kitchen table math, the sequel: College Application & Class Rank

Monday, February 15, 2010

College Application & Class Rank

I know that GPA (class rank) is one of the key factors in college applications, but applications have to be sent in before much of anything is known about the senior year. Does this mean that the courses you take in the senior year and grades you get don't matter so much? I know that colleges check to see if you crash in the senior year, but exactly what do they know about the senior year? Does this mean that the class ranking at the end of the junior year is all that the college knows? If so, does this mean that students should try to get more AP classes in before the senior year?

I was also looking at the course catalog for the high school my son will enter next year. It finally (!) struck me that if he wanted to take an AP science course, it has to come after taking the regular honors version. Is this typical? Do some kids get authorization to go directly to the AP version? This relates to the senior year issue. If colleges can't base their decisions on the results of the senior year, then do some kids relax their schedules a little in the senior year - perhaps not cram in every last AP class they can?


Bostonian said...

I applied to college 20 years ago. Colleges will look at 11th grades grades and I presume grades for the 1st semester of 12th grade. Once a student is accepted, I don't think the acceptance is revoked unless a student fails to graduate from high school.

Colleges will see what classes are being taken for 12th grade, although not the final grade. Some kids do "relax" in the senior year. I would use the term "blow off". I remember that seniors in calculus class were not putting forth their best efforts, since they were going to take it again in college rather than trying to place out by taking an AP Calculus exam.

I intend to pay for my children's four year degrees, but ONLY if they take maximum advantage of their opportunities in high school. There is no reason I should pay for them to learn in college what they could have learned in high school for "free" (at taxpayer expense).

Anonymous said...


As you know, my son is taking AP stats this year (freshman), which is an elective. The prerequisite was an A/B in honors algebra 2.

Next year (sophomore) he's signed up for AP computer science (I believe it's pretty algebra based, but you would know more than me.) I'm guessing the prerequisite is algebra 2 again since they offered it for this year.

He's also taking AP Economics which is supposed to take the place of a social studies course. That's his passion at the moment, so I assume he'll be fine in there.

He might have a third one, but I can't remember right off the bat. Basically, he's mostly staying "on track" which started in 8th grade for him.

i personally am glad we're getting a few out of the way and not having an entire year loaded up. I also like him getting the feel of how the AP classes are different and what the expectations are for the class and test. But, I have no idea how the next two years will look.

I have read that some admissions counselors do check to see if they blew off senior year. I have no idea how true that is.


momof4 said...

At the school my older kids attended, APs did have honors prerequisites and all AP sciences were double-period. They were taught as real college courses and at least 80% of the kids had 4s or better on the exam. I looked at the school website just recently and the prerequisites are still in place

SteveH said...

I've heard of cases where admission was contingent on something more than not flunking, but I don't know the details.

"my son is taking AP stats this year (freshman), "

He is two years ahead in math? Did you get any flack about taking AP Stat as a freshman? And AP Economics instead of social studies? Is this typical? Did you have to fight for this? I'm being told that all of my son's courses are standard, leaving only one class open as an elective. It now appears to me that there is an incentive to squeeze in AP courses as soon as possible.

I know that our high school might be very different, but I'm trying to get a feel for what is possible. I don't want my son to get through half a year and then find out that something else was possible. It seems like they won't tell you unless you ask.

Is there also an issue of scheduling? How common is it to not get a course you want?

Anonymous said...

He was originally two years ahead of your average honors math kid, but we had him repeat the accelerated algebra 1 class in the 7th grade that he was taking in the 6th grade (which mirrors freshman honors algebra 1) because of too many B's and C's. So, he went over to the high school for algebra 2/trig and honor bio (which they only threw in because of his 7th grade ACT reading scores.)

The recommendations for the AP stats and computer science actually came from the algebra 2 teacher. Being a math moron, I actually met with him to make sure he though my son could handle it.

For next year, he actually just met with the guidance counselor ( no one informed me, although my son says it's just tentative.) Since we're a Project LEAD the WAY! school, she wanted him to take some of those courses (which apparently have no math prerequisites). I'm glad he resisted. I'd rather he go further in math.

Apparently the AP econ counts as a social studies. Most of the kids are taking honors Western Civ. His guidance counselor said he could take AP Euro and AP US History junior and senior year. I have no idea if he has to take them, or what, but he's just happy to have gotten into the Econ class since he reads the textbooks around here just for fun.

My goal, unfortunately, is for him to avoid the humanities as much as possible, even though I think it's a better education for him to have some of those courses under his belt. But, the more touchy -feely a course, the more trouble he gets into. He's far better in the math/science wing of the high school.

One thing that has helped has been the juniors and seniors that he knows on the math/science teams and clubs. They have really let my son know about the different courses and teachers (not that you can pick a teacher, but you are at least forewarned.) This is something your son will probably have access to when he starts joining the teams and clubs. Upperclassmen have been more helpful than anyone else.


Genevieve said...

I'm sure it depends on the school. At my home high school, some classes took the place of an honors section (AP American History, AP Econ, AP Government, AP Calc AB, I think AP Psych and AP Languages). I believe the AP Sciences had to be taken after the regular class.

Our town also has a pullout school that advanced students start attending half the day in 7th or 8th grade. There the classes are designed so that you accelerate some of the high school classes to allow more AP classes starting in 10th grade.

momof4 said...

I have always felt that the preparation for high school is too little and too late, both in terms of academics and of advance planning. Especially in a system where APs have prerequisites, kids and parents need to know that so they can plan coursework accordingly.

All of the schools my kids attended waited until 8th grade - usually spring -to address the HS plan. Parents need to know the critical nature of the usual sixth grade test, which determines who gets on the top math path, which will also determine eligibility for AP Physics BC (calculus is a co-requisite). There is just far too much mush and wasted time; kids without aware parents who are able to supplement are hosed before they hit 7th grade.

BTW, I've found it fairly common for a shared MS-HS campus, so taking some classes at the HS may be possible. Also community colleges, universitites etc - whatever is available.

CassyT said...

This is a little off topic, but I thought it mught be useful in the whole college application discussion. National Merit qualifying scores by state.

My son scored 161 last fall as a freshman. I suggested he aim for 215 by his junior year. The state pays for every junior in Colorado to take the psat test. I plan to have him start the SAT & ACT next year. $50 well spent.

Allison said...

Just because the application is due for the student before/near the end of the first term of senior year doesn't mean the schools decide that early, unless you're applying to early action/early decision programs.

Colleges will get at least that first semester course list, and probably the grades on it too, and make sure they are on track with the rest of the application. You're not going to get into Yale if you took straight AP As in junior year and took basketweaving and no APs in senior year.

But again, it's a culture thing. Most of your child's friends will be on the top track, and in the AP classes. No one is going to suddenly punt taking the courses all his friends are taking unless something else is going wrong (a drinking/drug problem, depression, etc.) So they will all stay together, largely speaking.

And in most schools, it's not really possible to drop out of a year long sequence from one AP class into a non one at the semester break. A few of the courses might be a semester in length--the AP govt was, I believe, but textbooks, teachers, and friends and class schedules aren't going to suddenly allow you to drop down into a non AP physics course 2nd term senior year when there are no other physics courses offered that period.

I'm going to harp on this again, but what really really really matters are your son's letters of recommendation. Those letters tell more to a college about the student. They inform them, really, about the meaning of class rank and GPA. Colleges are reading those letters coupled with class rank, and the teachers are writing letters in October, November of Senior year, and letting the schools know exactly how strong your student was and is--if they are really the brightest student that year, if a cabal of 4 is really on par with each other academically, if the class rank of one is really not indicative of his intellectual talent, etc.

Allison said...

To the question of APs:

since you are so concerned on GPA and class rank, do you understand the scoring of GPA wrt honors and AP classes? Do they offer an additional point per letter grade?

Many schools offer the students a 5 for an A in an honors or AP course, so they are giving them an incentive to try hard and risk a B rather than gaming their system and getting a 4.0 in simple courses.

wrt the issue of taking science courses twice:

The AP courses in science are year long sequences. The AP tests are given in May, usually early May. It's quite possible that the time to cover material for the AP test is more than 4 weeks shorter than the school year. It's difficult to build to mastery in some of those courses in a shortened year schedule, especially physics. So taking physics and then taking it again for the AP is a really good idea if you really want to learn physics. It would drown most kids to do the AP phys test the first time through.

For chem and bio, eh, I don't quite know. My school didn't offer AP chem or bio, just honors for both. I took the AP test in bio and got a 5; I used another school's study materials and pacing and did it myself in concurrence with the bio course. The school couldn't stop me from taking the AP test, and I don't think your school could stop you, so you could of course do it as self study, essentially. But my honors chemistry course was nowhere near sophisticated enough to do well on the ap chem test, and a second round would at least have gotten us to the possibility of some organic chemistry.

It might be that the way the material is taught and when it is taught is dependent on the math sequences, and that the double science courses are an attempt to cover more/deeper material a 2nd time because their math abilities are now stronger--a coreq of calc for AP Physics say, or at least successful mastery of trig and precalc for it; alg 2 or more for chemistry, etc.

SteveH said...

"Project LEAD the WAY! school,.."

Ours is too. I won't let him take those courses.

"waited until 8th grade - usually spring -to address the HS plan"

The high school team is cruising in on March 17 to help the kids do their on-line registration. I was told that something like a tentative list of courses will come home before that, but I don't see any chance to sit and talk with the high school guidance counselors. It would be nice to know if there can be any substitutions.

"...but what really really really matters are your son's letters of recommendation."

