The Top Things College Admissions Look for in Students

Dallas college student standing outside

If you're considering applying for colleges, you may wonder what college admissions look for in a student — and how you can make sure you stand out.

Even if you're a few years away from applying for college, it's never too early to start preparing because there are some high-school student "musts" for college admissions that will help elevate your application.

Check out this list of nine things to help your application rise above the rest.

What Do College Admissions Look for in a Student?

1. Impressive Class Rank and GPA

It goes without saying that your grades — specifically your GPA and your class rank — will be an essential part of your application. That's because good grades are a predictive factor for equally successful undergraduate academic performance in the future.

But don't worry if you don't have straight As — especially if you have demonstrated the commitment to taking advanced, challenging classes. A slightly lower grade in Advanced Physics often means more than an A+ in General Biology 1.

2. Commitment to Honors and AP Classes

Prioritizing advanced classes and college-level courses will always be more impressive to a college admissions committee than quickly skating through your high-school career. Plus, they help boost your GPA!

Because these subjects have a more advanced curriculum, they help demonstrate your academic excellence and pull double duty to help you prepare for your college course load. You might even be able to skip or test out of some of the basic introductory classes for your undergraduate degree. This means you can reduce the number of courses you have to take — and get right into your preferred areas of study. DBU offers honors programs for high-achieving students.

3. Good Test Scores (with a Caveat!)

The emphasis on standardized test scores has certainly decreased, with almost 80% of four-year colleges not requiring the SAT or ACT for admissions. At DBU, these test scores are optional and not required for admission. Depending on the colleges you're applying for, a high SAT or ACT score can still be a positive and important component of your application. Good test scores (like good grades) can also be helpful for academic scholarships.

4. Compelling Personal Essay

Narratives are powerful — and colleges want to hear your story (or at least a part of it!). This is your chance to bring your application to life through a compelling personal essay that is uniquely yours. As you can probably imagine, the college admissions team reads an extraordinary number of essays — and many can be forgettable, especially if they appear formulaic, inauthentic, or AI-generated.

Your essay allows you to be creative and reflect on something important to you; it should help illustrate that you're a thoughtful, motivated learner. DBU's application process does not require an essay for admission; however, essays are required for some scholarships, so it is still helpful to learn how to write a compelling college admissions essay.

5. Focus on Extracurricular Activities

As important as academic performance is for college admissions, the admissions team also wants to see students who take their learning and curiosity outside the classroom. Like your personal essay, your extracurriculars don't have to follow a prescribed formula.

While band and athletics are excellent — especially if you're pursuing a scholarship in one of those fields — don't be afraid to march to the beat of your own drum here. From art clubs to improv and theater, cooking, chess, gaming, and beyond, it all counts! This is also a great time to mention any special awards you've won.

At DBU, you can find a wide variety of events, organizations, and activities designed to challenge you, encourage you, and help you have an incredible campus experience.

6. Emphasis on Community Impact

Do you volunteer regularly in your community? Have mission trips (near or far!) been a part of your experience outside the classroom? Do you have a heart for a specific cause area? College admissions teams value this type of community service and engagement because it offers insight into what you are passionate about while signaling that you are mission-driven.

DBU's Spiritual Life enriches students' lives through missional living, discipleship, and hospitality.

7. Work or Internship Experience

If you've worked or had an internship during high school, highlight this type of experience in your college application — and what you've learned because of it. This is a great time to mention skills you've developed, future career exploration, and leadership opportunities you've pursued.

DBU's Center for Career and Professional Development can support you in bridging the gap between students and employers, helping you obtain internships and real-work experience that can kickstart your career.

8. Memorable Letters of Recommendation

Be thoughtful about who you will ask to write your letters of recommendation for your application. This shouldn't be an afterthought! A letter from a credible source who knows you well — teacher, counselor, pastor, even a coach or mentor — can offer vital insights into your character, work ethic, achievements, and more.

9. Alignment of Mission and Beliefs

Your application is an excellent opportunity to really lean into "why" you're interested in attending the college — and how it aligns with your values. At DBU, we seek students desiring a Christ-centered quality education founded on the premise of integrating Biblical faith and academic learning. DBU has outstanding programs to meet the needs of traditional-age students, graduate students, and busy adults.

Guided by the shepherding hearts of DBU's faculty and staff, our students are challenged to go into the world with a spirit of servanthood and an awareness of their Christian responsibility.



You have unique gifts and a unique calling. Your college application is a great way to share your accomplishments while looking ahead to your next steps at your dream college.

At DBU, students learn to exemplify servant leadership and integrate Biblical faith and academic learning into their daily lifestyle, relationships, education, and career decisions. We welcome your application and look forward to taking the next step with you in your admissions process toward a transformative, Christ-centered education with high academic standards.

Learn more about DBU's undergraduate admissions process.

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