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Why Grades Don't Mean Nearly As Much As These 5 Things When It Comes To Getting Into College

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Girl studying

I always find it surprising when I hear parents bragging about their high school-aged son or daughter who's working so hard to increase their chances of getting into college by earning outstanding grades that there is no time left for anything else.

Their next statement is usually something about their child having straight A’s or some off-the-charts GPA, as testimony to the adage that “hard work pays off.”

Unfortunately, that is simply not the case when it comes to college admissions!

What do colleges look for and which classes, character traits, and qualities are most impressive when it comes to building a stellar high school resume?

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Colleges admissions departments are full of savvy professionals looking for far more than gold-medal GPAs and SAT scores. And good, even great grades won't cut it on their own if those metrics are all you and your child have done in preparation for the application process.

If you want to help your child improve the chances of getting into college, make sure these 5 things are included on their high school resume.

1. A wide variety of intellectual classes

A curriculum in which the student has stretched his or her intellectual capabilities by taking the most rigorous courses offered and earning solid grades (A and B) is good. 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 kind of coursework in which 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. They were wrong.

2. Involvement in extracurricular activities

Extracurricular involvement shows the student has interests in both the school community and beyond.

Whether the student is active in a religious organization, scouting, or student council does not matter. What matters is that she shows that she can function as part of a larger community, and that she cares about others.

The activities in which a student participates are also one of the two places in a college application in which the student can be seen as a person (the essay is the other).

Students should participate in what is interesting to them rather than trying to find things they think will “look good on their college application.”

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3. Demonstrated work ethics

Work experiences 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 examples show that the student is able to be responsible to someone other than himself, and that he has the time management skills necessary to get to work and develop a professional record that lasts more than a few weeks.

4. Group or community participation

Participation in some form of group, team or community-wide activity indicates that a student has awareness of the world outside of herself. That activity can be band, chorus, theater, or athletics — all of which show the ability to work harmoniously with others.

5. Perspective

It breaks my heart when I hear these high-powered-high-stressed kids tell me about their dark thoughts and the way they question whether anyone loves them for the person they are rather than for the glory they can bring to the family.

These are solid students with marvelous minds who have no time to socialize because their parents tell them that perfection is attainable if enough time and effort is given. Eventually, such children fall apart emotionally.

While good grades are important for acceptance to college, there are many other things that are more important.

Be sure to nurture and encourage intellectual curiosity, a strong work ethic, dependability, and an authentic personality.

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Charlotte M. Klaar, Ph.D., is an independent educational consultant with 23 years of experience successfully working with students in the college process. For more information about her and her services, visit her website.