David Graves      December 1st, 2014 in Blog

From January through mid-March, the admissions staff will hide out in our offices
and read files during our holistic file reading process. There are six main areas that we look at in
our file reading process, and this post covers the second two areas, focusing on a student’s academics and the strength of curriculum. While we look at these sections in our initial review of applications, we now look at them in much more detail.

Academic Review

When we look at a student’s transcript during the holistic review process, we are trying to understand
how a student has progressed over their 3+ years in high school. Have
they been consistently strong throughout the years, did they start slow
and then jump up to all A’s, did they have a tough time in a specific
subject, are all their B’s low or high B’s, etc. We then use this in
combination with the other factors impacting their life, from family
issues that occurred where we saw a dip in grades to how a student did
once they got into a specific AP course. If a student made a D in
Geometry in 10th grade, did they bounce back from it or keep on a
downward trend. If there is a downward trend or low grade, we also want to know if there were any mitigating circumstances that led to this issue. All of these factors help us understand the overall
picture that the transcript gives us.

Three quick
warnings/notes on grades: First, we are only looking at core academic
work, not PE, Health, Driver’s Ed, etc. While your high school may put
these classes into your overall GPA, we are not focusing on these course
grades. Second, we focus on grades, not on the GPA or rank that is on
your transcript. We are looking at how you have done each term in your
academic classes, and so when I talk about this area, I try to talk
about actual grades. Third, growth in one term, especially the first
semester of your senior year, does not count as a trend. If you have B’s
and C’s for three years, then suddenly wake up and start making A’s, we
look at this, but it is not a grade trend, this is a grade spike. A
trend is a relatively constant movement, while a spike is a sudden
shift. If you have a grade spike (hopefully upwards), I am wondering why
you did not make this jump earlier.

In addition, we will be looking at an applicant’s SAT and ACT scores, with a focus on the best subscores from all tests, and using either the SAT or the ACT (with Writing), whichever is stronger. If a student has not done as well on one score type, we will not look at this, but instead we will focus on the “better” score. In addition, we focus on the individual subscores, and with the ACT, we look at the subscores that have shown to predict success in college (the ACT English, Math and English/Writing). We also look at test scores in connection to a student’s grades, trying to see if a student has performed in the classroom above or below where the test scores indicate.

Strength of Curriculum

First, don’t ask how many AP/IB/Honors/Advanced/Dual
Enrollment/Post-AP/TBE (The Best Ever!) classes are needed for admission, because
there is no right answer. Instead, look at the academic opportunities
both at your school and in your community for the answer. What I mean
is, most competitive colleges are going to look at what academic options
are available to you as a student, and what you have then chosen to
take. What have you done within the context of what is available?

As an example, in two different files, one high school offers 31 Honors
courses and 28 AP courses (including at least four language options),
while the second has 18 honors courses and 1 AP (with only two languages
offered). These are just two examples, and there is an even wider range
of options within the 3,000+ high schools from which we have applicants every year. In addition, we are not just counting AP classes, but looking
at the depth and breadth of a student’s rigor in their core academic
areas. I would rather see a student challenge themselves across the
board with rigorous classes than to take 4 AP courses in one field, but
basic courses in the rest. And don’t fall for the idea that you should
take the lightest load so you can make all A’s, because this is not a
good move if applying to UGA, and it is not a good way to prepare for
college. Challenge yourself to the level that you can handle, and
understand that this is a serious factor in admissions at UGA.

our file reading, we are not just looking at high school courses,
though, but at a student’s overall academic challenge. We have
applicants who attend college classes in the summer,  take independent
study classes in addition to their high school offerings, attend
Governor’s Honors programs (or similar options) for 4-6 weeks in
specialized academic fields, and do independent research in areas in
which they are passionate. I still remember the applicant who drove one
hour across Los Angeles to take entomology classes (his intended major
at UGA), traveled to South America to study insects in the rain forest,
and worked with college faculty on research projects. Now, don’t run out
and start collecting bugs right this minute, but instead understand the
broad spectrum of what makes up academic opportunities. In addition,
don’t suddenly post  replies asking if X,Y or Z activity counts. Just
understand that we look at the whole of a student’s academic options,
and how they have taken advantage of these opportunities.

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