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Countdown to college: These traits make letter-perfect students

By Lee Shulman Bierer, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Education News

When I talk to parents and students, I share the following descriptors: passion, responsibility, enthusiasm, leadership, initiative, maturity, character, perseverance, integrity, interpersonal skills, commitment, curiosity, compassion, creativity, consistency.

So what does this really mean?

Passion: It's the buzzword in admissions offices. Colleges want to see a strong interest in something, a devotion and a commitment to following it through.

Responsibility: This is where internships and work experience work in a student's favor. Colleges are gratified to know that students maintained a job and performed well in school, showed up for work on time and could be counted on in a professional setting. These are signs of maturity and independence that are highly valued.

Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm stands out, particularly since so many 17- and 18-year-olds have laissez-faire attitudes. Students who demonstrate that they care about something - community service, a sport, a youth group, etc. - are likely to bring that same enthusiasm to a campus.

Leadership: Leadership skills are life skills and will always be a prized asset. But not everyone is meant to be a leader. For instance, the swim team member who has given his or her all - has gone to 5 a.m. practices and swim meets after school and has been an active team player in a very demanding sport - probably hasn't had the opportunity to be a leader. Colleges recognize this.

Initiative: High school can be a great time to think outside the box, take a risk, start a club or an activity. Colleges like students who create something from nothing, focus their passion on a goal and work hard to attain it. Again, these are life skills that will benefit the student, and the college will see these skills as benefiting the school as well.


Maturity: Students who communicate their naivete through their essays, an interview or even through their letters of recommendation suggest to colleges that they may not be ready, and it may be held against them.

Character: Colleges want to know what you're made of. They really want to find out what you care about, what's important to you and what you're thinking about. How you choose to spend your time outside of school is a great way to demonstrate your character and your personality.

Stay tuned. We'll cover the rest of the important descriptors next week.

Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.

Visit The Charlotte Observer at www.charlotteobserver.com

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