How many are required? Do the teachers really tell the truth? What's their motivation either for or against the student?

"do you understand the scoring of GPA wrt honors and AP classes?"

It's weighted with three levels; college prep, honors, and AP. They multiply the average grade by the average weight. My impression is that if the student can do it, the higher weightings really pay off.

As for the double science course sequence, I will have to ask. There is no way to fit them all in over 4 years. Can my son skip earth science and start with biology? This would give him chemistry and then physics in his junior year. Then, maybe, he could get one or two science AP classes in his senior year. As far as I know, earth science is not required; they just require 3 science courses.

I just looked; biology requires earth science first, chemistry requires geometry, and physics requires pre-calc. Do many kids double-up science classes each year? I'm realizing that if you don't have a plan as a freshman, then many things won't be possible.

Anonymous said...

The earth science thing always mystifies me because we don't apparently have it in the sequence here in my neck of the woods. You just go from 8th grade general science to honors bio if you're tracked that way.

I remember Catherine talking about it with C. as this 8th grade course that few were qualified to take, apparently.

I think our math sequence is different than some, also. We do alg 2 first, then honors geometry. My son is taking geometry and honors chem this year. He's also signed up for honors physics next year which is supposed to be "on the track" after chem. Or that's what he told me.

Our courses are not only weighted, but they have "levels." Do others have that? So the honors bio was a level 4 class while the honors chem is a level 5, which explained why so many of the kids (including mine) practically crashed and burned the first few weeks. It was a huge leap in intensity even though it's the next class in the sequence.

As far as recommendations, I read some book by a Harvard admissions counselor about the code some letters have in them. I guess the guidance counselors and teachers who write them worry about their own reputations. Earlier this month, I had one of my son's math teachers tell me how much she enjoyed him in her class and that she hopes she gets him for the next one. I remember thinking how we are going to need to hunt her down when all of this starts up.

Man, high school ain't what it used to be.


lgm said...

>>I've heard of cases where admission was contingent on something more than not flunking, but I don't know the details

Ask the guidance counselor if the criteria is not printed in the course handbook. Here it's grades and teacher recommendation. Basically, they see the grade sinking 5% each time a student goes up a they want to see a 95% in honors to recommend for AP. Here, they do drop at the quarter if all agree it is in the best interest for the student. We don't have a lot of electives or APs, so it's easy to put the student in the reg. ed. or honors version instead of the AP class. For some courses in the reg. ed. stream, they want an 80 to go on..for ex. to go into Int. Geo, one needs an 80 in Int. Alg. I. Otherwise, repeat or game over.

Rule of thumb: if the g.c. won't answer your question in writing, whatever you asked about is negotiable.

To accelerate in math, it's best to take courses over the summer from an accredited provider. Principals have no trouble with that, and in my state & district they'll transfer the credit and grade right in to the H.S. diploma.

AP Euro is a 10th grade class here, in leiu of 10th grade Global History.

Earth Science in NY is an accelerated course, meaning that it can be taken in 8th by the top students rather than waiting for 9th. (They must have taken honors 7th science which is a compacted version of 7th life science and 8th physical science). It counts for high school credit and the Regents Exam on that can destroy a student's chances of acheiving the Regents Advanced with Honors Diploma since the student needs a 90+ average on all Regents exams to get that diploma. The course requires understanding of slopes and facility with %s as well as good visual-spatial skills in order to score in the 90% or above...and most students just don't have it.

concernedCTparent said...

Steve, I picked up a copy of What High Schools Don't Tell You based on a recommendation here at KTM. I highly recommend it. Wissner-Gross addresses a number of the questions you've raised here not only as to accelerating math/science but even what to do about music, for example. As I've been reading I've thought of many of your posts.

Of course for a math/science oriented kid, she suggests accelerating math (which I know you've already done). For a math/science kid she has this to say:

"For example, assuming your child has taken Earth Science in 7th or 8th grade, in 9th grade have her take Biology and Chemistry. And in 10th grade have her take Physics and AP Biology."

She goes on to recommend AP Chemistry and AP Physics in 11th grade.

And in Secret 123, she states:

"If the school absolutely refuses to let a chld skip, pursue more advanced courses online or summer courses at a program that offer high school or college credit."

If you don't yet have this book in your arsenal, I suggest that you might want to consider adding it.

concernedCTparent said...


why not ask that math teacher for a letter of recommendation now? It might come in handy if your son decides to apply to a summer program or contest or something of the sort. At any rate, you may be able to reference it later and the teacher might appreciate having a copy available to refresh her memory when it's time for the college recommendation letters.

Allison said...

Steve asked: How many are required? Do the teachers really tell the truth? What's their motivation either for or against the student?

Typically, three letters are required. These are typically best selected from junior year teachers.

You will never know if the teacher tells the truth. So your son needs to pick teachers who love him, or really like him, and who want him to go to the same school he wants to go to. It does no good to ask Teacher A for a letter to Yale if Teacher A thinks Yale is a bad place for your child and thinks Swarthmore is better. Whether they intend the letter to come across poorly, it will come across that way.

Their motivation is that they can get you into or out of your first choice school. That's a lot riding on the letter. For some, that weight motivates toward valor. For some, it motivates toward power. Human nature is something you can't control.

If these schools typically send students to the same colleges, then it's likely the teachers want to maintain credibility with those colleges. Lying that Alex is brilliant when he isn't going to do as well at Oberlin as Tracy is, and you bashed her, means you lose credibility.

Allison said...

My junior year, I took AP calc BC, AP American History, honors American Lit (there was no AP course offered), AP bio test parallel with taking honors bio (there was no AP course), and german III, in addition to religion courses.

There is no way I could have taken another AP science course. I was already underslept and underweight as it was, and my self pacing for the AP bio was adding 2 hours of outlining homework to my schedule each night. I doubt doubling up on AP science courses makes sense. ymmv.

SteveH said...

"We do alg 2 first, then honors geometry"

Oh. A high school nearby does this too. They think kids will be more mature when they get to proofs. I think it has more to do with whether it's taught well or not.

"..about the code some letters have in them."

I know about this sort of thing, but what would cause a teacher to do that? Aren't teachers generally cheerleaders?

"what to do about music, for example"

Thanks, I'll get a copy of the book. I'm beginning to think that music might get in the way. Actually, all of his real musical development is outside of school, kind of like independent sports.

"She goes on to recommend AP Chemistry and AP Physics in 11th grade."

I'm trying to figure out how he can get there. The only way seems to be doubling up on science courses in each year. Is this common? I guess this comes down to trying to figure out how difficult these courses really are. Guidance counselors tend to warn kids away from too many honors courses, but it seems like you have to do the opposite.

SteveH said...

" means you lose credibility"

Do colleges rate or even know about those who give recommendations? It seems to me that a college will simply ignore a lot of recommendations. Only the exceptional recommendations will be useful.

SteveH said...

" doubt doubling up on AP science courses makes sense."

I'm trying to avoid this, but with earth science in 9th grade, he would have to double up on the honors science courses to make time for anything more than one AP course as a senior.

ChemProf said...

AP courses are supposed to be equivalent to the college course, and the college course assumes that they've seen this already in high school. It is normal, therefore, to require a year of either regular or (more often) honors science before AP. As to accelerating the sequence, I think it depends on the school. I skipped high school biology entirely, after taking a biochem course in the summer.

Allison's right that many college application deadlines are actually early in the last semester of the senior year. Some are as early as the end of November, but in that case, they'll ask your son what he's enrolled in, and they'll confirm that information at the end of his senior year. If a student mid-represents their senior year courses, then the admission decision can be rescinded. Also, colleges have recently been tightening up in that final semester, when students did slack off ("senioritis"), so they may require some kind of minimum GPA. A colleague's son had this happen - got a D in his last semester of college English and wound up at community college instead of the school he'd planned to attend when they rescinded his acceptance.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I just don't get it, but a kid who has had excellent middle school science preparation (which I know the schools here don't provide) should be more than adequately prepared for AP science courses. As a biochemistry major in college, I took (college level) chemistry and physics without having their high school counterparts and it was no problem. Honors biology followed by AP biology is a waste of time. Bright kids should be permitted to go straight to AP whenever possible.

ChemProf said...

Anonymous - I'd bet you had a strong mathematics background. In my General Chemistry placement test, half of it is really algebra, fractions, and ratios. If a student has strong math abilities, they might be able to learn the science without having seen it before. If they don't, going right into college chemistry without a high school course is usually a disaster.

Allison said...

--Do colleges rate or even know about those who give recommendations?

College admissions at the most selective schools track everything.

They know who they have in their school now, and in their recent alumni, and how they are doing/did. They know where they came from, what courses they took in hs, who the teachers were, and what those students' track record was at their school given those high school transcripts, scores, and recs. They look for correlations.

The top teachers are being asked by the top students to write letters to the same schools over and over again. They cannot possibly write 20 letters each year that all say "this student is perfect for MIT, and brighter than all of my other students in the past." They get to write that once. If a teacher has written 35 letters over the 20 years to that school, they will know when they can say that.

Remember, it isn't about "accept or not accept this student". It's about "accept this student at the expense of another student".

Letters of rec are expected to specifically by name compare a student to prior students they've accepted, if such exist. They are expected to provide the information on maturity and temperment that are not visible from the scores. They are expected to explain why *this* student who got straight As and perfect SAT scores is the one you're recommending for MIT and not *that* one who has duplicate grades and SATs.

--It seems to me that a college will simply ignore a lot of recommendations.

