What Do College Admissions Officers Look for in Potential Students?

Students walking to classes near building in the Collegiate Gothic style, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
••• Barry Winiker / Getty Images

For many high school students who will be seniors in the fall, the summer is a time of making campus visits to potential colleges. It is always a good idea to try to visit schools before you apply, so you can get a feel for the campus and meet staff and other students. In addition to the financial aid office, you might be able to schedule an interview with the college admissions office. While you do want to make a good impression, you don’t want to stress out so much that you don’t look good in the interview. Here are a few things the admissions officers might be looking for, to help you feel more comfortable about what could happen:

  • It’s Not Always About the Money: There is a difference between the admissions office and the financial aid office. You may have separate appointments with them, or the topics may be combined into one interview. Find out who you will be meeting with, and try to think of appropriate questions and discussion points for that person.
  • They Want to Know Who You Are Now: The admissions office interviews hundreds and even thousands of students each year, and they realize that many of those students are still trying to figure out exactly who they are. That’s okay; you don’t need to have your whole life planned out at the age of 16 or 17. What you do want to show is that you are enthusiastic about what you are doing now, that you are getting good grades, and are participating in a variety of activities that will help you find a path you want to travel in life.
  • Ask Intelligent Questions: You want to demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in this school, so spend some time studying the website to learn more about it. Ask questions about opportunities in your specific field of interest, talk about campus life, and ask about extracurricular activities. You want to make a favorable impression so they will remember you when you submit your application.
  • Pay Attention: Don’t sleepwalk through the interview and campus tour; you must pay attention. When you get back to your home or hotel, jot down a few notes about what impressed you most. This information will come in handy when you get ready to start writing your application essays. You can really personalize your content if you mention something or someone you encountered, and explain why that increased your interest in this particular school.
  • It’s Not the What, so Much as the Why: Although you may not need to have your life plan entirely mapped out at this point, it is still a good idea to understand why you want to attend college. Be able to articulate the goals you have for attending college, and formulate questions that will help you achieve this goal.

An admissions interview and a financial aid discussion are your two most important objectives for a campus visit. Any other things you manage to accomplish during your visit are icing on the cake. Try to meet students and professors so you can begin to understand your budget needs. Find out how much it costs to live on and off-campus, how much food costs if it’s not on the meal plan, and get a general idea of living expenses. Ask questions about college scholarships and part-time job opportunities, so you’ll be fully informed when it comes to making decisions about submitting college applications.