Test Scores and Air Bags

  David Graves      May 21st, 2019

This past weekend, I was driving my father to the Atlanta airport, and as is usual, the topic of college admissions came up. There was a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal which discussed the SAT. In one section of the op/ed piece, the writers stated “the SAT is still the best objective measure of student aptitude and has proven to be a good predictor of college performance.” While discussing the editors knowledge (or lack of ) about grades/course rigor vs test scores, the sunlight hit the windshield just right and I flipped down the visor to block the light. On the back of the visor was the airbag warning sticker, and it got me to thinking about the interplay between different systems in trying to solve a problem. Putting aside the other variables of a college admission review (essays, activities, recommendations), how can a college best utilize grades/rigor and test scores? If you actually read the airbag warning, you will see that one of the key points is “Always use seat belts and other child restraints”. In other words, while airbags can help in an accident, seat belts are the actual key factor in auto safety, while airbags are secondary safety devices that, along with the seat belts, help to best avoid serious injuries. In looking studies on the effectiveness data on seat belts and airbags in possible fatalities for drivers, three-point seat belts alone had a 48% effectiveness rating, airbags alone had a 14% effectiveness rating, […]

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What should I take? – Course rigor and a balanced life

  David Graves      August 10th, 2018

In College Admissions, there is an ongoing struggle with trying to relay information concerning a high school applicant’s course selection. How do you relay the idea to students that colleges want you to challenge yourself in preparation for college classes, but not overdo their coursework load to the detriment of their work/play balance and overall mental health. One of the main reasons that this is such a tough discussion is due to the differences in individual students and how they are able to handle challenging coursework. For every student who is able to handle a full AP/IB course load there is another student who gets in over their head with their junior/senior schedule. There is no one right answer for how challenging a student’s course work should be, just like there is no one right answer for any number of life’s choices. If a parent calls and asks us to sketch out the schedule their student should take in high school, a college admissions officer is no real knowledge of the student and family dynamic has no real insight into what courses that individual student should take. We can talk about the state or institutional base minimums, and what previous students have taken, but that only paints a very broad stroke on the canvas. As such, here is what we can give as far as suggestions and guidelines. To be honest, no admissions person can say what your individual student should take as far as HS courses, as this decision […]

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Freshman Denies – A Post Mortem

  David Graves      April 9th, 2018

My wife loves Grey’s Anatomy. She is a nurse, and can handle seeing blood spurt out, people impaled on poles, and limbs sticking out at seriously wrong angles. Me, I can’t even handle the site of the scalpel cutting into a body. But some of the most interesting scenes for me are when they do post mortems. The doctors look at what went wrong, either with the person’s health or the medical treatment, to determine the cause of death. While doctors can never tell you exactly how to live to be 100, many times they can tell you what to avoid so you can have a good chance of a long life. One thing we cannot do in admissions is tell students/parents the exact path to getting admitted. Life in admissions changes too much for this, with shifting application numbers, academic strengths, etc. But what I can do is take a closer look at the denied students (an admissions post mortem so to speak), and give out some information on trends in our denied group. FYI-This is not a post about data on the overall denied applicant group, but only a view on some data which stands out within that subset. I apologize up front for the somewhat gruesome medical comparison, but if nothing else, it catches your attention. Core Course Rigor: One of the biggest correlation factors for applicants being denied was their course preparation for UGA, and for college as a whole. If you were going to prepare […]

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Swipe Left or Swipe Right?

  David Graves      March 23rd, 2018

I will admit it, I have never used an online dating app. I am old. But there has always been one constant in the world of dating: Accentuate your strengths and de-emphasize your weaknesses. Athletic? Show some pictures of you competing on the court or hiking up a mountain. Brains? Highlight that amazing degree, the books you read and your passion for Shakespeare comedies. Sense of humor? Dazzle them with a few witty comments in your profile. And as for those weaknesses? Bury them. Bury them deep. By the time they get to know you, they will happily ignore obsession with the toilet paper having to go over instead of under, or your slight obsession with The Bachelor or Rick and Morty. The same thought process seems to holds true for students and parents posting college admission data on blogs, ChanceMe sites, and social media. Accentuate strengths and de-emphasize weaknesses. Have a strong GPA? Highlight the grades you made and the overall trends. Have a strong test score? Post the best SAT and ACT your child made, and emphasize how few make these scores nationwide. Active in School? List all the clubs, sports and volunteer work to far off lands. And if there are areas that are not so strong, then just leave off that part. The only difference is that while outside viewers only see the positives that are posted, Admissions Offices already have all the details on the students, and are able to see both the strengths and […]

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AP/IB vs DE Courses-the Pros and Cons

  David Graves      March 7th, 2018

Every year, one of the most asked questions for UGA Admissions concerns whether students should take Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate courses or Dual Enrollment courses. As you can guess, our standard reply is “It Depends”. This is not a cop out answer, but rather it is based on the student’s actual situation. What courses are available at the high school? What options does the student have with colleges in their community? What is the course preparation leading up to these classes, and what is the student ready for academically? What future colleges is the student considering, and what are these colleges credit policies on AP/IB/DE work? As you can guess, this is not always our most popular answer (right up there with the parental favorite “Because I said so.”). This is my attempt at giving you the potential positives and negatives of each choice. AP and IB Coursework Potential Positives Most colleges around the US will give credit for strong test scores on either AP or IB exams, with limitations set by each college.  AP and IB coursework is consistent worldwide, so the student, the school and the college all know what is expected. Yes, there are variations based on schools and teachers, but the curriculum is standardized. AP and IB students are able to get an idea of the level of work needed for a college-level class while still in a high school course. Taking AP/IB courses in your high school allows a student to remain active in high school […]

