Think sure A's in easy courses will dazzle the college admissions office?
You might want to think again - and check with the colleges you'd like to attend to see what parts of the application they find most important.
Good grades are important, particularly now, when a surge of college applicants makes the field more competitive. But many colleges also are concerned about whether the courses prepare students for the intellectual rigor of college life.
"For all schools, one of the most important factors is going to be their academic performance," said Ingrid Hayes, associate director of undergraduate admissions for the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. "We're looking at their grades through the course of their entire high school career - and we're looking at the types of courses they take. Have they taken courses that are going to prepare them for college?"
"Our main focus is grades, curriculum and test scores," said Melinda DeMaria, assistant director of the admissions office at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Average SAT scores for those accepted there usually fall between 1130 and 1300, she said, and the average grade-point average is 3.5 to 4.0. That GPA rating uses only academic classes, not electives.
"That's our middle 50 percent range, so there are people who are lower or higher than that," Ms. DeMaria said. "But to be in a competitive range for admission, that's where they should be."
What else makes a good application? Leadership roles in activities and an interesting essay, admissions officials said.
The essay can be a deal-breaker: If you're teetering on the edge of acceptance, it gives admissions officials a sense of your personality, as well as your writing style and verbal strengths, Ms. DeMaria said. It's also a chance to explain any problems that contributed to low grades in high school.
"We like to see who the student is beyond what the numbers say about them," Ms. Hayes said. "The essay should be well written and well thought out. I'd suggest they get assistance of parents or a faculty adviser.
"I think a lot of students make the mistake of writing about things that, to them, may seem extraordinary but aren't that uncommon," she added. "Look at all the students who play sports and go to the state finals. It's better if they write about what made an experience unique for (them) and contributed to the learning experience."
When listing activities on college applications, focus on those with leadership positions that show some commitment, she said.
"We're not just concerned about how many clubs they can rack up. We like to see them taking a leadership role," she said.
But don't worry if you don't have too many activities.
"Some schools put more emphasis on activities than others," Ms. DeMaria said. "And scholarships may put a lot more emphasis on community involvement. But we admit students every year who maybe weren't the most involved students in high school. I think you find a pretty good mix here."
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.