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Experts: Getting into college takes more than good grades

Posted July 30, 2009

— If West Columbus High School sophomore Jessie Burroughs could plan her future, it would include going to college at North Carolina State University.

College officials said Jessie, and other prospective college students, need to know that good grades alone will not get them accepted.

Good grades not enough to get into college Good grades not enough to get into college

“At N.C. State, we take a lot of different factors into account,” said Thomas Griffin, N.C. State’s director of admissions. “The kinds of students that N.C. State wants to enroll are students that have an interest or passion in some area, but it can widely vary as to what that passion or interest is."

That standout factor is important when competition is steep. N.C. State received 18,600 undergraduate applications for this fall, and 55 percent were accepted, Griffin said.

More than 23,800 students applied to Duke University’s undergraduate program, and 1,720 will be accepted.

“We will actually turn down more valedictorians than we accept,” said Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s director of admissions. “Yes, (we like to see) good grades, but what we look for are students who really sink their teeth into learning. They think about it. They reflect on it.”

Duke admission officers said they also rely heavily on recommendation letters from teachers and what impact the student has made on the community.

"What that tells us is not the grades a student (has) received, but what kind of student they are,” Guttentag said. "It's not so much the leadership position as it is the difference the student has made in some context."

Some parents worry, Guttentag said, about whether their children are doing the “right” kinds of activities that will get them noticed by colleges. For example: Is it better to do community service or sports? The answer, according to Guttentag, is to let children following their passion.

Jessie’s passion is to get accepted at N.C. State. In the meantime, she is getting a taste of the university by attending a summer design camp for high school students.

“Right now, I’m mainly trying to find stuff I’m interested in,” she said.

Many students start preparing for college their junior or senior year. College admission experts say that is too late. Teens need to start thinking about course load and developing hobbies as early as their freshman year.


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  • bbsbeaching Jul 30, 2009

    didn't one of the accused terrorists attend ncsu as a sociology major? and his qualifications were ????? my daughter's 3.5 gpa and passion for art didn't get her in....

  • lkanzig Jul 30, 2009

    a good healty bank account(yeah right in this state!) and knowing perdue or easley, may even get paid for it if you lnow them!

  • Six String Jul 30, 2009

    There are actually a couple of good comments posted on this story: howmanyounces and fensk in particular

  • readme Jul 30, 2009

    What we really need is for less people to go to college. Many jobs don't really need a college degree. College takes them out of the work force for four years and is inefficient. We need to beef up high school so a HS degree actually means you can read and do arithmetic. So there should be less college graduates and more HS dropouts! But improve the quality of instruction and expectations at every level. We shouldn't have to wait 22 years before we can work for a living. No we have a society where we in our socialistic society have tons of programs and money geared toward sending people to college who have no business there and who could do a good job and earn a living with a HS degree. We have a society of entitlement with people thinking theu are too good to dig a ditch or flip burgers, and they have a BS degree and they don't know anything cause their coursework was a cakewalk.

  • donnied1952 Jul 30, 2009

    I disagree with the need for college these days...Maybe 30 to 40 years ago, it was worth something, but now, you just going in debt to be able to pay higher taxes to supply the rest with their wealth building schemes. All you need to do these days is be able to not tell the truth with a straight face, take from others what is not yours,crush anyone whom gets in your way, and most important:::learn the value of the different drugs on the street..TODAY...Number one cash crop in america (Pot), California is looking to legalize right now, the rest of the states will follow, because they want the money.
    So, therefore, 4 years of beer and pizza, with the debt, not worth it. Go GREEN, that is the saying today,just they do not tell you that they mean "GO GET THE GREENBACK"

  • Squeek Jul 30, 2009

    It sounds like you're trying to win a popularity contest instead of trying to be accepted to college. That's stupid

  • HowManyOunces Jul 30, 2009

    This isn't new. Extracurricular activities were encouraged when I was applying for college too. I was able to take and excel in AP courses, play a sport(10-15 hr/wk), and be involved in community service oriented clubs (Beta, National Honors Society, Habitat for Humanity 15-20 hr/mth). No one is looking for these kids to go to school, spend 20 hours a week at a sport, and 20 hours a week doing community service. The colleges just want to see that the students are well rounded individuals that will be able to contribute to society. Grade certainly play a part and a minimum expectation is still there. A lot of kinds do well in school. That's not enough. You have to make yourself stand out. Just like you do in the real world. I can show up to work and do the minimum expected and keep my job, but if I'm looking for a promotion, I need to make myself noticed.

  • dougdeep Jul 30, 2009

    Living in a rural county helps. Also, try having some well connected family ties.

  • wife-of-a-concrete-man Jul 30, 2009

    and... so it's a good idea to attend a summer designed camp as a high school student.- too bad that the great gov. perdue saw it necessary to cancel a majority of those this year, especially the leadership school @ ECU....

  • Red Jul 30, 2009

    First it was janitor. Then it was custodial arts. Then it became janitorial sciences. And finally facilities engineering. These improvements in title didn't come with better skills or more money. They just bumped up the requirements to do a job. What's the point in education for the sake of money when it costs you $40k in debt to work a $30k job? This is just another example of supply and demand. When you have too many psychology degrees fighting over a spot at the french fry vat, you should rethink your goals. The world doesn't need more MBAs and their synergies leveraged at it. It needs more cops, teachers, plumbers, butchers, ditch diggers and all the other jobs people go to college to avoid. It needs honest work and honest workers, not people in suits speaking jargon trying to sell you things you don't need. The American way use to be work hard to succeed. Now it's sell out to the highest bidder. Now get off my lawn.