If by ignore, you mean "the letter is too vague to be helpful" then really, that letter isn't ignored; it's judged as a less than stellar recommendation. If you really mean that they don't give weight to the recs, no, they do. And they look at the track record of the teacher and judge if the teacher is a good judge of a student who will succeed at their school.

Allison said...

--I know about this sort of thing, but what would cause a teacher to do that? Aren't teachers generally cheerleaders?

Teachers are humans. That makes them susceptible to their emotions and desires just like the rest of us. They have students they like more than others, and students they like less than others.

Even for the ones they like, can't all cheerlead everyone and say "they all deserve first place!" They are expected to rank them.

Not everyone is comfortable saying "no, I can't write you a stellar letter that you belong at MIT", because what's left unsaid is "I'm writing that for Sue."

And by "code", I would just reiterate that it's astonishingly easy to darn with faint praise, so to speak. And maybe that's all the teacher can muster.

Allison said...

Lastly, you should get used right now to the idea that you will never see these letters of rec.

The academic world uses outrageous amounts of peer pressure to ensure that everyone signs the waivers that ensure the letters are confidential from the writer to the school. It is your son's right not to sign the waiver, of course, but if he wishes to see the letters, he's better off simply asking the letter writer their policy on the letter and the waiver beforehand.

I always gave a copy of the letter to the person I was writing about, and wouldn't have written a letter for someone if I didn't want them to see what I had written. I never met anyone else in my field/circle who did this, but maybe there are some somewhere. But the students always signed the waiver, too.

VickyS said...

I perused the AP biology book last summer (the high school teacher lent me a copy), and I can tell you that I would not recommend a student take that class without having a regular or honors biology class under their belt. Same with AP chemistry. I have a PhD in biochemistry so I know what I'm talking about. These two science classes are different from the other AP classes because they do have prerequisites. And they are, truly, college level science classes. These classes need extra time (e.g., double periods) to cover the material and get the labs done.

This means it's a rare kid who is going to end up being able to take both those classes, because there's usually not enough room in their schedule for both prerequisites. But that's perfectly fine; why try to cram so many AP classes into your kid in high school anyway? Schools offer them so that kids with real interest will have an opportunity to delve into something deeper. Why try to fanagle out of earth science when in some schools, it's the most fun science class and could really inspire your son or daughter?

Beware the burnout. There are a lot of kids who crash and burn in college because they were pushed too hard by others in high school. Look around and see how many talented kids are kicking around at community colleges after dropping out of the colleges their parents were so happy to see them get into.

VickyS said...

As far as senior year grades are concerned, our experience is that colleges do ask for first semester senior grades. This makes sense since most admissions decisions are made in March/April. This has been a bit of a problem for us at our school b/c the AP weighting does not get applied until the end of the year, so it always looks like the seniors' GPA has gone down.

ChemProf said...

Academia runs on letters of recommendation. For top students, they want to know just HOW top you are in the specific class -- the best this year or the best in the last ten years. For a student without top grades, the letters can be even more important, since they may point out less obvious strengths. While I have more experience writing grad school letters, I can tell you that when everyone who is competing for a spot has similar grades and SAT scores, the letters are really important.

One thing that you should warn your son about is the lukewarm "yes" when he asks for a letter. Some teachers aren't comfortable saying no, but won't write a strong letter. And he does need to waive his right to see the letters, if you want the admission committees to take those letters seriously.

SteveH said...

"Bright kids should be permitted to go straight to AP whenever possible."

This would seem to imply to me that the AP course is really not a college course. Middle school science (around here) is a hodgepodge of simple stuff. I guess I have to figure out what it's like at our high school. I will have to see if it's common to double up on science courses, since that's the only way to get to even one AP science course. Freshman year it's earth science, then biology, chemistry, and finally physics. The high school requires only 3 science courses.

"Beware the burnout."

This is what I want to avoid, but I have to figure out where this line is. This started when I was reading the course catalog and realized (duh!) that they only way to get to AP science classes was to double up or skip some classes. Since he is interested in physics and chemistry, maybe it would be best to skip earth science and biology completely. I would like him to take biology, but it requires earth science. The process of course selection is set up to to be almost automatic - everybody gets earth science. I suppose I have to set up an appointment with a guidance counselor to find out some answers.

SteveH said...

As for letters of recommendation, I guess I'm seeing the light, but I don't like what I see. I'll have to talk to my son about this. I also need to build up my connections with other high school parents.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, I'm going to have to print out this entire thread.

There's also Northwestern, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford's high school AP classes. I wonder if there are some online that you could do over the summer. I have experience with Northwestern's enrichment classes, but have yet to try one of the high school honors/AP ones.


That's a good idea. I hope this teacher is around for him for a while since she's a math team coach.

I do have What High Schools Don't Tell You and it is an excellent resource for parents. It gets a bit overwhelming at times, but she covers all of the bases. I'll have to pull it out again.


SteveH said...

"..when everyone who is competing for a spot has similar grades and SAT scores, the letters are really important."

Right now (course selection time) I'm focusing on how the courses selected in his freshman year will potentially affect his GPA later on due to course weighting. I'm realizing that we have to have a four year plan since he can't take everything.

I think that for the top students, no one course is difficult, but there is an advantage to taking as many AP courses as possible. It seems to me that with the extra course in science before the AP level course, the science students are at a disadantage when it comes to class rank - not based on grades, but on weighting.

This would push me to say that he should skip earth science and biology to focus on physics and chemistry, which he loves. This is not because I want him to have advanced placement in college. It's because I think he would like the advanced material. This would be at the expense of biology, which is not good. I will have to see if he can just skip earth science to get to biology. That would leave room for only one science AP class unless he doubled up.

By the way, what is the typical number of AP classes that top students take. Maybe that's an easier way for me to get a sense of the issue.

lgm said...


Pick up "What High Schools Don't Tell You (and Other Parents Don't Want You to Know)" ISBN 978-0-452-28952-9 and also consider Susan Assouline's "Developing Math Talent..." ISBN 978-1593631598.

In a nutshell, your son's competitors are taking accredited classes over the summers from providers other than the school district. Some are taking math classes via distance learning during the school year at a faster rate than the school offers. Some are able to double up in science during the school year b/c they have accelerated on their own in math and have the math background to do well in the courses.

Some homeschoolers do use self-study and CLEP.

I would recommend not skipping earth science as it's likely that some of the skills and concepts embedded in the course will be necessary later. You might consider having your son take Chem and Earth Science next year, if he has the math pre-req for Chem. Bio over the summer before 10th, then Physics and AP Bio in 10th.

lgm said...

Here's a link that may be useful if you're in a district that doesn't provide this info in the course handbook. You'll know what questions to ask of the g.c.

SteveH said...

I'm trying to find the right balance. On one hand, it might seem like I want to game the system, but I think it's really about trying to make life easier for my son. I know he is going to work hard. It's not about avoiding that. It's about trying to compete without having him go crazy. It's about not finding out in a year or two that he could have and should have followed another path. I want to know the rules of the game even if we decide not to follow them.

Cranberry said...

I think you need to decide what your priority is. Do you want to push for a good education for your son, or do you want to amass a record which might impress admissions officers at some college four years hence? When posters respond from all over the country, it's easy to become paranoid. I know that my blood pressure is rising, and the tension's ratcheting up, just reading this thread.

First, you must decide whether it's Ivy League or Bust. If you're aiming for the Ivy League, be aware that it's a lottery. Sure, recommendations are important, but 70% of the recommendations will be identical. Brown had, what, 30,000 applications for 900 spots? It's a self-selected pool, too, so the strongest students are competing with each other, and each high school will support their own. In that field, recommendations don't really make a difference, because they're all the same. I think that in that pool, tests scores are more important, and impressive results on national competitions, because it allows the admissions officers to compare students on a national scale.

With 30,000 applications, the reading of applications is farmed out. It has to be. The application rush is so overwhelming, there isn't the time to try to determine one teacher's history of recommendations. Maybe if your child is one of the 200 (wild guess; I'm just a parent) candidates who make it to committee, and a wild fight erupts over him, and he's the last spot to be filled... In other words, most of the time, it won't make a difference.

Also, forget about the freshman year instructor, unless that teacher teachers juniors and seniors, or your school has an advisory system which allows him to monitor your son's later progress. If you include a recommendation from a teacher of freshmen, it might look as if your child really messed up in his later high school career, and as if he's trying to avoid asking later teacher for recommendations.

Cranberry said...

Do all the freshmen take Earth Science? If they do, trying to skip it may be a political faux pas. If a certain section go directly to biology, then you want your son to be in that section.

You should keep your eye upon the entrance requirements for colleges, not only the standard recommendations, but particulars for strong state systems. A friend's child enrolled in an out-of-state state school. In her first year, the dean of the college informed the parents that she hadn't completed 3 lab courses, and that she never should have been admitted. If she hadn't maintained a certain gpa, she would have been expelled! Particulars matter. If Earth Science isn't a lab course, then it has consequences for building the schedule.

One way to double up on courses is to finish other prereqs early, such as languages or history. However, be aware that some colleges may require X years of history or language study, and that doubling up on science or math may mean that he won't be able to apply to certain systems.

Also, if your son has a strong musical talent, and enjoys it, that is probably a stronger card than trying to accelerate his science courses. First, I do think that summer courses at colleges and such reflect affluence, and I don't think that college admissions people are wildly enthusiastic about perpetuating class privilege. Second, there's a real danger of over-stressing your son. A boy who toured Asia with an orchestra over the summer while maintaining a great GPA at school will stand out from the field more than another boy who took academic courses over the summer. Also, he's more likely to stick with something he enjoys doing for its own sake.

momof4 said...

