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Competition to get into college has to start early
High school counselors, from left, Kathy Oxford of North Hall High School, Amanda Griffin of Johnson High School and Terri Semig of Pickens High School in Jasper sit during a presentation given by University of Georgia and Georgia Tech representatives about what's required of high school students who want to get into the schools. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

It's great to be a Georgia Bulldog. Or even a Yellow Jacket.

But the problem is, more and more high school seniors in the state are thinking that way and applying to Georgia's flagship schools. And they're competing for the same number of seats.

Valentina De La Fé, assistant director of undergraduate admissions for Georgia Tech, said the Atlanta school saw an 11 percent growth in applications, with more than 11,500 applicants for 2,500 seats at Tech this fall.

Milly Legrá, associate director of admissions and orientation for the University of Georgia, said the Athens school received a record-breaking 18,000 applications for 5,000 seats in this fall's freshman class.

De La Fé and Legrá recently stopped at Gainesville High School to meet with interested students, parents and school guidance counselors to give tips on scores, grades and essays to help students rise to the top of the admissions pile.

"Nowadays, more and more students are applying for different schools. More kids are graduating from high school and are looking into college as an option," De La Fé said. "The amount of students that are applying versus the amount of students who actually make it is what makes the school competitive. It's not so much the grades that you have to have to get into the school or a particular SAT score, it's more about the amount of spots available versus the amount of people that are applying. And of course, if the pool is extremely qualified, you need to meet those standards. So it's getting harder every year."

And don't think that colleges are raising their expectations to combat the overflow of applications.

"It's not that we're making it harder by saying, ‘Hey, these are the new, much-harder minimums and requirements,' it's ‘Hey, we're looking for the best of the best who apply,'" Legrá said.

De La Fé acknowledged HOPE scholarships make college a possibility for more students, too.

North Hall High School senior Avery Withrow said his sights are set on becoming a Georgia Bulldog, and he's spent his high school career trying to make the grade.

"I have a lot of aunts and uncles who went there, and I grew up going to Georgia games, so it's been pressed in me since I was little. I just always wanted to go to UGA," he said.

So what should high school seniors do now to increase their chances of landing a spot at Georgia's banner schools?

"What they should be doing right now is they should be looking at their application, making sure they don't slack off in their senior year of classes, because they are important, as well," De La Fé said. "They need to truly look at the application and fill it out as soon as possible and truly (be) taking their time with the application. If you fill out the application the night before, you're not going to fill it out correctly or put down all the activities you've really done."

Legrá said unless seniors have been hitting the books hard in the past few years, there's really not too much else they can do now except apply.

"Sadly, they need to have been doing it ninth, 10th and 11th grade," she said. "If they're not satisfied with their scores at this moment, they still have time to take another SAT or ACT to try to improve in that area, but their GPA is set."

But it's not only grades, they said.

"Nowadays, we find that a student has to be well rounded," De La Fé said "It's not about being the top student in your high school. It's about truly getting involved in class and, of course, making those grades, because if you don't have the dedication to study and make those grades in high school, you're not going to have the dedication to study and make those grades in college."

Fortunately, UGA and Tech aren't the only colleges in the state.

Withrow is hoping his focus on grades the past few years will help him get into UGA, but for other students, there are many local college options that can lead to transfers.

"It's about the right fit," said Gainesville High School counselor Kay Holleman. "There's always transfers. There's so many good schools in the area, like North Georgia (College & State University), Gainesville State (College) and even Georgia Gwinnett College that are great alternatives."