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What’s in a great college application?

Admissions officers from FIU and Flagler College tell you what universities want to see from students.

With college approaching so quickly, the best time to start preparing is now.

With college approaching so quickly, the best time to start preparing is now.

Photo by John Clement

Photo by John Clement

With college approaching so quickly, the best time to start preparing is now.

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A first impression is a powerful thing, and college applications are a prime example of that. Like job interviews and meeting new people, what you say about and how you present yourself will leave an imprint on your reader that helps them shape their opinion of you.

When the time comes for universities to decide whether or not to admit you to their institution, they will look at everything from your grades to your personality traits. Show your strengths well, and you can be confident in making that impression a strong one.


The Full Package

So what constitutes a great application? Academics play a large role, said Jody Glassman, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at FIU. Students are evaluated by the strength of their courses to determine how ready they are to take on college-level work. Additionally, if you’ve displayed interest in a particular field of study, admissions officers will look for related classes (for instance, biology and chemistry for aspiring doctors) and measure just how driven you really are towards it.

That’s only half the battle, though. Victor Gonzalez, the Assistant Director of Admissions at Flagler College, a private school in St. Augustine, Florida, said that who a student is matters just as much as their academic stats. “GPA and test scores are important, but we realize a student is more than simply letters and numbers,” he said. “As such, we put a lot of weight into the essay, letter of recommendation, and the student’s involvement in extracurricular activities.”


Put Your Heart Into It

The essay is particularly important as it is your best opportunity to tell colleges what makes you unique and how you can be a positive influence in their community. Mr. Gonzalez looks for one thing above all: honesty.

“Forget what you think we want to hear. Write the story you want to tell,” he said. “A student may not be the best test-taker or have the strongest grades, but a well-written essay goes a long way. It may even reveal why your GPA and/or test scores are not an accurate reflection of who you are as a student.”

Also, it never hurts to be creative with your writing. A school’s undergraduate admissions department may receive thousands of applications in the span of a few months (FIU received over 14,000 for this year’s Fall term!), so adding some personal flair can break the monotony and set you apart from the rest of the applicants.

Because the essay is the biggest and one of your only shots at expressing yourself in your application, be sure it’s as well-written as can be.

Ms. Glassman from FIU said, “It’s not a text or a tweet; it’s an essay for college, so grammar, spelling and proper punctuation all matter.”

Flagler College’s Mr. Gonzalez said, “I think it’s also important for students to get feedback. Have a second set of eyes read the essay before submitting.”


A Second Opinion

Recommendation letters can tell a lot about you, so get them from those who have seen you at your best. Sometimes, they can describe positive traits they see in you that you wouldn’t have noticed on your own.

Mr. Gonzalez said, “The best recommendation letters highlight the student’s success, but also address their weaknesses. Big or small, I like hearing about how a student showed resilience, overcame adversity.”

Ms. Glassman adds, “A math teacher might write a letter of recommendation and talk about how you were challenged by one of the lessons and how you overcame the roadblock through tutoring and improving your study skills.”


Final Advice from the Experts

What colleges want to see most out of a student is dedication, not perfection. “You’re 17, 18-years-old,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “We don’t expect you to know what you’ll want to do after college; it’s okay to switch majors or simply be undecided. Explore your options, get out of your comfort zone and discover/reinforce your passions.”

Although the stakes are high on this final stretch towards college, there’s no need to panic. “You will be okay,” Ms. Glassman said. “This is a stressful time. What you hear on TV and read online makes it sound like, if you don’t go to a certain school, then you are not going to get a good education and then you are not going to get a job and your life will be over. You need to go to a school that is a right fit for you. Maybe for you it’s a two-year Associate of Science degree; but for someone else, it’s a four-year university. There is not one prescribed pathway for everyone. No matter the pathway you take, do it for the right reasons and own it! Be your authentic YOU!!!”

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