What University Admissions Officers Want: Passionate Students

What University Admissions Officers Want: Passionate Students

Laura Bridgestock

Updated February 2, 2024 Updated February 02

What are university admissions officers really looking for when assessing applicants? According to a new report, the key quality is passion.

In a survey of university admissions officers in the UK and US, some 93% rated evidence of passion for students’ chosen subject as important or very important. This matches the equally high rating accorded to a good level of written English.

Other highly valued attributes include a positive attitude towards studies, ability to think and work independently, and a reasonable level of mathematics.

The findings, published earlier this week, are part of the 10th annual University Admissions Officers Report from ACS International Schools, the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) and the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA).

The table below shows the attributes most highly valued by surveyed university admissions officers, in addition to academic grades.

Attributes Valued by University Admissions Officers


% of university admissions officers to rate important/ very important

Evidence of a passion for their chosen course subject


Good written English


Evidence of a positive attitude towards study


Evidence of an ability to think and work independently


A reasonable grasp of mathematics


Evidence of success through a difficult start or background


Having held any positions of responsibility


An awareness of global or cultural differences


Work experience


Evidence of an entrepreneurial attitude


Participation in community or voluntary services


Source: ACS International Schools, IB, IBSCA University Admissions Officers Report 2015


Which UK qualifications are most highly valued?

The survey also asked university admissions officers to share their views on different post-16 UK qualifications, including A-Levels, Scottish Highers and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). Just over half of participants rated these three options as equally strong preparations for university, with 18% expressing a preference for the IBDP, 8% for A-Levels and 3% for Scottish Highers.

Surveyed admissions officers rated A-Levels as slightly better for developing in-depth subject expertise (81%, compared to 79% for the IBDP and 78% for Scottish Highers). However, the IBDP was most widely perceived as encouraging independent inquiry (87%, compared to 47% for Scottish Highers and 37% for A-Levels).

Aside from the attributes listed above, 92% of university admissions officers said they considered an applicant’s propensity to complete their degree when making an offer, while more than half would consider applicants’ likelihood of contributing to the university’s research life.

The survey involved interviews with 80 university admissions officers in the UK and 20 in the US, conducted by an independent organization on behalf of ACS International Schools, the IB and IBSCA.

This article was originally published in June 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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