50th Edition, Education

The ABCs of the SATs and GPAs

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Alex Schneider,
Volume 46
April 13, 2006

Pressure.  The word certainly does not justify the long hours juniors and seniors spend nationwide applying to colleges in a process that never seems to end.
Regardless of the overwhelming odds, the director of South’s college and career counseling resource center, Barbara Brown, explains that, “for the most part, kids get into their first choice of school.”
“We have very motivated students here,” Brown said, “and we have an excellent faculty.  Our reputation is international and we are well respected.”
In fact, according to Jenni King, the director of South’s guidance department, many students from the current senior class will be going to top schools, with at least four going to Harvard, eight going to Brown, and two going to Yale, “which is really good,” King said.
When college admissions officers look at students, they take into account a number of factors.  The first and most important, according to Brown, is the transcript.  Colleges look at the rigor of classes, seen in the weighted and unweighted Grade Point Averages (GPA).
While these averages only include grades from tenth through twelfth grades, Brown clarifies that this is “where there are lots of misconceptions. Colleges do look at ninth grade grades, [even though] we don’t compute them.”
Moreover, when it comes to the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs, “what’s most important to them is the level of the challenge,” Brown said.
Still, King adds that “maximizing high grades is the best thing to do.”
Colleges also look at extracurricular activities. According to King, colleges like to see a strong level of commitment in this area. “Doing a smorgasbord of extracurriculars is not really helpful, it’s too stressful,” she said.
Brown also adds that top colleges are looking for “a lot of things and a lot done well [in order] to build a well-rounded class.”
The SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Assessment Test, is another important, yet controversial feature of the college admissions process.
Grades are not standardized throughout the country. “SATs act as a leveling agent,” she said.
Brown, however is not a fan of the SATs themselves. “They’ve gotten too long and there is too much stress [associated] with them. Kids hate them but they do them. It’s part of the culture,” she said.
Brown is also upset at the recently inaccurately scored SATs. “They screwed up,” Brown said. “What I don’t know is why they sat on them. Scholarships may have been affected.” Luckily, Brown has not heard of any South students affected.
Newton South’s reputation is also a helpful factor in the admissions process. When colleges receive applications from schools, they receive an information sheet about South that helps them compare it to other schools throughout the nation. “Our information is stellar,” Brown said, “They understand us pretty well.”
A final factor in the college process, and one that worries both Brown and King is the issue of stress management and pressure.
Brown cites the high level of competition at South as a major contributing factor to this stress, she said. “The competition here is quite fierce. You all apply to the same schools.”
King agrees. “Kids should apply to no more than six to ten colleges.”
Still, compared with last year’s statistics, more students are applying to the same schools. Last year, 63 students applied to Boston University, whereas this year 103 students applied. The same holds for school such as Brandeis, where 38 applied last year and 73 this year, as well as Northeastern, where 42 students applied last year compared to 98 this year. “That is the problem – that’s what makes it really really crazy,” King said.
In addition to this setback, King blames parents for the stress associated with the college process. “In communities such as Newton, parents put a premium on where kids go to college. For a lot of parents, it is really just about the bumper sticker,” she said.
Still, Brown affirms that regardless of the process, “our kids do very well here. When I see the final list of where everyone goes, I say ‘my god ­– our kids do very well.’”

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