The HS I mentioned in a previous post has many highly able and motivated students and a national reputation, especially in math/science. (not a magnet) Every year, kids to on to the Ivies, MIT, Duke etc.

If a school like that needs to have honors prerequsites for AP courses, in order to enable at least 80% of the kids to get at least a 4 on the test, I don't think skipping the prereq would get the job done for many. This is particularly true in the sciences, all of which have two full periods every day. I've heard, but can't confirm, that some AP sciences apread only one college semester over an entire HS year, as I know is done in AP calc (AB=semester, BC=year). All of the sciences at the school I mentioned are BC, as is the calc.

The sequence the top math/sci (anticipating STEM majors) took was honors lab sci (no other option), followed by honors chem and honors bio, followed by honors physics and AP chem (coreq honors precalc) or bio, then AP physics (coreq AP calc BC) as a senior. I only know one kid who doubled up on AP sciences and it was because he didn't realize that he should have taken AP chem as a junior. He was on my son's varsity and club teams and it was a Herculean senior year, but he got into Duke premed.

They also took honors foreign language 3, 4, AP language and perhaps AP lit. Honors US and honors world hx followed by 2 APs - US, Euro, Econ, Government were offered. Honors English with maybe AP in senior year. My daughter took the AP Language test as a sophomore, cold, without taking the course, and passed, but she still had to do 4 years of English. If she hadn't been swimming 5 hours a day, she would have taken college English courses, but it was too hard to schedule and she already had enough APs to start college with sophomore standing (all of my kids did.) That was great, since they could all bypass the usual freshman distribution requirements and start on courses in their majors/minors.

This is what my kids did, and they all were full-time single-sport elite club athletes (one a twice-a-day swimmer and one played 4 teams) as well as varsity in the fall. One added another winter varsity sport. It is all do-able, but it is necessary to be organized and efficient. The kid has to want to do it. Peer pressure helps; all of my kids' friends were doing the same academic package. Only the extracurriculars varied, but they all had serious activities, with leadership.

I'd absolutely second the recommendation to get all negotiations with guidance/admin in writing.

momof4 said...

Correction: one kid did take his foreign language at a local college; a great option. I should also clarify that my kids were out of HS before there were many online options, which might well change things. Neither they nor their friends did much, if anything, with summer courses because they were basically full-time athletes that season. There was a lot of travel involved.

SteveH said...

"Do you want to push for a good education for your son, or do you want to amass a record which might impress admissions officers at some college four years hence?"

Both, but there is a limit to how much I want him to do the latter.

Some are recommending courses over the summer, but I hope that really isn't necessary. I know about the idea of doing special things over the summer, but for my son, that will be in music.

"Brown had, what, 30,000 applications for 900 spots?"

I saw that. (My son's chamber music coach teaches at Brown.) My reaction is to ask what department are you talking about? So, I guess we are not an Ivy League or Bust family.

Allison said...

Cranberry said:
With 30,000 applications, the reading of applications is farmed out. It has to be. The application rush is so overwhelming, there isn't the time to try to determine one teacher's history of recommendations.

cranberry, do you have a reason to think this about Brown? Because I know you are wrong about MIT. They have software and it has already determined the teacher's history of recommendations. It's all database query driven, and they know all of this stuff because they have staff whose job is to keep this stuff automated and up to date.

Sure, 4 people aren't reading 30k recs. But they throw out the people who don't make the cutoffs, and that cuts down that 30k immediately to a few thou. And yes, at MIT, they read them. every one. and they discuss them. it's not as difficult as it sounds.Four people could read 200 apps a day. For 20 days, or one month? That's 4k. totally doable.

Allison said...

Cranberry said:
With 30,000 applications, the reading of applications is farmed out. It has to be. The application rush is so overwhelming, there isn't the time to try to determine one teacher's history of recommendations.

cranberry, do you have a reason to think this about Brown? Because I know you are wrong about MIT. They have software and it has already determined the teacher's history of recommendations. It's all database query driven, and they know all of this stuff because they have staff whose job is to keep this stuff automated and up to date.

Sure, 4 people aren't reading 30k recs. But they throw out the people who don't make the cutoffs, and that cuts down that 30k immediately to a few thou. And yes, at MIT, they read them. every one. and they discuss them. it's not as difficult as it sounds.Four people could read 200 apps a day. For 20 days, or one month? That's 4k. totally doable.

Allison said...

Lastly Steve, you may know that chem and physics are things your son likes, but he may love bio when he gets a real course in it, just as he may love econ. No, you can't do everything, but he will need to be making these choices as he learns to find his own tastes.

SteveH said...

"but he may love bio when he gets a real course in it"

That's exactly true. He is fascinated with how DNA works. So I don't like the trade-offs he is confronted with. It appears from what momof4 says that it's not uncommon to double up on the honors science courses just to get in one AP science course as a junior and one AP science course as a senior, but it appears that the junior year combines an honors class with an AP class.

So this is how it would work?

Freshman: Earth Science (with lab) (for example)

Sophomore: Honors Bio and Honors Chem

Junior: Honors Physics and AP Chem (or Bio)

Senior: AP Physics

Do any of these kids do music too? That takes up a class slot.

As for the total number of AP classes, it sounds like six or seven is not uncommon by the end of high school.

"...second the recommendation to get all negotiations with guidance/admin in writing."

Am I missing something? Are they going to renege?

Cranberry said...

Sure, 4 people aren't reading 30k recs. But they throw out the people who don't make the cutoffs, and that cuts down that 30k immediately to a few thou. And yes, at MIT, they read them. every one. and they discuss them. it's not as difficult as it sounds.Four people could read 200 apps a day. For 20 days, or one month? That's 4k. totally doable.

That's interesting. I have reason to believe that another elite college takes a different approach, and does read every application. They don't dump 26,000 applications, to find the 4K they'll deign to read.

How does MIT whittle down the pile? Test scores? GPA? It has to be something like that, doesn't it? So, for the majority of the pool, your estimates, some 87% of the self-selected strong pool of applicants, the recommendations don't make a whit of difference.

Of the 13% whose applications are read, there isn't time to look up every teacher's recommendation history. I would wager, however, that those 4,000 applicants will have strong recommendations. It'd be a matter of comparing, "the strongest student in the last ten years," with, " the strongest student in the last decade." In that field, a weak recommendation can wash you out, but most of the recs will be strongly supportive. If your school has a history of sending strong candidates to the college, who enroll and do well, that history might help. If your school has never had a student accepted by the elite college, there is no history upon which to draw.

momof4 said...

Steve, that was the schedule my kids took. Some of the kids thinking premed or other life sciences skipped AP physics in order to do APs in chem and bio. I'm sure that some of their classmates did music, but I don't know how it was managed. I'll ask them if they remember the details.

Yes, it's not impossible that guidance/admin will try to renege or pretend they don't remember. I know of a case where a student transferred in as a junior from a state that required one less semester of PE. The new HS recommended that she take the PE in summer school if she didn't want to interfere with her AP schedule. At the time of the move, she was spending 6 weeks at a well-known and very competitive training camp in the Southeast, so summer school wasn't an option. Based on the faxed daily schedule, competition results and letter from the camp director, the AD and the principal agreed that the camp could count as her extra PE semester and the GC was so informed. In her senior year, the GC pretended to be unaware of the deal and said the PE would have to be taken. If the deal hadn't been in writing or if the AD and/or the principal had changed, the whole thing could have been a real mess, especially if it had been an academic class at issue.

I know I'm dumping on counselors, but it's based on my experience and that of other parents I have known. At that, my kids escaped some of the worst problems. During very messy teachers' contract negotiations, I knew some families who had been told by some combination of counselors and teachers that they would not write recommendations for kids unless the parents gave them a signed letter to the county school board supporting the teachers' union postion. (which the GC/teacher would mail, after reading). Due to the justifiable and predictable public outrage, I'm not sure anyone actually got away with that deal, but it pretty much trashed a lot of reputations.

Allison said...

Sorry, I spoke poorly. I thought you were the one suggesting that Brown admission folks didn't read all the applications. Do you know that?

I was trying to say that MIT doesn't "farm out" the reading to others. They read them, every one. I apparently blew saying that somehow, with bad pronouns. They are all read twice, in fact. My apologies for my miswrite.

But it doesn't take as much time as was implied. Handling 4k in 1 month with only 4 staff is totally doable--increase the staff by 3, increase the months by 3, and that's a factor of ten right there, which is your 30k.

MIT whittles by test scores, GPA, course selection--that is, the apps are read and as those things are looked at, it determines which pile it goes into. It doesn't take 30 minutes to read an application whose GPA is below a 3.0 and whose test scores aren't in the 700s. Since things are read twice, everyone gets a score twice: if you're in the "eh" pile twice, no one reads your app again. If you're in the "YES!" pile twice, you're in. If you're in between, then they discuss. I don't know how they determine between those top few piles anymore, because I think they've adjusted the "YES!" so they don't fill based on it.

Re: MIT: they don't need to "look up" every teacher's recommendation history. The software involved is sophisticated, and has been there for over a decade. When a student submits an application, and that material is presented to the admissions office, it's given to them along with the teacher's history, the school's reputation/score, the course selection score relative to the other students (from that school, from similar schools). They have running tallies of lots of things as well when they put a child into the "yes" pile, pulling them out of the other piles.

Yes, for some schools, there is no history. My high school was one such. But many many schools do have a history--and as is noted in the winner take all phenom, students from those schools are probably disadvantaged for it.

