Top 7 Qualities Valued by US University Admissions Officers

Top 7 Qualities Valued by US University Admissions Officers

manuela florea

Updated January 5, 2023 Updated January 05

You have decided that studying in the US is the perfect move for your education, you have great ideas and big expectations, but do you know how to impress US university admissions officers?

Great academic scores will always be an important factor in university admissions, but you might find that communication skills and passion could also be key elements in achieving your success. In order to guarantee your conquest, you need to do your research and make all the necessary preparations that will help you get closer to the finish line.

The great wish of university admissions officers is to find bright and talented young people who want to use education to create a better future for themselves and for society. As a smart applicant, you could try to anticipate the aspects that US universities are really looking for when assessing candidates. That won’t even be much of a burden for you since we’re telling you exactly what they are searching for!

According to this year’s findings from the 10th annual University Admissions Officers Report from ACS International Schools, the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) and the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA), here are the most valued attributes by university admissions officers.

1. Evidence of passion for your chosen subject 
Passion for subject

The survey showed that 93% of university admissions officers in the UK and US rated evidence of passion for students’ chosen subject as important or very important. Excellent academic scores alone may not be enough to show that you are passionate about the subject, though of course they are still important.

The perfect combination includes both passion and high academic scores. Don’t assume that university admissions officers only care about grades. Always be open and let them see that you are passionate about learning more about your chosen field and creating a career around it. Passion brings dedication and determination to the table, so do not try to hide it.

2. Having held any positions of responsibility

Responsibility is an important quality and it’s not surprising to note that 35% of university admissions officers reported looking for candidates who have held some position of responsibility.

This is why getting involved in student organizations and participating to events regarding your field of study can help you stand out. Being in a position of responsibility will prove to universities that you are interested in making all the necessary efforts in order to achieve success and that you are able to make decisions on your own.

3. A good level of written English 
Good written English

This is not surprising, but it’s important to mention, because this attribute is also considered as important or very important by 93% of university admissions officers.This skill might be demonstrated by the way you use English to support your ideas in the application essays or personal statement you write, but also during interviews with US universities.

Make sure that your discourse is well-structured, error-free and that you are not trying to imitate a certain style. It is always best to let your personality come through because that proves you confident about expressing yourself in English.

4. A reasonable level of mathematics

Mathematical skills will not benefit you only if you enroll on a mathematics course. These skills often prove one’s ability to think rationally and make logical connections. Almost two-thirds (61%) of surveyed UK and US university admissions officers reported looking for this attribute.

This should not scare you, as it only means that you are able to juggle with basic mathematical concepts without much difficulty. If you are really good at this, even better. Sound numerical skills will not only help you during your study years, but also when you start work.

5. A positive attitude towards studies 
Positive study attitude

If you have managed to get face to face with US university admissions officers, you are definitely interested in education, but you still need to let them grasp your positive attitude towards studies. Some 86% of admissions officers see this attribute as important or very important.

In order to do this, you can let them know about any relevant efforts you put into learning more about your field of study, discuss books and papers that you have found helpful, and declare your commitment to becoming more advanced in your studies with every year.

6. Ability to think and work independently

Proving that you are able to think and work independently is also an attribute sought by 72% of UK and US university admissions officers. Being confident in your own judgement and able to take important decisions on your own proves them that you have all the chances of achieving high performance during your study years and beyond.

These values might be illustrated by your involvement in clubs and organizations related to your future field of study and situations where you proved your leadership and decision-making skills.

7. Success through a difficult start or background 
Success through a difficult start or background

As you might have already understood, universities don’t look just at your grades, they want to really get to know you. And this is why 42% of university admissions officers declared that they are interested in applicants’ backgrounds.

The ability to overcome certain hurdles in life and getting through a difficult start can prove strength of character. Do not feel shy about telling your personal story if you feel that there is something worth mentioning. We all have a story worth telling, so do not keep yours a secret.

These were the top seven attributes most valued by surveyed UK and US university admissions officers. Other aspects that are often taken into consideration by universities include: awareness of global or cultural differences, work experience, entrepreneurial attitude and participation in community or voluntary services.

Do not think about these elements as rules, but more as guidelines to help you show off your qualities and ensure the road to your university admission ends in success. If you are ready to walk down this road, check out our QS World University Tour #StudyinUSA Virtual Fair.

This article was originally published in November 2015 . It was last updated in January 2023

Written by

Manuela is passionate about education and evolution and wishes to collect enough information in order to help students from all corners of the world take the big step towards their incredible future.


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