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Myths about getting into University of Georgia: What matters. What doesn't.

In writing about education policy for the AJC for 19 years, one question from readers has become more common: Why is it so hard to get into the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech?

Two reasons: The HOPE Scholarship and the increasing cost of college.

I saw the cost escalation this past week when I took my twins to tour private campuses in the northeast. Admissions officers estimated the final price, including transportation home for breaks, would be $68,000 to $70,000 a year. As Tech and UGA became more competitive as a result of strong students remaining in Georgia because of HOPE, the colleges themselves and their national standings improved.

In talking to parents, I find mythologies have developed around who gets into Tech and UGA. So, I sent both campuses some of the common assumptions to see how many were on the mark.

I shared Tech's responses earlier this month.

UGA's responses today come from David Graves, senior associate director of admissions operations and evaluation.

UGA's early action deadline is Oct. 15 so share this blog with any high school seniors planning to apply to UGA. Graves does a great blog for UGA admissions that applicants ought to be reading regularly.

I want to point out something students should know about test scores. After posting Tech's responses on the blog, I heard from test prep companies and high school counselors over what they regarded as a major and unannounced change in Tech policy.

Tech will now look at all four scores -- math, reading, English and science -- that make up the ACT.  Many more kids are taking the ACT over the SAT this year because of the wariness around the revamped SAT.

My twins had just taken a prep class for the ACT and received an email from the test company saying:

Groundbreaking news occurred yesterday when an AJC article broke the previously unannounced news regarding Georgia Tech and how they're going to be changing how they count ACT scores for this year's seniors, including those who've already applied. Georgia Tech has decided for the first time in almost a decade to use all four sections of the ACT (English/Math/Reading/Science). If GT is a school on your list, this final week and before any future ACT exam dates, spread your practice across all four sections, especially if your Reading and Science sections are much lower than your English and Math sections.

What's interesting is UGA has not changed its policy and still only focuses on two of the four ACT categories, which can help or hurt a student depending on their strengths. So, keep that in mind.

Now, here are UGA's responses. The statements in bold are what I asked UGA to address.

It is easier to get into UGA if you live in rural Georgia.

We have students from all across Georgia, all 50 states and 125 countries on our campuses. The academic profile of applicants, with a focus on the extent to which they have challenged themselves, is our primary consideration when making admissions decisions. Approximately 85 percent of our student body is from Georgia, and there are no quotas assigned to high school, county, zip code, or any other characteristics.

Conversely, it is harder to get into UGA if you attend a metro powerhouse school, such as a Walton or a Lambert, from which many top students apply.

The academic accomplishments of individual students—not location—is our primary consideration when making admissions decisions.

It is easier to get into UGA if you apply for an undersubscribed major, such as entomology. Colleges claim your major doesn't matter, but, if so, aren't schools at risk of being overrun with finance and business majors? 

Some universities admit students based on intended major, but UGA is not one of those universities. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is focused on enrolling the most academically talented students, regardless of their intended major.

Even though the ACT has four parts, science, math, reading and English, UGA admits based only on the math and English scores. So, a student may have a composite score of 33, but could be rejected because of lower scores on the math and English portions. So, should students not worry about the science and reading portions of the ACT?

UGA does focus on the English and math sections of the ACT, as these two sections have been shown to be better predictors of college achievement than the reading and science sections.

Most students apply to more than one university, however, and other institutions may evaluate scores differently than UGA does.

Everyone knows somebody with a strong SAT/ACT score, a 3.8 GPA and lots of activities who did not get into UGA. Why would such a candidate be denied admission?

The number of applications for admission to the University of Georgia has been on an upward trajectory for the past several years, and this invariably results in some very strong students being denied admission. One of the factors that we emphasize in admissions decisions is the rigor of a students’ course selection. We expect students to take advantage of the most challenging courses offered at their high schools. To give just one example, it is possible that a student with a high GPA who has avoided the challenging courses offered at their high school may not be admitted, while a student with a lower GPA who has attempted the most rigorous courses at their school is offered admission. But the main reason so many excellent students are denied admission to UGA is simply that the number of outstanding students applying exceeds our capacity to admit them all.

UGA says it superscores SAT and ACT, but don't admissions counselors really look at all the scores?

The form that we use to review students for admission only displays the strongest subscores and the superscore. We consider only the highest score on the SAT I, the ACT, and the SAT R, and we do not require that an applicant send us all scores.

UGA cares a lot about SAT and ACT scores.

We do use SAT/ACT scores as part of our review, but only as one of the three academic factors—core grades, overall curriculum review, and test scores. We place a greater emphasis on a student’s grades and course selection over their high school career than on how well they perform on standardized tests.

Class rank doesn’t matter because while public schools still rank students, most private schools do not.

In most cases, class rank is not a factor in the admissions process at UGA, as it may or may not reflect the rigor of a student’s chosen curriculum, and many schools calculate class rank differently. It has been the policy of the University of Georgia that the top two graduates of all SACS-accredited high schools in Georgia are assured admission to the university’s first-year class provided that a student meets certain criteria (Go here for more information). Our primary focus is on the grades earned and the curriculum that a student pursues, however.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.