But instead of thinking about the percentage whose recommendations don't make a difference, I would look at as 100% of those who get admitted to MIT have excellent letters of recommendation.

I read your response to suggest that everyone has excellent letters, but they do not. Lots of letters are weak or dreary or do not help complete the picture of the student, even with straight As and perfect SAT scores.

Cranberry said...

No, certainly everyone doesn't have excellent records. However, among the subgroup in contention for spots in elite schools, their recommendations are likely to be overwhelmingly positive. So, the fantastic recommendation from the Chemistry teacher who loves your son is wonderful, but the competitors (who make it through the early filters) have equally supportive letters from their teachers. Every elite school has more qualified candidates than they can admit. Through the wonders of the Common Application, it's likely that the same applicants are competing for spots at many different colleges at the same time.

momof4 said...

Extracurriculars can be a hook that gets a kid in the door. If the soccer team needs a top sweeper, the swim team just lost their only good backstroker or the band is short of sax players, those coaches can often put in a chit for a specific kid. I was told by a coach (not football, basketball or hockey) at a very competitive Division I school that he had only a few slots, but if the kid meets his needs then it can make a difference. Even if he plays only one season, he's in. Regrettably, I've not heard of it happening in academics, which is sad, if true.

Rudbeckia Hirta said...

I am on an admissions committee. There are teachers who I love. For example, if I'm reading apps from students who go to IMSA, I really hope that they asked Dr. Price for a letter of recommendation because Dr. Price tells it like it is.

I don't pay attention to any school's crazy system of weighting grades. I just scan the transcript for a rough count of how Bs there are and whether they're in things that don't matter (gym, drivers ed) or things that do (math).

Rudbeckia Hirta said...

(I should clarify that my committee is for a specific program, not for college in general.)

Anonymous said...

"I don't pay attention to any school's crazy system of weighting grades. I just scan the transcript for a rough count of how Bs there are and whether they're in things that don't matter (gym, drivers ed) or things that do (math)."

Naively, I would interpret this to read that a B in a very tough course would *hurt* an applicant much more than an A in a very easy course.

Which seems kinda surprising (and sad, too).

Am I reading this correctly?

[And on an unrelated note, what do you do for/with/to homeschooled kids who don't have grades or letters-of-recommendation from teachers?]

-Mark Roulo

ChemProf said...

In advising incoming freshmen, the most AP credits I've typically seen is 4, and that's rare. One or two is more common, and that means a 4 or 5 on the test.

Also, there are a lot of misconceptions about AP. In general, most AP courses are equivalent to the first semester of a college course. That's true for biology, chemistry, and usually physics (unless you do Physics C which is rare). Calculus BC is usually accepted for the year, but Calc AB is only the first semester.

Just as letters can be tie breakers, so can extracurriculars. However, some places are wary of a student who was in too many things, as the sense is the student might be trying to pad the resume and wasn't really that involved in anything.

Also, as Cranberry says, getting into an Ivy (or a top tier public, depending on your state) can be a crapshoot. I'd always encourage any student to apply to a range of schools and include some liberal arts colleges in the mix.

ChemProf said...

By the way, a lot of privates use the common application, which you can find at

That's a nice place to see what kind of info they are going to be asking for.

As for homeschooled students, Harvey Mudd has a nice section on that, and I think what they ask for is pretty typical. I'm quoting here:

"If you’re home-schooled, we rely on you to thoroughly document your academic program. Consider communicating to us the following:

Did you take courses at local high schools or colleges?
How were your foreign languages or lab science courses taught?
What texts did you use?
Did you follow an established curriculum, and if so, from which source?
Who evaluated your work?
Can you provide a reference from a tutor or other objective instructor?
Other valuable information includes:

Transcripts from any high school or college courses you’ve completed
Letters of recommendation from instructors of those courses
SAT subject tests in a variety of fields"

So, they'd still like to get a letter, and they depend heavily on test scores.

Rudbeckia Hirta said...

When I look at the transcript, I'm putting the kids in rough groups. A B in a hard class is about the same as an A in an easier class for me -- neither is as good as an A in the hard class. Since I'm doing math/science admissions, a B in math is much more of a problem than a B in Spanish. One kid on my short list has a C+ in English. But his chemistry teacher with a PhD in chemistry from somewhere you've heard of says that talking to the kid about chemistry is like talking to a chemistry grad student about chemistry.

When I have multiple applications from the same school, I will compare the students transcripts next to each other.

The homeschool kids have homeschool transcripts -- usually put together by the mom. They tend to have letters of rec from CC teachers and from community organization leaders and from pastors.

(Oh, and momof4, there is no Physics BC. Physics B is algebra based and roughly equivalent to "Physics for premeds." Physics C is calculus based. Physics C comes in two parts -- mechanics and E&M -- and is pretty much equivalent to "physics for science majors." But Physics B and Physics C are totally different AP courses.)

mini-rant: Some schools make the students take Calculus AB before taking Calculus BC. This is absurd. Calculus AB is 1.3 semesters of calculus (Has most of differential calculus and does integral calculus through integration by parts. Calc AB leaves out: diff/int with polar coords, diff/int with parametrically defined curves, advanced integration techniques like trig subs and partial fractions, and sequences and series). Calculus BC is 2 semesters of calculus. Does the school really need an extra year to teach the last 0.7 semesters of calculus?

SteveH said...

"In advising incoming freshmen, the most AP credits I've typically seen is 4, and that's rare. One or two is more common, and that means a 4 or 5 on the test."

Only a total of 4 AP classes for all subjects? It seems like momof4 talks about 6 or 7 for the top students. I will have to ask the GC what is typical for our school.

I like the idea of AP classes, ... but. But I'm not looking for a way to shorten college or save money. I'm looking for a good education without driving my son crazy. Unfortunately, GPA is greatly affected by the weight of the AP class. At our high school, a regular course has a weight of 3, honors is 3.4, and AP is 3.7. For many kids, the problem is not whether they can handle AP class material, it's whether they can handle the workload.

A lot of this comes down to being competitive and what all of his peers are doing. If I know how many AP classes kids typically take, then that will influence our planning. I would rather focus on getting him into a couple of AP science courses than trying to squeeze in as many other AP classes just for the weighting.

VickyS said...

There's a difference between AP credits (i.e., college credit) and AP classes. You can take 8 AP classes, for example, but only get "credit" for 2 or 3 (or none) in college, because most places you only get credit for scoring a 4 or a 5 on the AP test. If you score a 2, you've taken the AP class, you may have gotten an A even, in the class, but you've "failed" the AP test (3 is considered passing).

My kids are taking AP classes because of interest level and because in some cases due to scheduling issues, that is their only option. I do not necessarily expect that they will receive college credit for them or that they will skip college classes. This is especially true for classes taken as a junior or sophmore. I would want them to retake those classes in college if they were pursuing that subject. The only exception is Calculus where the test could be used for placement,I would think.

Also, your high school plans may go awry for any number of reasons. Scheduling conflicts have pushed three graduating requirements for my son to 12th grade (Econ, Speech and American Goverment). This may cause us major headaches with courses that he really should be taking as a senior (Physics, AP stats, maybe Calc BC -- he's in AB this year). And PE is a notorious schedule smasher. Most schools I have heard of are very strict about PE class. You could be on the varsity tennis team and still have to take PE. Some schools offer it in the summer but that's a pain, too.

SteveH said...

"Some schools make the students take Calculus AB "

Our high school only offers AB. I'm going to lobby for BC (not after AB), but I'm not optimistic. They probably barely fill one class of AB and that's with 400 in the senior class.

So, does Calculus AB really offer advanced placement when you get to college? I suppose it's just one semester.

SteveH said...

"If you score a 2, you've taken the AP class, you may have gotten an A even, in the class, but you've "failed" the AP test (3 is considered passing)."

I'm not so interested in advanced placement in college, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in in AP test scores. I'm more concerned about being competitive because AP classes are weighted higher. I think there is an unnecessary push to take too many AP classes.

It seems that the top high school students are driven much more they ever will be in college. It's an unnatural race created by supply and demand. I don't remember any kind of pressure like that in college.

"Scheduling conflicts"

I've asked specific questions about how much of a problem this is, but have only received vague answers.

Allison said...

In the past, the clc BC test didn't really cover that additional 2 trimesters they claim anyway, in terms of points. In my calc AB class, 4 out of 40 of us took the BC test with basically no additional prep; all of us got 5s. It was mathematically the case at the time, that at worst, a 5 on the AB would have meant a 4 on the BC.

but honestly, multivariate calc is something students should take in college, if they have any interest in a STEM or even strong social science field, no matter what their AP coursework in calc. the BC test or even a 2nd year of high school material is not a match for a real course. If I were advising, I would strongly push that a student take only one year of AP calc in high school and then start with the honors calc sequence (at the start) in college rather than AP out or even enter college starting with multivariate.

(I did that: I took the BC test, got a 5 my junior year, and my sr year took the third quarter multivariate calc course at UCSD, and aced it. I received credit at MIT for the whole shebang, and skipped calc entirely. TERRIBLE mistake. I should have done the honors sequence, and really grounded my understanding of div grad and curl.)

Whether or not calc AB offers advanced placement depends strongly on the school. At MIT, almost no one got placement credit for getting a 5 on the AB (though they got unit credit for it.) At some schools, you get a quarter or two because their sequence is a three quarter or two semester course. At UC Berkeley, it depended on the specific score and which dept you were in.

Allison said...

-It seems that the top high school students are driven much more they ever will be in college...I don't remember any kind of pressure like that in college.

