What can you discover about potential students outside of their test scores? Follow these tips to find out.
The admissions process involves a lot more than just taking a look at an applicant’s academic records and accepting students with the highest marks. As an admissions officer, your job is to identify the students who will become the best professionals in their fields. Of course, you’re also looking for individuals who will naturally fit into your campus culture.
William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard College, explains that the admissions office has a simple goal: to attract the best students to the college. “Many people believe ‘best’ ought to be defined by standardized tests, grades, and class rank, and it is easy to understand why,” he says. “While we value objective criteria, we apply a more expansive view of excellence. Test scores and grades offer some indication of students’ academic promise and achievement. But we also scrutinize applications for extracurricular distinction and personal qualities.”
He also talks about a student’s intellectual imagination, strength of character, and their ability to exercise good judgment. This begs the question: What exactly should admissions officers look for in prospective students? Academic potential is an important factor, but it’s not everything.
Here are five categories to think about when assessing applicants outside of their grades:
1. Potential for growth
A student’s achievements are more than an extensive list of projects and extracurriculars they took part in. Achievements show a student’s potential for academic and personal growth. If you can see how much they’ve stretched themselves beyond the curriculum, you can tell they are go-getters in the classroom.
Search for students who embrace a growth mindset, where they believe their fundamental talents can be developed through dedication and hard work. The admissions essay is a perfect example. Here, a candidate will tell you where they see themselves in five, ten, or twenty-five years. Strong applicants will provide goals that show how they plan to leverage their extracurriculars towards those future goals.
2. Leadership capacity
Leadership can happen at all levels. Students are never too young to demonstrate initiative and leadership skills. When you’re looking at extracurriculars listed in applications, look for depth instead of breadth.
Colleges often look for well-rounded students, who have a strong academic record and are involved in a myriad of activities outside of the classroom. The problem with the well-rounded method, however, is that it’s heavily based on standardized test scores, GPA, and extracurriculars. The result can often be a dry evaluation of a candidate that does not reflect the student’s passion. Often, what you’ll find are students who know that colleges want well-rounded candidates, so they’ll spread their efforts across multiple extracurricular activities without making a serious commitment to any particular one.
Look for students whose hobbies, part-time jobs and summer activities reflect a singular passion. Often, it’s students who stay committed to a few activities who have greater potential for leadership skills.
3. Special talents
A student’s GPA doesn’t tell you how well the students are going to contribute to the community. Sure, they will be able to handle the academic curriculum, but will they make a positive impact on the university community?
Seek out students who have a great academic record, but still invest their time in sports, art, writing, research, and other interests. A student who sends a portfolio of original photographs or includes a link to their blog in the applications is worth exploring. Keep an eye out for individuals who offer something special, like Freddy Mendoza, who won himself and a whole team of soccer players scholarships to Silverlake College.
Letters of recommendations offer unique insight into a student’s contributions that can’t be found in the rest of an application. Nowadays, you can easily notice the student has left a great impression when you see an anecdotal letter of recommendation, one that’s full of real-life stories where the applicant has stood out.
These letters reflect the student’s maturity, personal values, humor, self-confidence and ability to achieve goals under pressure.
A very strong and personalized letter may also reveal the reasons why the student hasn’t done too well in a particular class. Maybe they have a disability, or they were going through rough times, or they just moved, or they were sick for most of the semester. Take those points into consideration.
An application reveals more about the person’s character than they realize. The tone they use in their personal essays, their intellectual curiosity and the stories they choose to tell are all indications of how they will contribute to the classroom and the community. Character also comes across during in-person events, such as campus visits or interviews.
As you’re assessing this year’s candidates, ask yourself: can you see this person getting along with your current students on campus? Are they a team player? You want to keep an eye out for those students who fit right into the experience your organization is striving to provide. Moreover, you want them to benefit from the culture and values you stand for.
Next time you find a candidate who has all the qualities you want to see, but not necessarily the stellar standardized test score, think about giving them a chance. What they lack in test scores, they just may make up for in character.
Eva Wislow is an HR expert and career advisor at Careers Booster resume writing service. Eva has a degree in Psychology and she focuses on helping people achieve their most ambitious career goals.