Tips for Parents

Five qualities that universities look for in students

Students have one shot to personally impress admissions officers — the essays. Share these tips from an expert with your student!

A strong essay that captures your voice and shows the ʻtrue youʼ can make a difference in your evaluation. When writing your application essay, consider these five qualities that university admissions officers usually look for:


Donʼt pretend you are a superhero! Through your essay, you need to address the admissions officer who reads it. This person is an adult with his or her own life experiences, who does not know you but wants to get to know you better. Colleges are looking for students who know they are human and who have developed by challenging themselves (and sometimes faltering or even failing).


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 simple enough to write about what has happened to you, but more important 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 classroom teaching experience 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 multisyllabic adjectives really necessary, or are you just showing 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 when you brought people together. Perhaps its was with humor, or good will, or sincerity.

Intellectual commitment and curiosity

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 real world goals. 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 more favor with admissions than emphasizing uncertainty about a future career path.

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

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