You already know the nuts and bolts of a college application, from grades to SAT or ACT scores and the resume. But are you sure that your application reflects the particular traits that colleges are looking for in accepted applicants? 

Admissions officers want to admit students with the best chance of success and impact on the university and the world beyond graduation. 

Aside from the baseline qualifying factors that make a student a potential candidate for a university, there are a handful of traits colleges are specifically looking out for in hopes of adding to their graduating class. Demonstrating these traits through your actions, extracurricular involvement, essays, and application can make a difference and score you a spot over other competitive peer applicants. 

Once you know what these traits are, you can highlight them on your applications, so admissions officers will realize that you’re the ideal student for their university.

Related: Tips for Aspiring High School Entrepreneurs

Positive Attitude

positive attitude in the classroom

Believe it or not, positivity can go a long way in college applications. The key is to be genuine, write a heartfelt essay, and indicate meaningful extracurricular involvements. A positive attitude and unique passions will shine right through your application. 

The reason colleges want to admit positive candidates with a passion for learning and a deep interest in certain subjects or hobbies is that they desire the most motivated, attentive students to join their university. A positive attitude towards learning means an ambitious participant in a university classroom, and that’s exactly what they want. 

Students can demonstrate their positive attitude and passion for learning or a specific subject or hobby through their essays, extracurriculars, and interviews. Admissions officers read countless applications, and they can tell what’s real from fake because a genuine passion will be reflected in a student’s actions. 

Students who are passionate about learning will challenge themselves with a more rigorous course load. They will go above and beyond to find learning opportunities outside the classroom. They will demonstrate high levels of involvement and commitment to extracurricular programs that reflect their passions or interests. 

They will be able to talk about these activities in their essays, but even without the essays, their application will reflect a positive attitude towards learning, challenging oneself, and trying new things. 

Independent Thinking

One of the essential distinguishable traits colleges look for is independent thinking. Admissions officers realize that high school consists mostly of a prescribed curriculum, and it’s easy for students to follow the herd and come out looking very similar to their peers.

Colleges want students that escape this herd mentality and pursue independent opportunities, talents, and passions that their peers do not. Separate extracurricular programs like Beta Bowl are great opportunities to demonstrate this because they require students to seek them out on their own, outside of the school.

Additionally, programs like Beta Bowl encourage viewpoints. Admissions officers want to see how students are developing their critical thinking skills leading up to university, and this is where participating on a debate team, completing a unique research project, or consulting for a local business can set you apart.

You want to show colleges that you have dealt with real-world challenges and relied on your critical thinking and analytical skills to come to solutions and beneficial courses of action.

Related: Liberal Arts Colleges vs. Universities: What You Need to Know

Creativity and Innovation

colleges look or innovative students


Similar to independent thinking, creativity and innovation are traits colleges seek in successful applicants. Universities want to form a student body of future world leaders, business-builders, and change-makers. They want to see the early stages of those roles in the work applicants are doing now. 

Extracurriculars and independent projects are an excellent way for students to demonstrate these characteristics with real, tangible evidence. Beta Bowl participants must inherently utilize and express creativity and innovation in building a unique business around a problem or passion. They will find the product’s distinguishing competitive advantage, and innovative ways to market and sell this new, unknown product or service. This type of extracurricular involvement and accomplishment can tick off multiple boxes and impress an admissions officer in more ways than you might realize.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is high on the list of traits colleges want to see, especially for students who plan to pursue challenging degrees, such as engineering, computer science, or business. Colleges want to admit students who can step up to the plate intellectually. That means going beyond the “memorize and repeat” method that may have worked at some high schools. 

College students are expected to interact with their coursework, pursue additional research, and formulate opinions based on multiple sources and viewpoints. Admissions officers want to see how students are developing their critical thinking skills leading up to university, and this is where participating on a debate team, completing a unique research project, or consulting for a local business can set you apart.

You want to show colleges that you have dealt with real-world challenges and relied on your critical thinking and analytical skills to come to solutions and beneficial courses of action.

