Being able to successfully identify the entrance qualifications of different universities can be the difference between attending your dream school and settling for your safety school. Though individual universities often have slight variations in their entrance qualifications, most universities still rely upon a handful of application items when making their admissions decisions.

High School Diploma and Coursework

Most major universities minimally require potential students to have completed a high school degree or an equivalent educational certification, for instance a passing grade on a General Educational Development exam. Some universities such as the University of California require students to have completed specific courses while in high school ranging from standards like history and English to electives such as visual art and college preparatory electives.

Admission Exams

In addition to a high school diploma, most universities in the United States require students to complete a standardized admissions examination such as the SAT (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT (American College Testing) exams. These exams are generated independently of any individual high school’s curriculum, and they are designed to indicate how groups of high school graduates compare to each other so that universities might select students that score in a particular range.

Writing Sample

As a way to supplement standardized entrance qualifications, many universities such as the Robert E. Cook Honors College at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania require students to complete personalized essays or provide writing samples. These writing samples allow admissions committees to generate a more complete picture of applicants the extends beyond a mere numerical score or high school transcript. Writing samples provide students an opportunity to infuse their applications with a bit of personality.

Extracurricular Activities

Though few universities require students to have completed a variety of extracurricular activities, most admissions committees consider applicants with such activities on their résumés to be “well-rounded” candidates. Don Asher, author of “Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late-Blooming, and Just Plain Different” argues that students should emphasize their extracurriculars that demonstrate commitment and dedication, as well as “real world” skills such as time management and interpersonal communication.

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