Again, this depends on the college. At Harvard, yes, the hardest part really is getting in. At UC Berkeley, the hard part is maintaining your drive when you are lonely and isolated in a sea of bureaucracy, and no one is helping advise you on what's an intellectuall mature path of study. If you can't self motivate, you will fall far. In the physics departments at MIT, Yale, Caltech and Princeton, there is more pressure and drive than is experienced even in these winner take all high schools.

Lots of students are happy to pick a small liberal arts college where they feel secure rather than pushed. And as stated in lots of other threads, their education may be better for it.

momof4 said...

Rudbeckia: Correction accepted. It's been a number of years since my kids were in HS. The physics they took would have been physics C; I remember the instructor explaining at parents' night that there were two AP physics options and his was the upper and it was calc-based. Whatever the letter designators, I know that was also true for AP bio and chem, if there was more than one course.

None of my kids re-took anything in college for which they had taken an AP, but they were not taking further courses in that subject, with two exceptions. They all continued their foreign language study and used APs to get out of the first 2-3 semesters. One used his AP econ micro and macro and continued with the upper division courses, with majors in econ and finance.

My kids much preferred the AP classes because of the style and pace but mostly because of the student composition. The classes were more interesting, as well as challenging. BTW, lots of people make a big deal of class size. All of the AP sciences had 36 kids, capped at that level because of the lab capacity. Languages were the smallest, usually, and humanities somewhere in between.

VickyS said...

One note about the weighting of AP grades. In our school, you don't get the gradepoint bump for an AP class unless you actually sit for the AP exam. If you don't, no grade bump. They do this to prevent kids from taking the AP classes just for the grade bump.

The AP tests are given during a 2 week period in May. So if a kid is taking 5 AP classes (as in my son's original schedule at the start of the year) he would have to 5 AP tests in that short time frame. Too much for him, although all those teachers wanted him in their AP classes. We decided to move him out of AP US history and AP biology which left him with AP CalcAB, AP Computer Science and AP American Lit. This seems to be a manageable AP load.

Cranberry said...

"Schedule conflicts" can be major. I have heard from friends with children in local high schools of such things as, all AP courses offered during the same block. This cuts down the number of APs a student can take, as you can't be in two places at the same time. Thus, the school might offer, oh, 8 APs, but a student's schedule might only allow him to take 2.

I am cynical, but this has to be intentional. I could even accept an intent to limit the AP arms race between students, but if they do this, I feel they must flag it for colleges.

Anonymous said...

I would endorse Allison's idea of taking honors calculus for anyone who is able to get into the course. At least at schools that I am familiar with, honors calculus is usually populated by students who have already had calculus and taught by professors who put a lot into the course. It is an opportunity to have direct contact with good professors if nothing else. Typically students go in knowing calculus and come out knowing analysis to some degree and how to read and do proofs. Depending on the course they also might come out being able to do lots of integrals that you just aren't going to learn in one year, no matter what that one year consists of. Repetition is good if there is some advancement at the same time -- the real deal spiral.

ChemProf said...

I'm sure some students have more than 4 credits of AP, but I think it is rare (although I'm sure it is more common at MIT or similar schools, where using the AP credit to skip courses is usually a horrible idea). I only see the credits they transfer in, not their full high school transcript.

In general, if your student had AP credit but is going to a college that has an honors Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, etc., then yes, that's the best route. In a way, the student will be retaking it, but they'll also have a really solid foundation, rather than jumping into the second semester (or multivariable calc if they have BC) with some holes that they are likely to discover the hard way.

Rudbeckia Hirta said...

Whether or not to repeat classes that the student has AP credit for should be on a case-by-case basis.

I took BC calculus in 11th grade and then took MV calc and Diff. Eq. at Union College in 12th grade. When I got to Dartmouth, they wouldn't give me credit for the MV calc or the Diff. Eq., so I had to retake them. BORING. Huge waste of time (and money) to retake math classes that I'd already mastered. Similarly, I skipped the intro physics sequence because of my Physics C AP credit. Had no problem jumping directly into major-level physics courses.

While it might not be wise to skip intro classes at a top-notch school like MIT, it shouldn't be a problem at one of the second tier Ivies (Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, Columbia) or someplace like Duke. The calculus that was taught at my high school is more rigorous than the "science and engineering" calculus that we teach at the university where I work.

momof4 said...

Steve: I emailed my kids about having room for a music class every year and one said there were many who were taking a combination of honors, APs and music - will update if the others remember anything useful.

Catherine Johnson said...

It counts for high school credit and the Regents Exam on that can destroy a student's chances of acheiving the Regents Advanced with Honors Diploma since the student needs a 90+ average on all Regents exams to get that diploma.


I didn't know that, & nobody bothered to fill me in at the time.

If I had know that, I would have kept C. out of the course (given what I knew about the amount of tutoring going on in the course).

Catherine Johnson said...

Just a reminder (for passersby): private & parochial schools frequently don't have weighted grading.

SteveH said...

"there were many who were taking a combination of honors, APs and music -"

Thanks for the feedback. Another interesting question is whether kids drop music to free up a course slot.

lgm said...

Usually students keep one music course, but some do keep two. The second comes where study hall would be. Our state regs allow for credit for outside groups, so it is entirely possible to play in a regional ensemble on the weekend for high school music credit and not take a course at school. Also, piano lessons taken off campus can be taken for credit. With 45 min daily practice plus half hour lesson for the school year, the student will earn a semester's credit.

ChemProf said...

You'd really need to look at your state regs, since I'd never heard of high school credit for off-campus music! Of course, we never had study hall either.

Catherine Johnson said...

I asked C., who says that at Hogwarts you have to take the Honors version of the course before you take the AP version.

I think it's a bit different in the humanities, though. He's been recommended to take AP Comp, I think it is, next year & he hasn't had an Honors Comp course because there isn't one. He's had two years of Honors English.

He took AP Global this year after taking Honors Global freshman year.

I assume that students have to take the Honors course first whenever there actually is a specific Honors course available but I'm not sure.

hmmm....As I think about it, I'm sure he'll be in an AP history course next year - either European history or US - and he hasn't taken either one of those first.

But he told me he would definitely have to take Honors physics before being allowed into AP physics, which means he won't take AP physics. He won't be able to take AP chem, either, because he didn't take chem this year. (He took AP bio, after taking Honors bio freshman year.)

Obviously it varies some.

Also, the school seems to be quite flexible in terms of placement. One of C.'s friends told me that if a student really wants to take Honors but hasn't been placed in Honors he can just about always get into the class.

Given that, I imagine they're most flexible with placement in a student's strong subjects - which, for C., are humanities and social science. He'll be going by the book with math/science AP placement, but not so much with humanities/social science.

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, for those of us who now go back a ways....notice the fact that I barely even know the rules at Hogwarts. I have to ask my kid.

Nor do I worry.

I probably **should** know the rules; I should pay more attention. But that's simply a return to my normal state of affairs ('I should probably pay more attention), which is great!

I'm pretty sure that in a fairly large majority of cases, if the school is doing its job, and rooting for the kids, the parents aren't 'helicoptering.'

Not that I'm against helicoptering!

I am PRO-helicoptering!

Just making the observation that if a school wants to avoid helicoptering, the best way to do that is to teach well enough that parents aren't doing the teaching themselves.

Or hiring tutors.

SteveH said...

I just heard from another parent that some kids (I don't know how many.) do not take the regular honors science course before they take the AP course. He also said that it was taboo (?) to skip Earth Science. It's just not done.

I was thinking about setting up an appointment to talk to one of the guidance counselors but when I looked at their bios, there was not one ounce of math or science to be found. Perhaps I need to track down one of the science teachers.

SteveH said...

I found out that Earth Science is required by our school, but not the state. They use it as a prereq for Biology.

I did find out that AP Biology requires honors Biology first, but AP Chemistry doesn't if you get the permission of the instructor. AP Physics only requires concurrent enrollment in Pre-Calculus. No honors Physics is needed first. I can't imagine how or why they do this.

Now that I've figured out the science class issue, most of the rest of my son's schedule is fairly fixed. Orchestra will take up the elective slot and PE (4 years, one semester) will be paired up with mandatory courses like "Tech Readiness" and "Democracy". The only other issue is how many AP classes to take in the upper grades. He will have to ask others and figure this out.

Our class weightings are 3.0 for a regular course, 3.4 for an honors course, and 3.7 for an AP course. Notice that you don't get as big a bump when you go from the honors level to AP level. I've noticed that for other schools, the jumps are equal.

I've also read that (some, many?) colleges prefer to look at the unweighted GPA. At the very least, colleges would have to recalculate all grades to their own weighting system. Do colleges do this, or do they just look at unweighted GPA. It's an interesting question. Can you automatically assume that a student who gets an 85 in an AP class would get a 95 (perhaps) in an honors class?

It seems that with the "Academic Index", some colleges use just class rank (not GPA) along with a factor based on the number of kids in the senior class. I can imagine that some colleges have an additional fudge factor based on what they know about the high school.

momof4 said...

It sounds as if the physics is not the calculus-based AP Physics C, which usually has AP Calc BC as a co-requisite.

In my experience, some colleges do re-calculate GPAs and they do not count all courses. PE etc. is often not counted, but I have been told - by admissions people - that their school counted only bio, chem and physics; not astronomy, geology or physiology, even if they had honors designations.

momof4 said...

