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What do colleges look for in students? Learn about the “steps” you need gain admission into a certain college & how to deal with the stress.
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Thinking Bigger – What Do Colleges Look For In Students And College Admissions

Thinking Bigger – What Do Colleges Look For In Students And College Admissions

What do colleges look for in students? Our goal at ReadyEdgeGo is to help students destress from the pressures of high school. The leading cause of this stress is misinformation. We have encountered countless students and parents who have misconceptions about the “steps” they need to take in order to gain admission into a certain college or groups of colleges. This misinformation is the real cause of the stress and pressure. We hope that this article can help clear some of those misconceptions up!

What Do Colleges Look For In Students for 99% of Universities

What Really Sets a Student Apart?

It’s not the numbers, that’s for sure. Stanford rejects around 69% of perfect SAT scorers every year, and we’ve seen the same trend apply to all the top universities in the United States. So, what gives? Why is it that so many students spend so much time and money on numbers, yet don’t always see the results?

Intellectual Depth Outside of Class

The first thing that comes to many people’s mind for this topic is “weighted classes” and AP Tests. Students should absolutely take weighted courses in the areas of interest. However, what sets students apart is how far they went into learning it outside of class. Sure, summer programs are nice, but they are also extremely common and expensive. Instead, we suggest reading more and asking meaningful questions about what you read and in general. While everyone is spending $5000+ on the same summer programs, you can spend $5 on a book and get the same value, if not better. That’s how you truly set yourself apart, since no one reads anymore.

Leadership

In this context, what do colleges look for in students? This is leadership. Leadership is defined by convincing others to do something that they otherwise wouldn’t have done. Thus, starting an AI club for your friends to join, who are all already interested in technology, doesn’t really count. Same goes for becoming a class president and doing what the advisor tells. What Do Colleges Look For In Students? It’s Leadership. It’s about leading others to achieve something that they otherwise would not have accomplished had it not been for your leadership.

Remember, to truly stand out, you have to encounter challenges and map out your own path. Don’t aim to follow the path that you’ve seen or heard numerous other students follow. In our 15 years of mentoring students, we haven’t encountered a single leadership experience that wasn’t challenging. By nature, leadership experiences require a challenge – it’s the only way we lead ourselves, and others, to something greater.

Service

This isn’t about completing your service requirement. It is also not about how many hours you get or the Gold Award, the Presidential Service Award, Eagle, etc. You may ask “What makes me stand out from other applicants?” It’s about serving. To be about serving only for the sake and benefit your community. To make a difference.

Another myth is that continuity among various experiences is what colleges are looking for. Continuity is important, yes, though having numerous experiences isn’t. We’d rather you serve deeply in one experience rather than lightly in three. 

What Do Colleges Look For In Students In The Top 1% of Universities

Intellectual Range Outside of Class

Okay, we get you want to become a doctor, but that doesn’t mean all you should study and participate in is Biology. Yet, that’s what we see again and again and again in the students (and their families) who want to “stand out”. Meanwhile, the top of the top pre-med places and Biology ranked schools are virtually all liberal arts universities — which places a heavy emphasis on versatility and intellectual range. Particularly in reading, writing, and critical thinking. This lesson applies to all majors, even Undeclared. If you want to stand out, start studying other things beyond just your major! Be curious and well rounded!

Innovative Leadership

This term started in UC Berkeley Admissions several years ago, and it rings true of all of UC Berkeley calibre schools. The top 1% of universities aren’t just looking for captains of sports teams, or presidents of clubs. The top 1% are looking for something slightly different. How did you lead in a way that was innovative? Class officers don’t typically do this. They usually just perform tasks that every other class officer did before them. Same as sports captains, usually nothing out of the ordinary. So how will you contribute differently and in a positive way? This oftentimes doesn’t involve a club or sport or a fancy title of “leadership”. It’s usually just about solving a problem that involves other people, just in a unique way. 

Impactful Service

Time for some real talk. Stop counting the number of hours you’ve served. Stop signing up for different kinds of volunteer opportunities. Find the one or two service options that allows you to make a meaningful and lasting impact on people directly. By “meaningful and lasting”, consider whether your work is changing someone’s life for the better, and for how long. For example, serving food to the homeless is a good deed, but does it transform a homeless person’s situation in a meaningful or lasting way beyond that day? Probably not.

Furthermore, those who serve the homeless in this way often don’t get to know the individuals they serve, hence making it difficult to extract what impact was really made. Fundraising often doesn’t check the box here, since your work is often distant from the people you will ultimately help. Your service shouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with your major. In fact, it’s usually best to serve in a way that’s completely different from what you plan on studying, simply because it demonstrates a more well-rounded life experience.