Perseverance/Hard Work

College is a lot less structured than high school, and most students are adults that are no longer living under their parents’ roof. These students must have the perseverance, discipline, and a responsible attitude to attend their classes and complete their courses without guidance from their parents. Colleges want proof that, even in high school, a student has enough drive and perseverance to tackle challenges and take on hard work. This is why examples of ways in which applicants have gone above and beyond to pursue challenges, work hard, and commit to long-term projects are a great indicator of their future success in college.

Independent extracurricular programs that require an ongoing commitment and for students to face and overcome difficult challenges are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate this level of perseverance and drive. 

Students can incorporate Beta Bowl on their applications, showing how the 12-week program requires a consistent commitment to their business project and requires them to tackle and overcome new challenges like building financial models and creating pitch decks that defend their business to investor judges. Programs like these provide clear evidence of a student’s drive and commitment to hard work and their persistence to take projects to completion, despite the obstacles that may stand in their way. There’s little that will impress a college more than that.


Intellectual curiosity and an analytical mind are traits colleges hope to find in future admits. They want their student body to consist of students who genuinely care about learning. 

Any student can read a book, memorize facts, and study for a test. However, colleges don’t want to create a student body of only 4.0 GPAs. Instead, they want to create a diverse student body of curious, inquisitive minds with a thirst for learning, and the desire to explore the subjects and the world around them beyond their assigned textbook reading.

High school students and college applicants can demonstrate this through independent research projects and seeking out and participating in extracurricular programs that foster learning beyond the classroom. This could also be shown through a job or apprenticeship based around a topic of interest or industry that the student is passionate about and hopes to pursue in the future.

Initiative and Ambition


taking notes


Colleges want to build a student body of future leaders, change-makers, and successful people who make a positive impact on the world. Therefore, they must see applicants’ initiative and ambition before they step foot on campus.

Colleges want to know that you’ll go out of your way to create new opportunities where none existed and pursue avenues that others will not. They want to see the drive and ambition that you have to take the project to completion. This is where creating your opportunities and independent projects and businesses comes into play. 

It’s great if you’re innovative and creative enough to create a fresh new idea, product, or service, but it’s even better and a lot more impressive if you’re resourceful, ambitious, and persistent enough to make it come to life. 

Think about all the new programs, opportunities, projects, or businesses that you can bring to reality. If you’re ambitious enough to move forward with them, you’ll be head and shoulders above your peers. These are ways that Beta Bowl students can stand out from the rest of the competition.

After all, every single participant demonstrates the initiative to create and take on their business project, as well as the ambition and persistence to complete and launch it.

Related:  Choosing Higher Education: A Beginner’s Guide to Selecting a University


Leadership is often a “buzzword” when it comes to almost any application, and college apps are no exception. Colleges want leaders to attend their schools because having the ability to lead and influence people can have a significant impact on the world. 

There are many ways to demonstrate leadership, and they don’t all revolve around being named a leader or carrying an impressive title like “team captain”. However, if you have been elected or selected for a leadership role within one of your extracurricular activities, teams, or clubs, then you should highlight this on your application. 

That said, if you don’t have a title, it doesn’t mean you don’t have other meaningful leadership experience. Have you ever initiated or led a project? Have you ever orchestrated a theater production or musical show? Have you ever planned or organized an event, gathering, competition, or business venture? These are all very valid and impressive examples of leadership, and you should be sure to capitalize on them in your application or application essay. 

Admissions officers know leadership comes in many different forms; they’re just waiting to see your unique leadership skills in action.

Does your teen need to develop more life skills and positive traits to attract the right college? Check out our entrepreneurial programs for your teen. Visit Beta Bowl for more information.


