From left, Reid Newton, Maggie Neel, Bailey Palmer, speaking, and Chris Smith, part of a panel of seniors at North Atlanta High School, discuss how to prepare for applying and getting into college.

Working hard and having passion play key roles in getting accepted into the college of one’s dreams, said a panel of high school seniors and admissions experts at North Atlanta High School.

A group of students who had attended schools in the North Atlanta cluster since first grade talked about how their school and other activities had prepared them for applying and getting into college.

“I’m glad I worked my butt off,” said the school’s salutatorian, Bailey Palmer, who plans to attend the University of Georgia, after applying and getting into schools such as Columbia, Brown, Georgetown and Barnard.

The group had gathered for the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools’ last meeting of the school year. NAPPS is a nonprofit group whose mission is to provide support for public education in North Atlanta.

Ahmara Smith, a North Atlanta senior who will attend Bard with a Posse Foundation scholarship, said attending AP classes while also taking art helped prepare her for meeting deadlines.

“Doing AP made me more organized,” said Chris Smith. “You had to be on top of it every day on the hour.”

Smith, co-captain of the football team, plans to study pre-med and engineering at Georgia State and then Georgia Tech. He said the AP program at his school helped him balance academics and extracurricular activities.

Katie Faussemagne, assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Georgia Tech, said that parents shouldn’t focus too heavily on whether students choose AP or IB classes, or on trying to be involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. She said of the students that have impressed her, “They found their passion and they pursued it. If they’re pushed in something they are not interested in, they are not going to do well.”

Amy Durham, an independent college counselor and former North Atlanta counselor, said that too much attention is paid to test strategy. “The best test prep is go to class and do your homework,” she said. “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a good test score.”

She said students are ultimately tested on content knowledge. She said that instead of paying someone to help their kids with test strategy, parents should find out where their children’s challenges are and to go to a tutor or teacher for help.

Faussemagne said that almost 40 percent of students who applied early to Georgia Tech and had a perfect math SAT score were not admitted during the early action round of decisions because students can obtain those scores by test prepping.

“I will go with a lower SAT score with the kid that has challenged himself in high school and made the grades,” she said. “The student that is going to make a difference in this world is the student that is going to work four years in high school and show us who they are, not take a test five times to keep testing up.”

Faussemagne said she also advises students to visit the campuses they are interested in. She also said parents need to be upfront with their children about the cost of attending those schools.

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.