What Do Colleges Look For In Students? The Conclusion

That’s it for this week. We hope that this has helped you approach your 2021 new years resolutions a little differently.  Good luck on all your finals and happy holidays. This will be our last post for the year. See you in 2021!

If you need any help with this, please reach out! For a full feature and even more detail, check out our YouTube video about it.

We specialize in youth mentorship and college counseling. From 8th grade to 12th, we have you covered for any stage in your high school career. Schedule a free consultation with us here.

In conclusion, we are always posting more helpful tips and tricks to help reduce the stress of college application season. Follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and LinkedIn.

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Liz Robles

Major Advisor - Art, Multimedia, Design

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 2

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love to motivate students to find their true passion. It’s so rewarding to see students succeed in a field they enjoy.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I enjoy arts and crafts, doing outdoorsy things such as hiking or picnics and the nightlife with friends.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Time management is key. Have a healthy balance between your work/school and social life.

Justin Siu

Major Advisor - Premed

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 3 years.

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: Every student is so unique, with their own story, skills, strengths, and personality. I love embarking on that journey with them, albeit temporarily, in helping them envision and execute their own vision for their life.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I love spending the little free time I have exploring new foods with friends and family. If I'm lucky, I spend it trying to build my sketching/design/sewing skills in hopes of building my second dream career as a runway couture designer.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: When envisioning a life career, utilize the Japanese philosophy of ikigai (translated as 'reason for being'). An ideal career meets at the intersection of passion, mission, profession, and vocation. Evaluate each of these components when envisioning yourself in a life path/career.

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Pranshul Goel

Major Advisor - Premed, Biology, Chemistry

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 1

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: The ability to help students find their passion for their lifelong careers.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I am an avid hiker/backpacker, musician, and love to learn about medical breakthroughs

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Take time for yourself and enjoy life, so that when you are in school, it does not feel like a chore.

Xenia Bremseth

Major Advisor - Business

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 14

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: When they have the lightbulb moment and everything clicks into place for them.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Travel, yoga, run, hike, eat lots of good food

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Enjoy life as it today; don’t be in such a rush to be an adult because most of life is being an adult.

Bridgette Well

Essay Editor

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: In writing, editing, tutoring, and college support, I have a combined 9.5 years of experience

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I like getting to know students as individuals, holding space to help them connect more deeply with themselves, witnessing “green light” moments when new ideas or perspectives create a positive shift, and learning what feels important to them.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I enjoy spending time with friends, meditation and yoga, listening to music, being in nature, making/consuming art (painting, singing, poetry, performance), and learning about the world and universe we live in.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Be kind to yourself.

Ariana Lee

Admissions Advisor, Apps Advisor

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 12

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love hearing their stories. There's so much to discover about a person. It's very rewarding when my students get comfortable and know that I'm there for them.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Swim, read, write, sing, enjoy nature, and play with my two crazy boys.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Do what you love, and everything else will fall into place.

Tam Minton

Apps Advisor, Major Advisor - Social Sciences

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 16

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love getting to know them and helping them know themselves!

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Scuba dive, write, travel.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Don't worry about everyone else's opinion, be your authentic self!

Julian Hoffman

Admissions Advisor, Apps Advisor, Essay Editor

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 5

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: Hearing each student's unique stories, guiding them in discovering their passions, and helping find their voice!

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I am a figure skater, world traveler, dessert aficionado, and devotee of the Pioneer Woman, the Barefoot Contessa, and Maneet Chauhan!

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Work hard now -- procrastinate later!

Sarah Gooch

Essay Editor

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: I have five years' experience in coaching student writing, but this is my first year with ReadyEdgeGo.

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love helping students find depth and meaning in their own stories—but I also just love it when they make me laugh!

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: In theory, I enjoy painting and writing poetry, but these days I actually spend most of my free time socializing or watching movies with my husband.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Don't just focus on achieving top grades and credentials because they look good on applications, or your education will be meaningless. The numbers and awards have their place, but stay connected to your sense of curiosity, discovery, excitement, and wonder so that the content you're learning is constantly transforming you—it's something you care about, something you remember after the final exam. Work on the aspects of yourself no one can measure, like integrity, wisdom, kindness, and compassion, so that you're not only developing your academic and career potential but also investing in the type of adult you're going to be, the person you'll have to live with after you clock out every day for the rest of your life. Doing the hard inner work of building your character and learning deeply instead of just earning grades will set you up for a satisfying, well-rounded life. Strange as it sounds, it will also put you ahead in your academic and career goals, because colleges and hiring managers aren't looking for an empty set of data on a spreadsheet; they want a fully fleshed-out person marked by passion, creativity, and a story no one else has lived. So go on studying hard for tests, but also spend some time asking yourself what matters in life and who your role models are. Read up on topics that amaze you, and build something incredible just for fun. Cultivate that spark of joy you feel when you're immersed in a subject that fascinates you. If you can hit that balancing act of doing your homework and meeting deadlines but also investing in the kind of person you want to be, then trust that all the rest will follow: schools will recognize you as a dynamic, all-star person, and you will also build a life of happiness, close relationships, and peace.

