There is so much that goes into a high school student’s application to college: the transcript, the SAT/ACT scores, the essays, the extra-curriculars.  It’s hard to know what really counts – what the kids should focus on to improve their own chances.  Different schools are looking for different things, and those things can even change from year to year at any given college or university.  But one element seems to remain as the gold standard: grades.

“Research has shown high school GPA to be the number one predictor of success in college. But, let me be clear that all 4.0s are not created equal. It is all about academic rigor in high school course selection. And realistically, not all high schools are created equal either. There are great students at not so good schools and there are marginal students at superb schools. The students whom we seek are those who have “bloomed where they are planted,” demonstrating academic excellence, character and motivation wherever they are.” Martha Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Ms. Allman seems to be saying that the transcript is king, and the number is not a fixed asset – the good grade needs to be in the hardest course available to the student.  So, as your juniors are plotting out their fall semesters for senior year (as mine is now), you may want to encourage them to stretch – take the AP instead of the regular level, take the harder course over the elective that sounds fun.  It all seems so geared to the end game, which is a shame if you ask me, but if the end game is your child’s goal, make sure he or she understand the rules of engagement, and pushes for the big finish.  Coasting in senior year?  I don’t think so.