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What are Admissions Counselors Looking For?

It’s college application season and you are working on your application to start applying to different colleges. “What can I do to make myself stand out?” is a question a lot of students ask in this situation. The uncertainty of not knowing what admission officers are looking for in an application can cause lots of stress and confusion. To answer some of the common questions about this topic, I interviewed a few admissions counselors at the University of Rochester!

School Specific Values

At the University of Rochester, when counselors are reading applications they are guided by the MELIORA values which include equity, leadership, integrity, openness, respect, and accountability. Through the holistic review process, counselors look for evidence across the whole application that demonstrates any of these values. The review process takes into account the context of all application materials which means there is ample opportunity for applicants to demonstrate acting on these values across the application. But even more directly the supplemental essay questions ask applying students to engage with the MELIORA values specifically, asking them to highlight a time, creative idea, or research experience that put into action MELIORA values to make themselves or the world ever better.

Academic and Extracurricular Activities

One common question that students wonder about is whether academic achievement or extracurricular activities weigh more in the application process. At Rochester, admission counselors are looking at both to understand how students spend their time in and outside of the classroom.  Admission counselor Brendan Bond says, our holistic review process for undergraduate applicants includes, but intentionally goes beyond, numerical representations of academic performance, though we certainly expect strong performance in challenging academic coursework, ultimately a student’s academic ability is an important factor in demonstrating their ability to be successful here at Rochester. Counselors also mentioned anything that a student can do outside the classroom that demonstrates these values will be appreciated. This doesn’t always just mean volunteering or high school research, but it can be a part-time job that demonstrates accountability to their family or leadership demonstrated to a younger sibling. Admission counselors want to understand what’s important to you and what you value. So, be honest about your experience and showcase your story in your application. 

The Rochester Fit

As a student applying to college, hearing that admission counselors are looking for the perfect fit can be very intimidating. However, it is crucial to take into account that this is a term used to evaluate how well a student would adjust on campus and with the Rochester community. When I first heard this term, I was very insecure that I may not have been the perfect fit they were looking for. However, talking to the admission counselors I learned there’s no one type of Rochester student. It’s the common qualities that are found in a lot of students that make admission counselors confident enough about their fit with the University.

These qualities are sought out in the various application segments that you submit to the College. Admissions Counselor, Katia Yagnik mentioned if you want to stand out and express your interest, sign up for an interview. Interviews help counselors put a face to a name and learn more about your life. The more they learn about you, the more they can understand your circumstances and take them into account when reading your application. Showing interest and being curious about the college is a great way to convey that you have done your research and that you would be a good fit for the college!

Mistakes to avoid 

I think it’s only fair that we also talk about what admission counselors are not looking for when reading an application. This section is to help you avoid the common mistakes that a lot of people make when applying. A huge one is writing generic supplemental essays. Understand that every part of the application is an opportunity for you to paint a picture of your life to the admission counselor. Do not let that go to waste by answering the questions from a surface level. Always be specific about how the prompt relates to your life, and make your answers specific so that you don’t fade out in a room full of applicants.

Please re-read your essays to make sure you have the right school name. Submitting an essay with a different school name happens more than you would think. Save yourself from the embarrassment and re-read your essay to make sure you have the right school!

I hope these responses and advice from the college admissions counselors give you some clarity and reassurance that is very much needed in this situation. Be kind to yourself and have confidence in your experience as you compile your application. Remember that a college application does not define your worth as a person. Apply to the colleges you want and hope for the best!

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