, which are qualities sports teams will provide you with. An added bonus is if you have experience as a team leader or have won any awards. 

What Do Colleges Look For in Applicants?

Ultimately, all colleges hope to find applicants who will succeed in college and beyond, which is why they look out for students who excel in class, contribute on campus and in the community, and are an asset to their school.

Although most colleges want a diverse college community of students with different interests, generally, they look for these qualities in all students:

  • Initiative,
  • Talented
  • Risk-taker,
  • Leader,
  • Committed to serving.

The Bottom Line

College admissions counselors see hundreds and thousands of applications, which is why you should make sure to highlight yourself and your achievements in a memorable and creative way. All colleges want to find applicants that are dedicated to their studies and extracurricular activities and are an asset overall.

Understandably, filling out your college application can be stressful and challenging, but you must remember that this is the first step to a new stage in your life, and it’s all worth it in the grand scheme.