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Top 5 student traits sought by U.S. universities

February 1, 2017 
Guest Editor

American flagWhat do U.S. universities want in students? In a word, results. 


The adage success breeds success drives admissions. To positively impact the world and protect the bottom line, universities need students and alumni who lead and succeed. 


This in turn heightens schoolreputation and recruiting ability.  The cycle is clear.  Students choose universities they believe will empower them for success, and universities select students whom they believe will bring success to them.


University operations are more aligned with business than charity.  The bottom line is that successful graduates build successful schools.


Students applying to top universities should keep this essential question in mind:  how can I best communicate not just potential but performance?  In a competitive environment where average SATs reach as high as 1520, students must distinguish themselves by more than academic ability alone.


Grades are significant, but not alone sufficient. Applicants create a competitive edge by focusing on five key strengths:  resiliency, creativity, passion, thinking, and leadership.


Resiliency.  The ability to see failure as a stepping stone to success rather than as a barrier is an essential trait.  Applicants who illustrate capacity to overcome hardship with courage, even productivity, position themselves favorably as people who will succeed in school and in life.  Life is hard.  Endurance often wins the day.Share an example that proves you are an overcomer.


Creativity.  Though a controversial figure, Steve Jobs proved one thing incontrovertibly:creativity can change the world.  We need visionaries, people who recognize no boundaries and reach beyond limitations of the known. Einstein’s words parallel one admissions perspective: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.”  Proudly communicate your originality.


Passion.  This might be the single most important characteristic as a predictor of success.  When people profoundly care about a cause, they are prepared to change the world.  I am reminded of a former student whose relativebattled cancer.  He became driven by desire to find a cure and as a high school student partnered with a university research lab to publish a paper on their joint experiments.  Schools clamored to admit him.  What is your passion?


Thinking.  Thinking is not about how you perform on a test but how you solve problems.  Classical education stressed the essential need to think logically and to argue powerfully.  Some things never change.  In a world where conformity and political correctness too often guide thoughts, colleges need students who think critically, understand deeply, and formulate ideas with reason, not just emotion.  Illustrate how you solved a problem through careful thought.


Leadership.  America prides itself on leadership. This is similarly true for U.S. universities.  Schools seek future leaders and consequently seek students who demonstrate leadership skills.  How have you inspired achievement by a group oran individual?


The world requires creative leaders, people who care deeply, inspire others, andendure fire and failureto reach goals.Throughout the application process, students who prove their capacity in each of these five areas are well on the way to success with U.S. universities.


About the author


Ethan Hildreth has worked as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in the United States for over 25 years. Ethan now works with Nord Anglia Education as one of their newest educationalists based in Abu Dhabi. As the father of five children and lifelong educator, he has helped many students reach their educational goals.

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