Steven Soba, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Moravian College, says the average GPA for students applying to Moravian is a 3.2.

Ninety percent of students who apply to Lehigh University are academically qualified, says John Morganelli Jr., senior associate director of admissions.

But before that fat acceptance letter arrives in the mail, the admissions staff wants to know if you have something else.

“We’re looking for a catalyst of positive change. (Someone) who will leave this place in a better place than when they started,” Morganelli says.

The nearly 12,000 student applications have been filed for the fall semester, and Lehigh’s notified both rounds of early decision students whether they made the cut. Later this month remaining applicants will find out if they’ve been accepted.

The right fit

Morganelli says when they’re poring over admission applications, they’re looking to see whether students challenged themselves and took rigorous classes in high school. At the core, the admissions staff needs to know whether a student can handle a college course load.

“We will forgive a few lackluster grades early on,” Morganelli says, but adds that they need to see an upward trend. Lehigh has a 30 percent acceptance rate.

It’s not just good grades

The biggest mistake Morganelli sees prospective students make is believing that good grades are enough.

“We’ve wait-listed students with perfect SAT scores because they didn’t have that other factor,” he says, adding that parents and students are surprised to hear that.

So is it better to be involved in every extracurricular with decent grades or focus on stellar grades with minimal extracurricular involvement?

“That’s an either or that doesn’t make any admissions rep comfortable answering,” says Steven Soba, vice president for enrollment management at Moravian College.

“Everybody is different.”

Morganelli agrees.

“Yes, being really involved does help your application, if we’re sure you can do the work ahead.”

Soba says they look to make a holistic decision, evaluating GPAs, SAT scores and extra-curriculars. Moravian sees about 2,000 applications come in and accepts 80 to 82 percent of those.

“I’m of the belief that standardized test scores are not a true indicator of a student’s ability to succeed at college,” Soba says.

And he believes the College Board is feeling the effects of that, evidenced by the recent announcement the board would drop their mandatory essay and go back to its 1600 scoring system.

The words sell it

So you’ve studied and have the GPA to prove it. You’ve got your face in every club picture in the school yearbook. Then what?

Sell it in the essay.

Moravian asks for either an essay or a writing sample from a current year’s project, which gives the admission team insight into how a student can express themselves.

And afterward? Follow up to make sure your application materials are where they need to be. “We would love it if more families took the initiative to call or email us to check on the status of their application,” Soba says.

“We tell students to be authentic, talk about something near and dear to their hearts and stick to the parameters (of the essay),” Soba says.

Lehigh requires three supplemental questions and one essay on top of the common application (which can be submitted to multiple schools). One question Lehigh asks students is “Why Lehigh?”

“We play in a pretty tough sandbox,” Morganelli says, referring to Lehigh’s student pool also applying to the likes of Cornell, Georgetown and Carnegie Mellon.

The question helps the admissions team determine whether a student is the right fit and how interested they really are in the school. They want to find students who are passionate about coming to the school. They’re the ones who do well, graduate and become good alumni, he says.

The good essay answers tell of an engaging conversation the student had with a professor during an on-campus visit or a personal experience. The bad recite information you’d see on the college website.

“It’s so rare that a student is going to write about something I’ve never read before,” Morganelli says. The key is to bring a unique perspective to it.

Morganelli says the admissions team knows that at the end of the day they’re creating a salad. It’s a metaphor one of the university’s administrators implores, emphasizing that to have a really good salad, you need a whole bunch of diverse ingredients.

“What ingredient are they bringing to the table? We can only tell our selection committee what they write – who they are and who they’ll be,” Morganelli says.