What Colleges Look for in Student Academic Profiles
What do colleges look for in a student's academic profile? 3 tips on what students can do now to best prepare to get into the college of their choice.
BY Hannah Buchholz
Embarking on the journey to higher education is not merely a checkbox exercise; it's a chance to carve out your unique identity and distinguish yourself in a crowded admissions landscape. Crafting an academic profile that captivates admissions officers requires diligence. A thoughtful strategy will help you tell your story.
Time and energy spent in this area will be worthwhile in the college admissions process. Let's look at three key elements that can elevate your academic profile.
1) Grades Matter
Grades are not just academic indicators; they tell a story of your perseverance, discipline, and intellectual hunger. Focus on grades starting day 1. If you wait until junior year to consider your GPA, you will have done your future self a disservice.
Achieving an impressive GPA tells college admissions teams that:
- you've gained mastery over subject matter
- you can problem-solve and overcome challenging assignments
- you can adapt to various learning environments
- you value the pursuit of excellence
Admissions officers see grades as a window into your work ethic and other traits that will contribute to their institute's academic community.
2) The Power of Standardized Tests
If you are a post-2020 college applicant, you are familiar with the will-they, won't-they standardized testing debate. Will colleges want an ACT or SAT score? Or won't they? Are they going to change their mind again next year?
In 2021, articles were written speculating that the days of colleges requiring an ACT or SAT were over. And some schools, like Columbia, have decided to make testing optional permanently. Other big-name schools like MIT and Georgetown have reinstated testing requirements.
Our advice remains the same: the best way to know what you need regarding standardized testing is to go straight to the source. Visit specific colleges' websites. Look at their admissions requirements. Chat with your guidance counselor. Make the decision from there.
Our guidance team also reminds students that many scholarships look for ACT/SAT scores, so having them in your back pocket is a good idea, just in case.
At LuHi, students take ACT and SAT practice tests during their freshmen through junior years. We also partner with Magoosh for ACT/SAT testing prep for juniors. Taking standardized tests keeps options open. It doesn't hurt to take the tests even if you don't end up going to a 4-year university (or college at all, for that matter).
3) Early Preparation for Long-Term Success
Freshmen year is not just a stepping stone; it's the foundation upon which your college profile is built. As we mentioned earlier, grades matter starting day 1 of high school. But so do the clubs you join, sports you play, performances you participate in, and any other extracurriculars you do.
Work with your guidance counselor to choose courses that match your college and career goals. Not sure where to start? Don't panic. Being unsure of what you want to do after high school is a normal experience. Our advice is to explore as many options as possible during high school. Let your guidance counselor know what interests you; they will help you create a path that fits your needs.
A great thing about high school is there is no right or wrong when choosing elective classes or extracurriculars. If you end up not enjoying a subject, view it as something you can cross off the list of things you want to do in the future. Eliminating interests can be just as helpful as finding your passion.
Mindfully choosing classes and extracurriculars will set you up for success when you hit junior year. Junior year is when the rubber meets the road in the college application world. Although you will officially start applying for college in your senior year, junior year is the time to get your ducks in a row.
Use your Naviance platform to begin to craft your college admissions profile. On Naviance, you can log your service hours, gather strong teacher recommendations, and build a profile that shows how you are a leader at school. All this will help set you apart as a candidate committed to personal and academic growth.
While the journey to college is exciting, remember that higher education is not the only path to success. What you do after high school is not a one-size-fits-all concept. LuHi's Guidance Department is dedicated to helping every student find the best post-high school path for them. We encourage students to keep their options open. Explore alternative routes that align with your passions and goals. Sometimes, that means students apply to a four-year university alongside considering gap year opportunities and two-year programs.
If you are a student with a 4-year university in your sights, we are here to help you reach your college readiness goals.
Crafting an unforgettable academic profile goes beyond meeting criteria—it's about presenting a narrative of growth, resilience, and passion. Most every college will look for:
- a high GPA
- strong standardized test scores
- a thought-provoking essay
- a history of volunteer service and community involvement
- positive recommendation letters
All these elements help tell your story to college admissions teams.
By investing in your academic profile, you increase your chances of getting into to the school of your choice. More importantly, you build lifelong skills and set the stage to be a lifelong learner. The effort you put into your high school years will not be wasted.
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