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5 unexpected qualities every student needs to apply to university

University places are highly competitive with many applicants showing clear academic potential. Exams serve as a basic benchmark for universities to select those students who are most likely to succeed in the academic environment of a rigorous degree program. But, without any other qualities beyond exam results being taken into consideration, there are still too many applicants for admissions officers to choose from.

That’s why top universities like Harvard, Stanford, and many more, look out for a number of other qualities to determine which applicants would contribute the most to their student community. Universities don’t only want good test-takers, they look for students who are articulate, intelligent and personable. Keep reading to learn how a high school education can help students develop the unexpected qualities needed to ensure future success.

Passions and interests

Universities are dynamic, well-rounded communities made up of all kinds of people, each bringing their own unique passions and interests to the table. Every new student must contribute to this in some way, and that’s why participating in co-curricular activities at high school is so important. Students at EF Academy get ahead by participating in a wide range of activities such as sports teams, musical ensembles, theatre productions, debate teams and more.

Divergent thinking

Universities don’t just want good test-takers because memorizing information for a test and understanding information are two very different things. It’s possible to have good exam scores and still not know how to be a divergent thinker – an innovative and creative personality who makes an effort to think outside of the box, learn beyond the curriculum and find new ways of looking at the world. At EF Academy, we offer our students regular opportunities for experiential learning – school trips, practical assignments, open discussions – to help them develop the versatile intelligence that will make a difference to a university community and one day, to the world.

Interpersonal skills

The “personal appeal” is incredibly important for university admissions offices. Scholastic achievement is impressive but genuine, thoughtful students who demonstrate both self-awareness and awareness of the broader world around them are harder to find. Applicants who have engaged with a diverse range of other people, different nationalities and cultures, will have gained the kind of interpersonal skills that are essential for university students. International high schools are excellent preparation for this.


Students who work hard at their homework, but forget to make room for deeper exploration of their topics, will ultimately find university a struggle. University life is all about being lead by your curiosity, letting your work be informed by a multitude of sources that you have searched out and found a connection to. Students who can evidence personal projects or an extended exploration into a topic of interest will instantly stand out to an admissions officer. At EF Academy, students can opt to study for the IB Diploma – a qualification which through modules such as the extended essay, gives students a chance to experience university-level study.


The best university applicants can demonstrate how they’ve developed their sense of independence. For example, international students settle into a new country, a new culture, a new school system, new methods of study and even a new style of accommodation. They go from living at home with parents to being fully responsible for their own money, laundry, food, bedtimes, friendships, and study schedules. These students are fully responsible for their own academic and personal success. Admissions officers understand that independence in high school leads to greater success at higher level study.

At EF Academy, we pride ourselves on helping students to develop into bright, successful, global citizens who are prepared for university and their future careers.

Get prepared for university with EF Academy. Learn more

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