I am always surprised when a parent brags to me about their high school student who works so hard on school work that there is no time for anything else. The next statement is usually something
about the student having straight A’s which shows that “hard work pays off.” Unfortunately, that is simply not the case! Good, even great grades are no substitute for the following 5 things:
1. A curriculum in which the student has stretched his/her intellectual capabilities by taking the most rigorous courses offered and earning solid grades (A or B) in them. It makes no sense to take every AP or IB course offered and get C’s in them.
The course weighting is no substitute for accomplishment. If a student tries a class at that level and does not do well, move on and drop back to the course work where he can be successful. I once had a student who had a 4.0 GPA and aspired to the most competitive colleges in the country.
Unfortunately, the student had taken none of the Honors or AP classes offered at her highly-ranked high school. The family believed that having straight A’s was better than showing intellectual curiosity or attempting to stretch within her options.
2. Extracurricular involvement that shows the student has interests in both her school community and outside it. Whether the student is active in a religious organization, Scouting or Student Council does not matter. What matters is that she is showing that she can function as part of a larger community and cares about others besides herself.
The activities a student participates in is also one of the two places in the application that the student becomes a person. The essay is the other. That’s why a student should participate in what is interesting to her and not try to find things that “look good.”
3. Work experiences that indicate that a student is responsible, able, disciplined and dependable. That job could be babysitting, bagging groceries, lawn care, or working on his own business detailing cars. All of these show that the student is able to be responsible to someone other than himself, has the time management skills to get to work and can develop a work record that lasts more than a few weeks.
4. Participation in some form of team activity can also indicate an awareness that there is something more important than herself. That activity can be band, chorus, theater, or athletics – all show that the student can work harmoniously with others.
5. The ability to put the world in perspective. It breaks my heart when I hear these high-powered, high-stressed kids tell me about their dark thoughts. They question if anyone loves the person they are, or just the glory they can bring to the family. These are solid students with marvelous minds, but they have no time to socialize because their parents tell them that perfection is attainable if enough time and effort is given. Then, the student may fall apart emotionally.
While good grades are important for acceptance to college, there are many other things that are more important: intellectual curiosity, a strong work ethic, dependability, and a personality.