Inside Georgetown's Admissions Deliberations

The judges may not hold up scores to a cheering crowd, but in many ways the admissions process at America's top colleges does resemble the Olympics.

(This story is the fourth in a series of five. See links below for other stories in the series.)

At Georgetown University, which granted ABCNEWS' Nightline exclusive access to its decision-making process, high school students and their accomplishments often get ranked on a numerical scale by members of an admissions panel who each have their own ideas about what makes a perfect 10.

Like the Olympics, winning and losing can come down to a decimal point.

ABCNEWS followed the fate of three Washington, D.C.-area students as they applied to Georgetown, even sitting in on the university's admissions deliberations.

The students — Caitlin May, Elizabeth Gahl, and David Brown — opted to apply "early action," meaning that they received yea or nay verdicts on their applications in early December, unlike other students who do not receive a response until the spring.

The Selling Points

May attends Georgetown Visitation, a private Catholic school that sits next door to Georgetown. She has a 3.9 grade point average and a combined Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 1,430 out of 1,600. She also has been involved in many extracurricular activities, including field hockey and the school newspaper.

"I would like them to remember that I'm a pretty normal teenager … and I've put in a lot of time and effort to take on different things so that I'll be a well-rounded person," she said. "I hope to continue that in college."

A few miles away in a northern Virginia suburb, Gahl, much like May, has strong academic credentials. At Langley High School, she has a 3.9 GPA and a combined SAT score of 1,570.

"I guess it's a funny perfectionist thing I have," Gahl said. "I just have to be the best at everything I do. So I don't give myself any slack in any area."

She also has an enduring passion for ballet. Throughout high school, she debated whether to become a professional ballet dancer or go to school, ultimately choosing school.

"It's definitely been quite a juggling act," she said. "My entire high school career, ever since I was a freshman, I've been required [to follow] a special schedule where I get out of school early to train extra hours."

Brown believes, "the most important thing they're looking for, probably, is dedication and a sincere interest in higher learning and actually pursuing higher education for a purpose, and not just going to a school because you're rich or your parents went there."

A senior at Banneker High School in Washington, D.C., which is a predominantly African-American magnet school, Brown is the captain of his basketball and soccer teams, and is president of the math team. He hopes his profile as the quintessential scholar-athlete will help his application, and that his strong grades and 1,330 SAT score will be looked upon favorably by Georgetown.

What Are They Looking For?

So what exactly are the admissions officers of America's top colleges looking for when they examine applications?

"It's the personality things," said Charles Deacon, dean of admissions of Georgetown University. "Does this person come alive to me? Does this person have curiosity?"

Deacon believes Georgetown is honest with kids about who they are looking for — "essentially, academic standouts who test well and back it up with some other accomplishments."

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