kitchen table math, the sequel: mom of 4 on high school & college admissions

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

mom of 4 on high school & college admissions

The other issue to check is whether the school/district uses a weighted grading scheme. If honors and/or AP courses are weighted, then they have a big impact on class rank and that is important. Some of my kids attended schools where a 3.0 average (with no honors or APs) was in the lower half of the class because the top kids took ALL academic classes at honors level or better. The guidance counselors told incoming freshmen that no one took more than one or two honors classes at a time, which was blatantly false. The very top also took 8-10 AP classes (all of which had honors prerequisites), so they affected the junior GPA. Also, if the school profile (which is sent to colleges with all transcripts, which include GPA and class rank) indicates that APs are offered, not taking them usually hurts. I'd say to take every possible period of REAL classes unless there's a real need for a study hall (like a swimmer/gymnast etc who trains 5 hours a day).

It is also a plus to have significant extracurriculars, especially with leadership. One or two serious commitments with leadership is better than light involvement with a long list of things, in my experience. A lot depends on the high school/community - how big, how competitive, urban/rural/suburban, etc. Of course, what kind of college is planned has a huge impact. I remember an info session (many years ago) for out-of-staters at UNC Chapel Hill where a National Merit Semi-finalist with a 4.0 GPA was told (publicly, no less) that she had no chance of admittance because she had no APs. The various college guides can be very helpful in identifying characteristics of admits.

My kids attended 4 very competitive to highly competitive high schools in three states and their experience leads me to recommend that the guidance counselor is useless until proven otherwise (see comment above). I have never met one that seemed to have much interest in or knowledge of academics; their interests were all social/emotional.

If your block schedule means that a year's course is done in one semester (with double periods), the issue of forgetting previous material can be an issue, especially in math and foreign languages. He also did extra reading in history because he didn't think they really covered a full year. Fortunately, we moved after two years.

Also, it is not necessary to take and AP course in order to take the test; just get a study guide and whatever other materials look helpful.


lgm said...

It's also important to find out the credit transfer-in policy. Top students will be transferring in as many credits as possible from summer or independent study courses.

One question I have: how do admissions officers read around the gate keeping? Seems there are always excellent students who can't get into honors for handwriting, insufficient seats, or some other stupid reason they can't control who have excellent SAT scores and would acheive if the courses were open admission. The strategy I'm going for is to use independent study/CLEP or other acheivement testing to make up for it. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

re: APs:

It's not clear to me why it's helpful to tell someone to "just get a study guide" for an AP. Is that in the case where you can't get into the AP course, but still want to take the test? Or something else?

What is the point of taking the AP course or test?

Three (of many?) possible options: 1) to have as many college credits as possible (to lighten the college tuition load); 2) to be competitive at admission into the highest tier schools; 3) to stretch the student/exhilerate the student/prepare the student for working hard in college.

re: 1: only 5s and 4s will get you college credit at many colleges; some schools won't take the credit as a substitute for any req anyway; if you're going into a STEM major, skipping freshman calc/physics/chem is a bad move anyway, and you should be taking the honors versions of said courses if you're really solid on the AP material. "just getting a study guide" won't get you anywhere near prepared for the AP tests in physics, chem, bio, or calculus. Even if you're in honors versions of those science courses, the tests come several weeks (maybe months) earlier than the school term final, so you may need to have sped up your material preparation the whole time, not just near the end. In history and english, the AP tests expect a written essay that fits the form, and is practiced over and over again in those courses. A study guide isn't enough to master the form.

re: 2: Colleges, even the Ivy League, are telling high schools that they don't care about the difference between APs and Honors, as long as the course really is at those high levels (as judged by syllabi, track record of students coming from those courses, etc.) If your school offers an AP course and didn't offer it to you, then perhaps taking the test is a way to prove something, but essentially, your study guide should be your school's own syllabus, practice tests, homeworks, etc. It means often telling your student to be taking two courses at once: their non-AP class, and the AP class. But colleges are going to see that you weren't in the AP class, and wonder what's going on; it's not clear that what you'll get from teacher recs and the rest is supportive if those teachers wouldn't let you into their courses. Teacher recs are make-or-break for college admissions.

re: 3: Like all other school related things, culture is key. It's the culture of being in a classroom of like-minded bright, hard working, driven to excel students that makes high school feel good to a bright, hard working, driven to excel student. Do everything you can to be in that culture, or else you will quickly be in a culture where excellence in academics is looked down upon. Taking the test is less important than being in the room of people day in, and day out, who will take the test.

ChemProf said...

lgm: "how do admissions officers read around the gate keeping?"

Often, they don't. You have a better chance at smaller places -- I remember one guy in my freshman class who had iffy grades and amazing test scores, who they figured would either make it or not -- but at a very selective large college, where they are admitting less than 25% of their applicants, there is no reason for them to take a chance.

momof4 said...

My kids had enough APs to enable starting college with sophomore standing, which meant not only that they had more time to add another major etc, but advanced standing meant a higher probability of getting their first-choice classes/schedule. They used the APs to bypass distribution requirements in fields they were not entering (English, humanities, STEM) and take advanced-level classes in foreign languages, economics etc. They were all in various business fields.

In some cases, they took the AP test without the class because of conflicts between two AP classes. In the case of AP English, my daughter decided, at the end of her sophomore year, just to try it. She went in cold - no study guide, even - and got a 4 on the test, so it's very doable. I know kids who did geography, econ, history and government on their own.

Unknown said...

Each time an admissions officer opens her mouth, she should have to tell the listeners what the freshman dropout rate is at the institution.

Everything is about predicting whether the student will be alive and kicking at the end of a semester of college life.

lgm said...

Basically the conclusion I'm drawing from all the discussion is that town politics will keep a little kid out of the stream that matches his intellect. It explains why the SAT scores for the majority of 'honors' students here are average, since our few 'honors' classes are merely the standard classes offered a year early and the admission process is political.

Thanks for your reply ChemProf.

ChemProf said...

No problem, lgm.

As a matter of strategy, when your kid applies to college, encourage him to apply to a range of schools. Having the achievement tests, etc. certainly won't hurt, but making sure that he's applying to a mix of schools will help too. Plus, then you will find it easier to compare financial aid packages, etc.

VickyS said...

It's the culture of being in a classroom of like-minded bright, hard working, driven to excel students that makes high school feel good to a bright, hard working, driven to excel student.

Amen. I was in a high school like that, and I've stumbled upon one for my boys. I think I'm going to look back at that as the single most important thing I did to prepare them for college.

And Bob's comment about the freshman drop out rate is right on. I will ask that question as we hunt for colleges.

Few of my close friends have kids who have navigated college yet, but what I hear from the ones who do scares me. Successful high schoolers who drop out during freshman year, or who all of a sudden lose the desire to go to a 4 year college and choose a community college way below their abilities, or who slide into depression.

I'm trying to avoid obsessing about getting my kids into a college like I obsessed at the end of my first pregnancy about having the baby. I really didn't think much about the day after, the week after, the months and years after. My mistake. All my attention had gone into the birth-day, and I was wholly unprepared for Day 2 and later. Likewise with colleges. I'm trying not to let it be all about the conquest, him getting in here or there. It should be about the following four+ years, to the extent that can be imagined.

lgm said...

Sure, but if your kid is gifted, other choices may work better emotionally and academically. Excelling in relation to others is not always their driving force - many times it's the desire for deep understanding. Independent study may be a far better choice than the bright kid classroom, depending on the cohort.