Open-mindedness is another trait colleges like to see in successful applicants. They want incoming students to be receptive to new ideas, opposing viewpoints, diverse subjects, unfamiliar experiences, and a wide variety of people

College is mostly about discovery, growth, and improvement. The only way to achieve any of these is to keep an open mind. There are many opportunities to demonstrate your open-mindedness, from dipping your toe into the waters of new activities or elective courses to represent positions that are contrary to your own on a debate team or in a class presentation. 

This is also a great way to spin any activities or subjects that you may have begun and veered away from to show the college that you opened your mind to new opportunities and discovered which you did and didn’t like.

 You can then follow this up by elaborating on those you did develop a passion for and exactly why certain subjects or activities grew on you and how you plan to pursue them going forward. 

Check out Beta Bowl for engaging extracurricular activities that open your mind to new ideas.


collaboration at school

Another desirable trait that colleges look for is teamwork or collaboration. Realistically, most college students are not on sports teams, so team-building usually occurs in coursework, labs, or other class projects. This is excellent news because it means that the best way to demonstrate this type of collaboration can be done inside your classes or within your extracurricular activities. 

Group projects are a perfect example of collaboration, but they’re also an example that every other student will have. You’ll set yourself apart if you can discuss a unique situation in which collaboration happened outside the classroom to arrive at a conclusion or tangible outcome. 

Within Beta Bowl, students can participate in solo or with friends in a team. Either way, they collaborate with their startup mentor every week, as well as with other peers on the group calls. This type of collaboration is unique and will stand out from the typical classroom project. 

Beta Bowl students can speak to the times they compromised on their ideas, implemented suggestions from peers, or reassessed their business or marketing plan from another person’s viewpoint. This example of real-world collaboration also shows admissions officers just how ready a student is for the real world, a career, and life post-college. This level of maturity is something colleges are yearning for in their incoming freshman class. 

Do Colleges Care if You Have a Job?

Finally, you may be wondering if your part-time job helps or hinders your college application. Holding down a job while you were in high school may have preempted your ability to participate in many extracurricular activities. But as far as colleges are concerned, having work experience strengthens your application because it demonstrates that you have obtained the above traits in a working environment. Your real-world experience is valuable. 

Here are a few things your work experience tells college boards about you:

  • You understand time management and responsibility.
  • You can work with a team.
  • They don’t expect you to have a long list of extracurriculars.
  • What you learn by managing a job can also help you manage college life.
  • If you had the job to save for college, it shows that you are invested in your education

You might also be wondering if certain jobs hold more value than others with college applications. The answer is yes. Here are a few jobs that look especially good on college applications:

  • Tutoring. Turn your strength into a money-making venture and help other students in the process. 
  • Retail Sales. This shows you can deal with people and be flexible and adaptable.
  • Food Service & Hospitality. Working in this demanding industry shows that you can manage time and stress and can multitask.
  • Lifeguarding. This job shows that you are not afraid to take on responsibility. You can focus, and you think clearly in an emergency.
  • Assistant Coach or other work with children. Working with children demonstrates patience, caring, and leadership. 
  • Self-Employed Business. Starting your own business shows creativity, courage, business skills, and confidence. Depending on the type of business, you will have to develop and employ all of the traits colleges value most. 

Final Word

While this list of traits college looks for might seem long, it’s very doable to exemplify most or all of these characteristics in your application.

 The key is to assess each activity you participate in with these traits in mind and consider how you can best demonstrate each characteristic with your actions. You shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or as if you need to take on ten new extracurricular activities to highlight each trait. 

Alternatively, you can gravitate towards activities that will allow you to develop and demonstrate multiple traits, all within one project. For example, with Beta Bowl, we try to help students hone each skill as they progress throughout the program. By the end of the twelve weeks, students not only have an impressive finished product and a custom letter of recommendation, but they also have months of specific anecdotes to recall upon that highlight each trait and their unique contribution or achievement. 

Programs like this can help students round out their application and impress an admissions committee in one fell swoop.

Now that you know what colleges are looking for, do you need a program that helps your teen to develop those traits? Our program will give them opportunities to implement all of these and more. Check out Beta Bowl today.