Top Qualities Universities Look for in Students


A university campus is a diverse place, with a wide range of academic, extracurricular, and social opportunities available to students. So, post-secondary schools want to ensure they have a diverse and qualified group of students filling their seats who are ready to participate in and engage with campus life. And they have hundreds of students competing for those spots. How can you set yourself apart from the many other qualified applicants? Keep the following qualities in mind when building your application.

True enthusiasm for a subject

First and foremost, universities are a place of learning, and a large portion of that learning will take place in the classroom or in an academic setting. The school wants to know you can commit to four or five years of a program and that you have a true desire to learn. If you haven’t found genuine enthusiasm for an area of study, try to recall past experiences when you were curious about something. Ultimately, a post-secondary institution wants to see that you’re interested in seeking out new experiences and are looking for opportunities to grow.

Ability to study independently

There is a fair amount of structure to high school learning, but once you transition to learning at the post-secondary level, you’ll be responsible for creating that structure for yourself. So, demonstrating you know how to set a schedule and meet deadlines will show the university you can handle learning at their institution. Schools value students who possess important interpersonal skills like time management and critical thinking, as they signify a mature, self-aware student who can handle the pressures of independent learning.

Good communication skills

Effective communication is clear and concise. Universities receive hundreds of applications to review each year, so straightforward and thoughtful responses will stand out. Remember, being able to communicate well doesn’t just mean being able to clearly tell others what you think or what to do. Skills like active listening, receiving feedback, and facilitating conversation among classmates or team members indicate you understand that strong communication is an ongoing process.


While many of these qualities will serve you well beyond your post-secondary years, collaboration is one of the most important. Being able to work in a team, whether it’s in the classroom, on the field, or in the office shows you understand that you need to be able to work with others to accomplish things. Although universities also want to see your leadership skills, try and reflect on a time when you were the individual who lead by bringing everyone to the table to ensure all voices were being heard.

Perseverance & commitment

Post-secondary studies can be demanding, and schools want to be confident that when things get tough, you know how to persevere and deliver on your commitments. Whether it’s completing your readings, studying for a mid-term or final exam, or showing up to a group project meeting, universities expect you to complete the tasks you’re assigned. Success requires endurance, so think of times in your life when you took initiative, overcame obstacles, and showed dedication to your responsibilities.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the substance of this list, remember that the individuals reviewing your application understand you are a high school student, whose current life experiences may be limited to school, family, and extracurricular activities. Focus on highlighting what you’re proud of and reflecting on what matters to you, and your character will shine through. If you need some additional guidance, check out our brainstorming post, or contact our office to make an appointment with a writing coach.

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