Tips for Parents

Five Traits That Matter in College Admissions

Guest blog post by Jon Reider, former Senior Associate Director of Admission for Stanford University, and curriculum developer for iAdmissions, a unique network of former admissions officers providing affordable, one-on-one college counseling.

Students have one shot to personally impress admissions officers — the essays. A strong essay that harnesses your voice and shows the ʻtrue youʼ often can make a difference in your evaluation. When writing your application essay, consider five traits that admissions officers usually look for:


Donʼt pretend you are a superhero! Through your essay, you need to address the admissions officer who reads it. They are an adult with their own life experiences, who does not know you but wants to get to know you better. Colleges want students who know they are human and who have developed through challenging themselves.


Have you grown with your experiences? Do you look inward and learn from both your successes and failures? Admissions officers look for students who take every opportunity to mature. It is one thing to simply write about what has happened to you, and another to show how you have changed because of these events. If you are applying to graduate school make special emphasis on your research experience. If you are pursuing a Master of Education, for example, be sure to focus on your teaching experience in the classroom and any teaching research partnerships you were involved in.


Admissions officers have long days. They might be reading your application at 9 a.m. over a cup of coffee or at 11 p.m. before going to sleep. The phones might be ringing in the background. It should not take 110% of their focus to get through your essays. Be succinct and clear. Is that string of 10-letter adjectives really necessary to express yourself, or are you just trying to show off your vocabulary?


A college is a community, and admissions officers want to know how you interact with others. When writing an essay, try to work in an example of a time in which you brought people together. Perhaps its was with humor, or good-will, or sincerity. The person reading your essay should want to be your friend and not just on facebook.


If your transcript shows you know how to take a test, you may be tempted to think you don’t need to write about academics. More than grades, however, admissions officers want to know how ideas move you. Plenty of students achieve outstanding grades but lack direction or motivation toward goals and ideas in the real world. Try to be as specific as you can about what excites you intellectually. Showing a clear interest in a specific program like a health care administration bachelor’s degree will win you more favor with admissions than stating any uncertainty about future career path.