BTW, this is getting way ahead, but kids/parents need to know that SAT I and II scores must be sent directly from the SAT to colleges and that the student needs to request this, as part of the admissions process. I just heard of a senior who had requested no scores, so in March of his senior year, none of his college choices have his scores! Guidance had not even mentioned this issue.

I would recommend talking to math/science teachers instead of to guidance. Ditto for any other subjects.

SteveH said...

"AP Physics C"

No, they call it AP Physics B. We also only have AP Calculus AB. I'm not happy about this, but we can't change it.

"I have been told - by admissions people - that their school counted only bio, chem and physics; not astronomy, geology or physiology, even if they had honors designations."

I was wondering about that. It seems easy enough for a college to apply their own weighting factors.

SteveH said...

I finally (!) got "What High Schools Don't Tell You" and after just a few pages, I like it very much.

On page 6, she comments that:

"When a child is just entering high school, you don't want her to become fixated on getting into one particular college, nor do you want her to believe that college is the end in itself. Her dreams should extend far beyond college, and college should be viewed merely as a stepping-stone to reach a larger goal. ... That said..."

It's nice that she focuses on the big picture and not as a manual to game the system. In a brief glance at a few topics, the coverage seems to be a little thin, but at least she gives you many areas to follow up on.

Right off the bat, she talks about visiting colleges (just for fun) after 8th or 9th grades, rather than wait until it becomes more critical and stressful after the Junior year. I've taken my son to a few colleges for music competitions, and we even went on a tour of Curtis. There is no pressure. It's just a visit. In New England, MIT's Splash weekend is a big hit with high school kids.
You can even take a short course called "The Chemistry of Stink".

Anonymous said...

The book has so much in it that no one tells you about. I learned so much about what was out there. I ended up giving it to a teacher at our middle school.

I have to admit that I do get a bit overwhelmed with it at times. Look at some of high school resumes for the ideal students in the different categories. Holy cow.

I also got the Peterson's Guide for summer camps. I've found many camps that I would have had no way of finding out about. It also lists the price of the camps the last year.

Camps and competitions are another good way to see a college. My son went to one at Wellesley last year during the summer and had a blast. The state Science Olympiad was held at U of IL in Champaign. The husband got to show him all around while he relived his own youth.


kcab said...

Does that book say the talent search SAT testing is a good thing to do? (I should get the book myself, time seems to be passing quickly.) I signed up my seventh grader, but haven't actually registered her for the SAT yet because it does seem a little out there to me too. She has a friend at school who actually enjoyed taking the test though, and it seems like an unpressured practice run could be beneficial. She was waffling about it earlier, has recently said she wants to do it though.

momof4 said...

Some of my kids took the SAT in 7-8 - their choice, and enjoyed it. It helped that the 7-8 graders were in a separate room from the HS kids. In some areas, the HS magnet programs require the SAT as part of their admissions process.

Anonymous said...

It was totally because of the book that I had my son take the ACT in the 7th grade. And boy, a lot came from that. When the time came for him to bussed over to the high school for math, I mentioned that he was bored with science and was there something that could be done. When the high school found out that he had taken the ACT they were only interested in his reading scores, not science. So he got to take honors bio in the 8th grade, as well. He did fine with it, mostly A's, so they knew what they were talking about.

The talent search sends you all kinds of info after your child takes it that is nice to share with the school if you want. I also heard from every math school and camp in the country over the next few months.

I think the stamina issue is pretty big with a middle schooler which, for us, made the ACT (no writing) a better choice. I like the author's attitude about just using it for practice.

If you are interested in it, call the school that gives it. When I called Northwestern they told me the average scores for all 7th graders in all the subjects. They told me the SAT ones, too. This info actually might be listed on their websites.

I decided we'd shoot for the average and if we bombed, that'd be fine. I made it very low pressure. My son took it in the fall and then later with the talent searchers in the spring. His scores all went up, but his math score popped up a lot higher, which made him one of the high scorers. I think this just helped his confidence immensely. But, even if he'd done poorly, I was ready to high five him for going for it.


SteveH said...

"Does that book say the talent search SAT testing is a good thing to do?"

Yes. Even though you may not take advantage of any of the opportunities, it still looks good to get accepted. My son didn't do any of the Johns Hopkins offerings because they were not that interesting, were far away, and cost a lot of money. Therefore, we didn't pursue that avenue when he got to 7th grade. It's perhaps easy to dismiss the book because of this sort of talk, but if you don't dream big, you will never get there. If you do dream big, then you better know how to get there.

For my son, I don't know which way he will go; science or music. Music is the tougher path and it seems like the ideas in the book apply more to that direction. It's like sports; there is a strict time limit if you want to compete at the highest level. While we are not overly worried about grooming him for the fast track in science, he has been carefully developed in music since he was 7.

kcab said...

he has been carefully developed in music since he was 7.

I'd be interested in hearing more about that sometime too, or info on where to look. My music experience is just basic - parentally-required piano k-12, other instruments & bands from middle school - and leaves me ill-prepared to figure out what to do with my musically inclined 7yo.

I think I will go ahead and register the 7th grader for the SAT or ACT. Good idea to check out the average scores!

Anonymous said...


We also just used a prep book to prepare. It gave me better insight into how he'd do on the test. The only thing I didn't do was time him as we got towards the end, so the first time he took it he had roughly 10 or more questions in each subject that he didn't finish in time and had to guess. That sort of freaked him out because we hadn't really talked about it. The actual subtests are pretty short and easy to practice and he seemed to be done rather quickly. I should have double checked so that I could helped him with the timing of it all. My mistake.

The second time he finished the math, but had around 3 or 4 that he didn't finish in the other tests. Also, the ACT doesn't penalize for guessing. I think the SAT does somehow, or something like that.

I believe the ACT is the only one where you can skip the writing section if you want to. They have both the writing version and the one without. The essay is highly formulated.

I only have numbers for the ACT from a few years ago, but they told me that the mean score for their 7th grade talent searchers in Reading was 19. For math, 17.

I guess the other point about the book is that I would have never even thought to have him take it. When I decided I was going to do it, I had a few teachers treat me like I was crazy. When I told them of schools who had many of their students take it during middle schools, the teachers were surprised. The book gave me the confidence to go it alone and not feel like I was a crazy parent.


concernedCTparent said...

kcab- my 12 year-old just took the ACT and loved every minute. She actually said she was sad when it was over. She's now looking forward to taking the SAT. We did very little in the way of test prep; the Wissner-Gross book actually recommends serious test prep so lots of people must go that route. My daughter just reviewed the type of questions the week before the test so it wouldn't be unfamiliar.

We're very pleased with her scores and are just waiting for the detailed report from CTY. On the ACT the only scores they look at are reading and math so she could've tanked everything else if she wanted and still qualified (for high honors even). The exciting part was that she didn't. Her science score was truly a confidence booster and has given her much food for thought as too future plans. Taking the test early is not only good practice for the real thing, it gets a child thinking the big thoughts and dreaming the big dreams. That's a really good thing!

Bostonian said...

I think of "test prep" as

(1) review of material already covered
(2) practice of test-taking techniques (pacing oneself, knowing when to guess and move on)

Well before test prep should come learning the material for the first time, which for the SAT math requires at least Algebra I and ideally Algebra II. So ISTM the parent of a gifted student who wants his child to take the SAT Math in 7th grade ought to have planned a course of study accordingly, years before 7th grade.

I bought the book of Wissner-Gross because it was mentioned here and found it very informative, but much of the book, including the recommendation to take the SAT in 7th grade, applies only to gifted students, and she refuses to acknowledge that.

SteveH said...

"- and leaves me ill-prepared to figure out what to do with my musically inclined 7yo."

I can go into this more later, but for our son, we didn't have any great plans or expectations. We also started him out in little kids soccer and baseball when he was 4 or 5. It's just that with the piano, we saw something quite different within a year. For things like sports or (some kinds of) music, time is critical. I've been told that for violin, if you don't start early enough, your arms and fingers won't develop properly. I don't know if I quite buy that, but time is critical, especially for piano and violin.

It's easy with the piano. If they show interest, set them up with private lessons. Look for the traditional kind that requires recitals where they have to memorize the music. You can look for a teacher who has older students playing in concerts and competing. It will be clear before long whether there is any talent that needs to be nutured. If not, then we thought (at least) that the piano would be a good lead-in to some other instrument or just that he would enjoy playing it.

In sports, our son did not show the same talent. It was more of a social activity for him. To some extent, it was sad to see the change in sports when he got to be 11yo. You had to be serious. This was great for other kids, but not so much for him.

I don't feel that there is this same time issue for any potential science career for him. In sports or music, if you have a dream (usually a very high one), then the process has to be managed very carefully and it has to start early. Perhaps others can comment on some specific sports examples.

The problem with music or sports is that if you don't reach your dream, then will you be happy with what's left over? I don't see the book talking much about that (yet). In music, the big deciding point is high school. Which way are you going in college. I've seen some amazing music talent head to science or engineering rather than go to college or a conservatory for music.

For science, I don't see this time critical issue of all or nothing. If you don't get into a top science school, that doesn't mean too much. It depends more on which field you want to get into and which college department gives you access to the most interesting research. There is always grad school. This is not the same for sports or music. If you don't get to play professional sports, are you going to be happy with what's left over? You won't get a second chance in some sort of grad school for sports. In music, I've seen older muscisians running from gig to gig and teaching to make ends meet. They end up not liking music. There are very good reasons why many parents steer their kids away from careers in sports and music. It's almost better if kids are not so good in those areas.

ChemProf said...

