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Oregon Family Magazine

Preparing for College Beyond the “Numbers”

01/01/2021 ● By Joshua Hirschstein
While colleges certainly seek students who have shown academic success, colleges also understand that talent, ability, and potential are not necessarily well-revealed in an applicant’s “numbers” - that is, their GPA and test scores. This is why admissions department readily look beyond the numbers, to the essays, recommendations, and communications with the applicant, to better understand a student’s strengths and potential. Indeed, in my 30 years of helping students gain college admissions, I have seen 3.2 GPAs accepted over 4.0 GPAs, and very low SAT scores not hinder acceptance (or scholarships) at competitive, 4-year colleges (that require a score submission).

So, what do selective colleges seek beyond “good numbers,” and how do students in middle and high school “set themselves up” for being desirable candidates?

Here are 5 things all students can do to be attractive candidates for college admissions:

1) Work hard in school, of course, and strive for good marks. Colleges desire applicants who challenge themselves, but also understand that confidences and abilities in middle and high school are developing over the years, and who someone is as they approach college may well differ from who they were in previous years. Remember: colleges are more interested in who you are becoming rather than who you have been. Therefore, take ownership of your record, and speak honestly of your ups and downs.

2) In other words, character matters. Honesty and compassion, kindness and open-mindedness, and integrity and dedication are all traits highly sought by colleges (and elsewhere). Demonstrate these traits in all your activities. Colleges very much want people who want to do well for themselves and by others.

3) Colleges seek people who invest time in exploring activities of choice. if you have a passion, indulge in it (although not at the expense of #1 and #2). Put in a strong effort to collaborate with others interested in the same passion.  If, like most students, you don’t have “a passion,” still invest regular time in organized activities outside of school hours.  Sports, music, drama, visual arts, church and club activities, part-time work, and involvement in political, social, or environmental causes are all activities that shape us and speak to our character and willingness to engage. Being competitive is not required.

4) Volunteer for a cause. Many school programs require volunteering, but if yours doesn’t, find some place to offer consistent time and effort to help your community. Colleges expect all students to get involved in campus activities; a track record of involvement, and an eagerness to explore and participate, is an attractive quality.

5) Finally, as you explore college options, express confidence in your unique self. Invest quality time on the admissions essays and in your research and interactions with prospective colleges to share your unique story. Tell colleges of the person you are who is excited about reaching for opportunities, whatever they may be. Colleges reward those who take risks, which includes the courage to present oneself well and request an opportunity to prove oneself.

Yes, colleges want students with “good numbers.” But numbers alone give little evidence of the vital, desirable qualities of character, curiosity, engagement, and potential – all qualities that selective colleges consciously seek in its student body.

Note: The only sure effect the pandemic has had on college admissions is that the submission of an SAT or ACT score is optional for the freshman class of 2021. Very few colleges have changed admission’s procedures or expectations beyond this year’s entering class.

Joshua Hirschstein,  the director of Lane Tutoring Service, Inc. in Eugene, has helped prepare and guide  students through the college admissions process for over 30 years.