Watching the Olympic games, The College Whisperer is awestruck by the seemingly superhuman athletic performances, from swimming to gymnastics to beach volleyball. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat! The human drama of athletic competition. WOW!

And to think, the difference between getting a medal and going home without one is sometimes determined by one one-thousandth of a point or of a second. One one-thousandth. Can you imagine that?

Well, consider this. When reducing -- by formulae and abstract calculation that would make an Olympic judge's head spin -- GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, and other quantifiables to a common denominator (logarithm tables sold separately :-), college admission officers and committees may well be deciding your fate -- juxtaposed against the "scores" of your competition from across the nation and around the world -- by one one-thousandth of a point, or its equivalent.

Indeed, if you hail from, say, Long Island, with its 127 (count 'em) school districts, hundreds of thousands of students (nearly half a million), thousands of high school seniors (many from top notch, highly regarded schools), and the proclivity of many of these bright, ambitious, qualified students to apply to the very same colleges and universities, the demon of demographics already puts you behind the eight ball. Point deductions will be taken based on no other basis than where you happen to reside.

How so? Well, put it this way. If a student from a small town high school in Iowa (or even from a town in upstate New York), with scores, grades, etc. identical to those of a student from a Long Island high school, compete head-to-head for the same spot at the same college, all things considered equal, who do you think will get the nod -- or the medal?

You got it. The kid from Iowa. Or Monticello. Or Beijing.

Why? Well, first off, there's that burning desire on the part of colleges and universities to satisfy that little thing known as diversity. Though it may seem otherwise at some schools, they simply cannot take everyone from Long Island. Add to this that which separates students in the top of their class (or even the top ten percent) and you may well be talking about one one-thousandth of a point.

So much for the quantifiable!

Yes, grades count. Scores matter. Weighted. Unweighted. Degree of difficulty. They all factor in.

How, then, can a college distinguish between a 96.9952 and a 96.9953 (some high schools actually take the GPA out that far, believe it or not) in deciding upon an offer of admission?

It comes down to the intangible. Extracurriculars, community service, work experience, those all-important if not critical personal statements and essays. That which sets you apart, gives you that cushion, lifts you above and beyond the competition. Why, even a lower score can be raised, sometimes in leaps and bounds, by a student who can demonstrate, through word and deed, that s/he will bring something special, something unique, something extraordinary to campus.

Sure. You've got to work those grades. Ace those pesky SATs/ACTs, for whatever they may be worth in the world outside of academia). Maximize that which can be quantified and scored by computer matrix.

Do not, however, neglect the intangibles. Get involved early in your high school career and stay involved. Sports, clubs, volunteering about town. Even a job, if you can find one, goes a long way. Be consistent. Be genuine. Be the master of a few, solid activities rather than a jack of all trades.

If nothing more -- and guaranteed, your participation outside of the classroom will prove invaluable -- the experiences gained will make for some awfully good fodder for your high school resume and college essay. And the intangibles may well just put you on the podium in that great race for college admissions gold.

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

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