Local News

Experts: Getting into college takes more than good grades

Posted July 30, 2009 7:03 a.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2009 8:41 a.m. EDT

— 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.

“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.