What do colleges look for? A trick to figuring it out.

By Maxine Seya

What do colleges care about? What do they want to see in our students’ applications? Usually, people say “it depends.” But that’s not helpful to applicants like our students.

What does it depend on?

Today, I’ll share how to figure out what matters to colleges.

Step 1 in helping your student stand out.

Let’s investigate University of Washington in Seattle and Washington University in St. Louis. It’s a case study! While both institutions have “Washington” in their names, their priorities in admissions are very different.

What does University of Washington look for?

First, we’ll look at UW (nickname for Washington state’s flagship university). What does this university want to see in its applicants?

University of Washington cares most about rigor of secondary school record, academic GPA, and application essay.

UW does not consider recommendations or applicant interest (read: demonstrated interest).

Wait. How did I know that?

One of my favorite ways of looking at this is by searching the Common Data Set, usually found on the university’s admissions website, and going to section C7. The 2020-2021 Common Data Set for UW shows

Hi there.

No one spotlights the human stories of college admissions like we do.

But we're independent journalists who need support from readers like you.

Your subscription keeps us going -- completely ad-free.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.