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February 15, 2021

What Are the Top Colleges Looking For?


You’ve earned great grades and scored well on your SAT and/or ACT. Is that enough? Well…… Yes and No! According to Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He meant that without self-discovery, self-reflection and self-assessment, how can you envision the perfect future; and thus plan for it. There are more than 4000 4-year colleges in the US. However, many students think that there are only a couple dozen great colleges. This is the “grand misconception” about colleges, and leads to so many top tier students apply predominantly to the same schools. The little secret here is that there are hundreds of fine colleges in the US, and scores of colleges and universities on par with the Ivies in regards to curriculum, rigor and faculty. In fact, they are prestigious, but without the Ivy League prestige. It would be a missed opportunity for you to disregard them.


  1. Holistic Admissions
  2. Academic Excellence & Intellectual Vitality
  3. Emotional Intelligence
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. Leadership and Impact on others
  6. Personal Character
  7. Passion, Growth and Progression
  8. Thoughtful and thorough vision for your Future

Holistic Admissions

  • You might think that high grades and scores are all that are needed to achieve admission into America’s top colleges. While this is true throughout the world, the top colleges in the U.S. appreciate that the best test-takers do not make the best students, nor the best contributors to college or to society. In a holistic approach, universities review you as a whole person, how you would contribute to and benefit from their college. Stanford, for example, looks at your school, your rigor, your academic success, your character and intellectual contributions, as well as your ideas and interests, what truly matters to you, and finally your positive impact on others.


Academic Excellence & Intellectual Vitality


  • While there are many types of intelligence, academic excellence is the core principle of premiere colleges. Universities wish to see your preparation and potential for achievement. Stanford often recites their mantra “intellectual vitality.” Fundamentally, it means to possess uncommon “curiosity and enthusiasm” about a topic of interest.


Emotional Intelligence

  • Simply defined, one who is self-aware and self-disciplined with regard to one’s emotions. Furthermore, to be able to manage interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathically.


Social Intelligence (SI)


  • This is the ability to successfully build relationships and navigate social environments. For example, being an effective listener is a key component of SI. If you meet someone with SI, you feel that you’ve made a personal connection with them. Moreover, Individuals with SI can carry conversations with a wide variety of people; tactfully and effectively.


Leadership and Impact on Others


  • According to Harvard Business School admissions, “leaders are people who leave their footprints in their areas of passion.” In other words, evidence that you left a positive impact on individuals and on society. More importantly than what you say about yourself, is what people in authority say about you.

Genuine Service to the Community

  • Do you authentically and genuinely serve your classmates, the unfortunate and the greater community?


Personal Character

  • Are you a person of integrity, reliability and a strong moral compass? What choices have you made? Why? Do you possess maturity, leadership, confidence, enthusiasm and a sense of humor? Do you play nice in the sandbox with the other boys and girls? Or are you quick-tempered, selfish and arrogant?


Passion, Growth and Progression


  • Do your interests push you to your limits and beyond, showing your resilience, initiative and potential? Have your interests developed and progressed towards excellence and mastery?


Thoughtful Forward-Thinking Vision for your Future

  • Perhaps you not only know what truly matters to you, you know what impact you wish to make on the world, and which of the world’s pressing problems you wish to solve. Colleges are keen to assist students who are visionary and strive to “make the world a better place.”


Take Home Message


  • Grades and scores are just the “tip of the iceberg.” Building a holistic application makes you competitive in a fierce and competitive application process.

Need help applying to college? Contact Ivy Bound at mrichardson@ivybound.com or text Dr. Richardson at 609.608.6258.