If you’re just starting filling out uni applications (or you’re a parent of someone who is), it pays to know the qualities that universities look for in the students they choose. Here, university admissions consultant Collegewise runs through some of these key factors, from extracurricular activities to the Letter of Recommendation.
#1 The classes you take
Universities in the US tend to look for students who are taking classes that challenge them, whatever that means to each student. For example, a student in the AP curriculum should take higher level courses whenever available, regardless of what they plan to study. A student who plans on studying Physics will be looked at very positively if admission officers see that she was taking AP English Language alongside her mathematics and science classes.
In the UK, there is a more direct relationship between classes and your chosen course of study. Entry to certain courses requires specific classes to have been taken, whether you’re in the IB system, A-Level system or others. Outside of school, you should also show your love of learning. You can do this through self-studying methods such as reading books on the subject, watching documentaries, visiting museums or attending seminars on relevant topics.
In the US, these tend to be considered very important as students are viewed holistically. You don’t need a wide range of extracurriculars; having one or a few things that you are passionate about shows dedication. US universities are looking for students who are well-rounded, displaying leadership or community mindedness. We often recommend students to try different areas to find out what they like, such as volunteer environmental clean-ups, school clubs or sports, and then dive deeper into what they really have a passion for.
UK universities, meanwhile, tend to focus mostly on activities that relate to your course of study, so think of things like job shadowing, additional reading and research in your course, or school clubs that complement the subjects you’re interested in. That said, there’s also room to explore other things – according to the University of Oxford, 20% of your personal statement can refer to extracurriculars that are unrelated to your course of study.
#3 Letter of Recommendation
This is something that’s relevant to most universities. It’s not just about your final scores, but how you got there. Your teachers are the ones who will be vouching for your work ethic and the kind of student you are. Be aware of this early on, as building your relationships with your teachers, especially those from your last two years of school, can be important. We often suggest that our students prepare a CV or resume for their teachers when requesting letters. This is especially useful for teachers who may not have taught you in the current school year so that they know about the activities and courses you’ve taken recently.
#4 Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help
The university application process may seem like a daunting task but there are many people who are well-positioned to guide you.
- Ask friends who applied in previous years or took similar classes.
- Ask your parents and relatives about their experiences in school or in the job field you hope to explore.
- Talk to your teachers about subjects you’re interested in as they will often have great suggestions on helpful activities outside the classroom.
- Consult a guidance counsellor at school or a Collegewise counsellor.
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