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Sharks, Test Scores and Fear

  David Graves      September 22nd, 2017

Sharks are terrifying. They are big, they have huge pointy teeth, and and they like to eat. But the chances of you dying from a shark attack are pretty small. I mean one in eight million or so small. So while sharks are big and scary, in reality, you shouldn’t worry about them too much. In the same way, two words, three little letters each, cause an overwhelming amount of stress and angst. The SAT and ACT. They also seem big and scary, just without the pointy teeth. But in the same way that people overestimate the chances of a shark attack, they also overestimate the importance of the SAT and/or ACT tests. While a wide range of colleges use the SAT and/or ACT in the admissions review, the importance of these tests is generally overblown, and a number of colleges are test optional. Almost all (if not all) colleges, including UGA, state in their admissions review information that what a student does in the classroom is much more important than what a student does on a standardized test. At UGA, we give a rough estimate of 75+% of the academic portion of our review is focused on core grades and curriculum, with a much smaller percentage being the test score information. During our holistic file review where we look at everything, the importance of test scores becomes even smaller. Yet even with this information, the panic over test scores still runs wild. Here are some lifetime odds on the […]

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The Importance of Depth

  David Graves      January 31st, 2017

For the last fifteen years or so, my family has made an intentional decision to try and have birthday events and gifts be focused on an activity. We have planned scavenger hunts, rafter down several Tennessee rivers, hit the ski slopes in West Virginia, and gone cave spelunking in Kentucky. I vividly remember a trip early on where we went tubing down the Chattahoochee in Helen, GA. For those who don’t know what tubing is, it is the outdoor version of a lazy river, and Helen is a wonderful location for this adventure. You park at the tubing center, catch a quick bus ride (with your inner tube and life vest) up river, then have a relaxing float downstream. Unfortunately, during this middle of the summer tubing adventure, a problem arose: a drought that year meant the water level in the river was precariously low. In reality, nothing revolving around tubing is precarious. The worst that can possibly happen is generally a mild sunburn or floating a little too far away from your family. But a low level of water means less effortless floating and more standing, walking, pushing, and annoyance. It also means more complaining by family members, which becomes a downward spiral. Water depth (along with bug spray and sunscreen) is key to a good tubing adventure. Good water depth provides a smooth, consistent trip down the river. In the same vein, depth is key in reading admissions files. When we are reading applications, we are looking at […]

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Updated AP/IB grade Weighting for 2016

  David Graves      June 10th, 2015

Ever since I have been at UGA (18 years or so), we have added .5 to every AP or IB grade during the calculation of the UGA GPA (excluding schools who add points to actual teacher grades on the transcript). In a review of the weighting practices of a large number of high schools with which we work, we have seen a growing trend of schools adding 7 to 10 points to every AP/IB teacher grade, so that an 85 in AP Biology becomes a 92 or 95 on the actual transcript. In light of these changing high school policies, UGA is changing the weighting policy for the applicant pool for 2016 and beyond and will be adding 1 point to each AP/IB grade in our calculation of a GPA (still excluding schools who add points to actual teacher grades on the transcript, where we will just use their weighted teacher grades). In practice, this means that if a student makes a B in AP Biology, this would count as a 4.0 (3.0 + 1.0) in our GPA calculation process. The University of Georgia values students challenging themselves in rigorous high school courses, as the best way to prepare yourself for college courses is to challenge yourself in the high school classroom. We encourage students to take the strongest courses possible in which they can still be successful, and we want to recognize this in how we calculate a GPA. We will continue to add weight only to AP or […]

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File Reading Part II – Academics and Strength of Curriculum

  David Graves      December 1st, 2014

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: […]

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Said No UGA Admissions Counselor Ever

  David Graves      August 12th, 2014

In the UGA Admissions Office, there are some things we will never say no matter what. Some people will ask questions hoping for one of these answers, but you will not hear us give an answer (at least not the one some people expect). I sometimes feel like Dr. Seuss in “Green Eggs and Ham”, (paraphrasing) “I will not say that in a house, I will not say that with a mouse. I will not say that here or there, I will not say that anywhere.” Here are some of the top things we would never say: “Sure, I can tell you whether to apply Early Action or Regular Decision.” This is a choice that needs to be made by the student, as it is a timing issue, not an issue that impacts the chances of admission. “Of course I can tell you what classes to take for the next year (or the next four/eight/twelve years).” While we know a great deal about high school classes, we are not an expert on what your school offers, when the courses are available, what you want to take and/or your academic preparation for courses. This is best decided upon after the student and family speak with their HS counselor. “Take the easiest courses so you can make the best grades possible.” We want you to challenge yourself to the best of your ability while still doing well in your classes. You need to prepare yourself for the UGA classroom experience, and the […]

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