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Colleges Want Strong Applicants: What are They Looking For?

December 10, 2020
By Joseph Fruscione, Communications and Advancement Associate
high school, college, college prep, college admissions, skills

As high school students adapt their admissions profiles to what colleges are looking for in 21st century learners, it’s increasingly important for them to adopt appropriate work habits now.  A recent piece in The Harvard Gazette examines some key traits—such as “self-awareness, curiosity, diligence, perspective-taking, social awareness, and collaborative skills”—that admissions offices are privileging over grades and test scores. How can high school start developing habits that prepare them for college?

Developing Skills and Independence for College

Schools that integrate college and career prep into their high school curricula can help students develop important organization, executive functioning, and independent work skills. The Siena School helps prepare high school students for college work habits through its internship program. Siena’s internship program enables students to choose a new internship annually to explore various career interests, allowing for direct experience to develop these important 21st-century skills that colleges look for, among them: 

  • Collaboration and acting on feedback
  • Communication and professionalism
  • Time management
  • Self-advocacy and independence
  • Problem-solving

Internships enhance high school students’ college and career readiness by giving them hands-on experience in various job roles and tasks. Siena also teaches students to self-advocate and use all available tools and strategies, so high school students have plenty of practice advocating for themselves, prior to earning their independence in college. 

A few key parts of self-advocacy are self-awareness, resiliency, and diligence, skills that can carry students through high school and college. Watch this recent Siena graduate share some of his experiences in writing at the collegiate level:

 

 

Using tools and strategies such as paragraph planners and highlighting key information when reading aided in his successful transition to college.  

 

“College admission professionals recognize the value of empathy, resilience, honesty, and other attributes in assessing applicants and shaping their classes” 

A key part of high school at Siena is teaching students to find the balance between homework, independence, leadership, college counseling, internships, service learning, electives, and athletics. Students will have to balance multiple responsibilities in college independently. Important executive functioning skills need to be honed and practiced to deal with deadlines, setting office hours, problem solving, self-management, and focus. It is best to practice exploring strategies that will work in high school to then carry to the next level.

 

“More colleges are moving away from accepting students who did the most ‘stuff’ to looking for those who focus their energy in specific areas that they’re passionate about.” 

Siena’s senior independent project is designed to simulate the experiences that students will face after graduation. They research a topic that they are passionate about and then they write drafts of a final paper. This allows teachers to provide feedback on students' writing and see how well they use the tools and strategies (color-coded planners, editing checklists, etc.) they have learned at Siena. Students practice creativity, brainstorming, and self-reflection during the process, meeting deadlines, attending office hours, and calendar planning.

The main goal of the reflection is to clarify students’ strengths and weaknesses in preparation for work and school while they still have time to practice and gain support and feedback from teachers. It is also a chance for students to build their learning around their own interests and incorporate their strengths and creativity into their work. For some, it has led to the creation of side businesses and/or the development of lifelong hobbies and creative projects.

 

“What you do outside the classroom reveals a lot about you. Admission officers want to know what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown from participating in these activities.” 

A decade or more ago, accumulating tasks, extracurriculars, or accomplishments for a college application might have been enough to be accepted. Now, though, admissions offices are valuing both character and meaningful extracurriculars for new applicants. Have students shown leadership potential and initiative? A willingness to take risks? A sense of social responsibility and commitment to service? 

Siena’s curricular and extracurricular programs highlight character development, helping others, peer leadership, and more. In the Peer Mediator program, high school students—after teacher recommendation and training to develop active listening and problem-solving skills—meet with other students who have an individual problem and help them brainstorm solutions and ultimately a solution that works for all parties involved. As well, in the Siena Ambassador program high school students volunteer to mentor new students and help these students transition to the Siena community.  

Admissions and campus visits continue to adapt to 21st century learning styles and needs. For more on how high school students can enhance their college readiness now, see The Siena School blog for posts about virtual college tours and tips for writing in high school and in college

Learn more about tools and strategies that Siena employs to address executive functioning, organization, and independent work for students at the Twice Exceptional (2e) educators’ conference on January 25, 2021.

Resources for College Admissions in 2020-2021 

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