Sherrie Malleis

Essay Editor

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: I have more than 15 years experience teaching writing to all ages.

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love assisting students to achieve their educational goals.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I love to go hiking on the trails around the dunes of Lake Michigan.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Use a calendar to help you meet your deadlines and to stay stay organized.

Bernie Nguyen

Major Advisor - STEM

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 5 years high school mentoring experience. I was heavily involved in it all throughout college and after graduating.

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love hearing about their passions and what they genuinely love to do. It also makes me extremely happy to.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I recently picked up the electric guitar! I also have multiple aquariums, and founded a company that built body armor.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Don't go down a path just because you think that's "what you're supposed to do." Life is more diverse and unexpected than any of us could ever know.

Maxx Mueller

Major Advisor - Engineering

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 1

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: Getting to know student's interests and seeing their growth as students and people.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Ice Hockey, Snowboarding.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: You are more than your list of accomplishments. The growth and learning about yourself and others, and the hard work, failures, and lessons that lead to those accomplishments make you who you are.

Joanna Yang Yowler

Essay Editor

Q:How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 15

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love hearing students' stories and seeing their faces light up when they talk about their passions and dreams.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Cook, write, draw, save Azeroth .

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Pursue dreams that matter to you and don't be afraid of forging your own path to where you want to go.

readyedgego

Aaron Togelang

Major Advisor - Engineering

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 2

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: It's amazing getting to know the unique and diverse passions that drive each student

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Sleep, but also video games, climb, scuba dive, and ride my motorcycle

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Do things. Just get out there and try as many cool new things you can! You never know what you'll love until you give it a shot.

readyedgego

Tylar Pendgraft

Senior Essay Editor

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 9

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I love how open students are to learning and trying new things. As mentors, we get to see so much growth simply because our students are so open to new experiences and are looking forward to applying their learning and other skills.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: In my free time I like to read and write. I also spend a lot of time just watching--my dogs, birds, trees. I also enjoy baking and cooking (even though I'm terrible at baking).

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: It's never too early or late to start practicing self-care. Build moments of joy and celebration into your week. Give yourself a treat for working hard. It's important to have things to look forward to. If you can get into the habit now, you'll have a much more balanced college experience.

readyedgego

Miguel Barranco

Major Advisor - Premed, Biology, Chemistry

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: Three years

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: I enjoy getting to know them on a personal level and helping them see that their life story/experiences are unique and matter.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I coach wrestling at the high school level. Enjoy spending time with my husky, Lucy, on runs or hikes. Dancing mainly bachata and salsa. Collecting retro video games and playing them from time to time.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Make time to do things you love outside of academics. Whether that is clubs, music, art, sports, etc.

readyedgego

Anika Sherma

Major Advisor - Health Sciences, Social Sciences

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 2

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: As a major advisor for students interested in the humanities, I’ve found it immensely rewarding to offer an outlet for students to explore ideas that they often don’t get to delve into at school. Watching a student light up when they realize that there is in fact a community around their specific interests is easily the best part of the job.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: In my free time, I love to be outdoors - I've been hiking around the Bay Area and recently started biking again. I also volunteer at community gardens and trail restoration projects in San Francisco. When I'm not outside, you can find me reading visionary fiction, practicing yoga and qigong, or cooking.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: My advice for high school students is to focus on the present! Use this time to learn more about yourself and the world around you. Solid values and a sense of self will allow you to make challenging decisions for the future and create the life you want.

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Tushar Singla

Chief Technology Officer

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 4

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: Watching them accomplish great things.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Watch Formula 1, play ice hockey, and watch TV.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Spend time exploring different things -- you have a long time to become an expert.

readyedgego

Dan Zhou

Chief Executive Officer

Q: How many total years of experience do you have in your current role, including but not limited to ReadyEdgeGo?

A: 16

Q: What about working with students do you most enjoy?

A: Inspiring a student towards self discovery, and wanting to learn about everything there is in the world. Reaching this moment can take time, but it's what makes it worth it every time.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Outdoors hiking, photography, gardening, and reading.

Q: What is your one piece of advice for high schoolers?

A: Do the thing that moves you, or be moved by forces not your own. The choice is yours.

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