What Do Colleges Care About?

Many parents ask us what their kids should be doing right now to improve their chances of being accepted to great colleges and universities. We always begin this discussion with a summary of the five items admissions committees care about: transcripts, standardized test scores, resumes, letters of recommendation, and essays. Students can begin taking action in middle school, or sooner, to maximize their potential in each of these areas. Let’s walk through each item carefully and talk about the early actions your child can take.

Girl Taking ACT Test


Colleges want to accept students who enroll in challenging classes (e.g. Honors, AP, or IB) and receive good grades in those classes. Transcripts often reflect work ethic and motivation, both of which are necessary for success in college. Make sure your child is on track to enroll in AP classes by their junior or senior year. Some schools have an IB program which is an excellent option for highly motivated students.

Preparation often starts in middle school. Ideally you want to enroll your child in classes that are above grade level. They should aim to take high school math, science, and English classes in the 7th or 8th grade. If this is not possible through your child’s middle school or junior high, consider enrolling in courses through Utah’s Electronic High School or BYU Independent Study, both of which are accredited in the State of Utah. If your child is already in high school but not on track to take AP, Honors, or IB courses, consider enrolling them in courses at your local community college. There are many great options that may peak their interest. Most importantly, college admissions committees will see your child is being proactive in their education which will improve their chances of acceptance.

Lots of challenging courses means fast paced curriculum and bundles of homework. Quality, one-on-one tutoring can alleviate much of this burden by condensing your child’s study time into focused, highly effective sessions. Both learning and grades will improve for students who do this consistently. It can be difficult to find good quality tutors in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas. High Performance Tutoring makes this process easy since we hire and train only 10% of the hundreds of tutors who apply. We guarantee we have a great match for your child.

ACT & SAT Scores

ACT and SAT scores are highly predictive of college success, which is why they are still important in the admissions process today. These scores do NOT measure a student’s attitude, work ethic, creativity, or unique cultural background–other areas of the application cover those things. Instead, they measure knowledge of grammar and math fundamentals, reasoning skills, and comprehension skills. Most schools do not adequately prepare students for the ACT or SAT (see our blog article about this). It is very common for an honor-roll student to receive an average score on these tests. Improving ACT and SAT scores requires specialized training.

We recommend students take the ACT twice during their junior year and attempt once or twice more during their senior year. Starting in middle school or earlier, students should be reading at least 30 minutes per day outside of school, and they should also work on logic/reasoning games and puzzles on a regular basis. Over time, these small efforts will greatly improve reading speed, comprehension skills, and reasoning skills, all of which lead to higher scores on the ACT.

Tutoring Session - Tutors in Salt Lake City

If your child is a junior or senior, sign them up to take the ACT a couple of times this year. Every year, Utah offers a free ACT in March for all qualifying high school students in the state. In the several weeks leading up to the test, consider enrolling your child in an ACT prep course. High Performance Tutoring offers the most effective ACT prep tutoring in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas. Our entire course is one-on-one rather than in a class. This means we can target specific areas and strategies your child needs help with rather than simply covering a broad set of tips. We regularly assign homework and practice tests so that your child is completely immersed in the material during the several weeks to the course and is ready to perform on test day. Give us a call so we can help create a plan to maximize your child’s score.


Colleges want to accept students who are well-rounded and can bring something unique to their campus. Encourage your child to get involved in sports, clubs, leadership, and other community organizations. The more interesting and unique items they can include on their resume, the better. Encourage your child to think outside the box and allow them to be involved in activities they find fascinating, even if they seem unproductive. You want your child to stand out, and the best way to do that is to allow them to be themselves.

Letters of Recommendation

Your child will have the least control over this aspect of their application, but they can make themselves worthy of a well-written letter by getting involved in a wide variety of activities and trying their best in everything they do. Make sure they have a diverse set of people who they can ask to write these letters, such as teachers, coaches, employers, and community leaders. This is where colleges get a sense of a student’s attitude, work ethic, and creativity. Make sure the people writing these letters have spent a reasonable amount of time with your child and have a good understanding of your child’s accomplishments, personality, and good qualities.


The personal essay required on most college applications is the area in which your child has the most freedom and flexibility to distinguish themselves. Here is where your child can be creative, intellectual, original, and passionate. Some essay prompts give some direction while others are open ended. No matter the case, your child should spend a good month or two brainstorming, writing, and revising these essays. They should think about their life experiences, interests, and unique characteristics. Colleges want diversity at their schools, but they also wanted motivated students. Your child must give the impression they have big dreams and are willing to work hard to accomplish them.

Give us a call at (801) 508 – 4080 or send us an email at info@highperformancetutoring.com if you are interested in signing up your child. We love working students in our community and creating the foundation for their success.

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