I'd agree with SteveH for both science and music. My vocal coach has five or six things he does, from vocal director to the local musical theater company to giving lessons to teaching at the local college. Even successful musicians have several jobs, and you need to understand that going in. On the other hand, you can do pretty well as an amateur musician, joining local orchestras or choruses or working for pay as a part time accompanist.

For science, you can start later and be successful. While the science olympiad stuff is good for getting into colleges, it isn't essential, and you can go from almost any college to a top flight grad school if you have the grades, research experience, and GRE scores. Now, a student of mine a few years back was intimidated by some of the kids she met while interviewing who had research experience going back to high school, but she is at Yale and is on track, so how critical could it have been?

kcab said...

The 7yo in question has been doing piano for about a year and taking to it differently from what I've observed in other kids. Seems to keep surprising his piano teacher with the things that he does. I just wasn't sure if we should be doing anything more beyond lessons/recital.

As far as the HS science experience, I agree it isn't necessary, but I think it is helpful for a kid coming from a non-science, non-engineering family. My folks were public school educators, so I grew up with a sense of what that life was like but without a good idea of what one did all day in a technical field. I *loved* the summer research program I did between junior and senior years in HS, that was the reason I ended up at MIT. But, I think the kids who worked in engineering or science internships over the summer, or who grew up in a technical family, had a better idea of what they were getting into.

Allison said...

I'd go farther than KCab.

For science, yes, it's quite possible to "start later" and still be successful. But the issue isn't the specific academic side of grades. It's about understanding what that life looks like, how to actually do science, how to be an academic. Chemprof says "if you have ...the research experience." It's not so simple to have a positive research experience.

If you think you want to be a research scientist, you will need a phd, and you will need to know how to get one--that means a) picking a good research advisor, and b) picking a good topic. These aren't easy at all. Doing a) well is a big help on b). Doing a) poorly and you can be totally sunk. If you don't have academics at home, it can be extremely challenging to recognize a good boss from a bad one at the age of 18 or 22.

I had several research opportunities at MIT as an undergrad. All were disasters because I chose poor leaders. The first guy met with me about 1/2 hour every 2 - 3 weeks. He was doing research stat mech, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. He told me to replicate some experimental result from a paper. He didn't tell me how to create the experiment. If you know anything about research chem or physics, you know that the paper doesn't tell you how to perform the experiment. I didn't know the first thing about how to do that. After weeks of failing to find the answer in the literature, he told me "contact the authors". The WWW didn't exist yet. He didn't tell me *how* to contact them, how to find their phone numbers, and he certainly didn't tell me what to ask. He had some grad students in a neighboring lab, but he didn't introduce me to them. He didn't tell me how to find the equipment. When the others took pity on me, and tried to help, I spent weeks trying to fill tiny little (diam = 2mm) glass tubes with mono-olein and water without getting air in the mixture (you try to fill a 2mm tube with margarine without air bubbles in it.) I went home crying every day.

The 2nd research opp told me to write some C code, and showed me some that had been written (by squirrels.) I was expected to debug it. I had no experience writing C outside of one course. He game me no manuals, no overview, no help. No other students knew the code either. I met with him occasionally, but got nowhere. I tried for another or two opps, but the initial meetings went so bizarrely or seemed so overwhelming that I often gave up.

Others at MIT did better, but it was coin flipping. One lucked into working for one of the best physics profs at MIT, a soon-to-be-nobel prize winner. He was guided, taught, and met with weekly, given problems to work on, and taught how to work on them. Others suffered through bizarre faculty who disappeared for weeks or months. Others suffered through progress meetings that were more like quals. Almost no one learned how to distinguish a good research question from a poor one. Most barely learned how to do research at all.

The kids I knew from MIT undergrad who finished their physics phds all had profs for parents. Same for math. In chemistry, I know of a few who had non academic parents. But most were miserable in grad school having made bad choices about research advisor.

ChemProf said...

Sure, you're right Allison. And that comes back to why I do think some folks would do better to look at liberal arts colleges -- we talk to our students about choosing a research advisor and help them engage on campus or find good off campus opportunities. The big research places do tend to be "sink or swim" for undergraduates, although there are always exceptions.

SteveH said...

"On the other hand, you can do pretty well as an amateur musician, joining local orchestras or choruses or working for pay as a part time accompanist."

This is very true. My brother was a contract programmer who made sure that he didn't schedule many jobs during the summer when he wanted to go to adult summer music coaching camps. At other times, he had a amateur string quartet. The problem is that you really need to make this choice in high school. You can't just let kids have dreams. You have to be more conctete than that. You have to have them analyze each type of job they would qualify for and have them see what they would have to do for the money. They have to be careful what they dream for. If they want to play for a major orchestra, they really need to find out all of the details. Many are not so pretty.

SteveH said...

After I've said all of that, I think the book is great. Too many kids give up dreaming and planning very early. What she does is give kids back their dreams and tell them that it's OK. Then, she tells them step by step how to get there. For many kids who have been exposed to fuzzy, discovery, spiral learning, it must be very liberating. Here is a direct way to analyze what they want to do and how to get there. Even if they find out that they ended up on the wrong track in college, they will have the skills and confidence to plan and work for the next goal. Some of the suggestions might seem too much for some, but you can always skip them.

When I once taught an after-school SSAT prep class, I remember many of the 7th graders felt like they were just plain stupid. At a time when kids should feel like they can conquer the world, many of their teachers were trying to beat them down to get them ready for high school. They were doing a really good job. K-6 failed to give them what they needed, and the middle school was going to make sure that the kids took responsibility for that.

SteveH said...

"I just wasn't sure if we should be doing anything more beyond lessons/recital."

Yes. I help out with a local piano competition and we have kids as early as first grade. It's more formal than a regular recital and they get evaluated by judges. It's a great experience and they realize that the world won't end if they make a mistake. They could also realize that this is not for them. Better sooner than later.

With my son, the last thing I want is for him to just listen to all of his relatives telling him how wonderful he is. With competitions, he now knows how he compares with a girl who won a major national competition. Reality sooner is much better than reality later.

With competitions, the stress is with oneself. I don't see kids who worry much about winning or losing. If they feel like they played well, then they are usually ecstatic, no matter where they placed.

I've also noticed that when the kids are young, the adjudicated comments tend to be very good and encouraging. Now that my son competes on a regional level, the comments are much more critical and potentially deflating.

We started looking for a new piano teacher after one year because his first teacher did not know about or was very interested in anything more than her twice-a-year recital.

We tried to find a new teacher, but we didn't know what questions to ask. In the end, the solution found us and only now do I understand what I could have done. The key was that someone happened to suggest that our son (at age 7) enter a piano competition. He said he wanted to do it and he did very well. After that, the opportunities found him.

In music, there are two (almost separate) worlds of education. There is MENC, which covers all of the educators in schools. They, along with their state affiliates, are the ones who sponsor All State contents. This is what most parents know about. For most instruments, this provides most of what you need. However, if your school system has a poor reputation for music or you want more, then you have to look elsewhere.

The other world of music education is private lessons. These usually are teachers who are not public school educators. They are also the ones who will make or break your child in music. There are a number of national groups these teachers can be affiliated with, but the biggest one is MTNA (Music Teachers National Association). Most people don't know about this group or their resources. You should check to see if your child's private lessons teacher is a member. For piano, some are members of the Piano Guild, but I know mostly about MTNA. They have state affiliates that hold formal bi-yearly adjudication recitals and offer state competitions that lead to a national competition. The kids who compete are the best in the country. It's dominated by piano and strings, but it's a huge opportunity for other instruments because most kids never look past All State. They have to. All State is not enough. If you want to get to a top music conservatory for any instrument, you can't just rely on the schools and All State.

My son has applied to Interlochen summer music camp. This is a place where almost all kids are first chair and in All State. The camp will have college and conservatory representitives come during the summer to recruit kids.

I could go on and on. In England and Canada, music is much more structured around national curricula (not in schools). There are the ABRSM levels in the UK and the RCM levels in Canada. ABRSM has 10 levels and RCM has 8. What you do in each level is clearly defined. Some are trying to push a version of the RCM in the US. My son hasn't followed this, and sometimes I think that he will have gaps in certain knowledge and skills. However, in the end, everything really revolves around the audition, not your detailed understanding of music theory. I also trust his piano teacher.

kcab said...

Thanks, SteveH, that is exactly what I wanted to know.

SteveH said...

Some are trying to push a version of the RCM in the US.

I just dug up the information about this in case someone mentions it. It's called the National Music Certificate Program. (

In the US, music education is notoriously bad about teaching theory, sight reading, listening skills, and other music knowledge. I grew up playing the trumpet and never once heard about the circle of fifths or the transposing details of my instrument. Many kids head to college knowing very little about music theory. Thankfully, more high schools now have music theory and music AP classes. But before high school, there is nothing.

Pianists know the most because it's part of learning to play, but there are many topics that are not covered if the teacher is just performance oriented. This certificate program makes sure that these topics are covered right from the start. Having said that, it's seems too rigid to me and might force someone to slow down too much. My son dumped the Bastien series by the end of his first year. His current teacher dove right into scales, arpeggios, Hanon, Czerny, and Bach's Two-Part Inventions. If a piano teacher thinks it's OK to approach these skills in a top-down or in-context fashion, then run, don't walk, to another teacher. (If it sounds like math, you're right.) You need a teacher who will systematically go through most of the Inventions, Sinfonia, Prelude & Fugues, and Chopin Etudes. The teacher also has to focus on the skills for each music category: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, and Modern. Some competitions and auditions will explicitly ask for a Prelude & Fugue or an etude, and pieces from at least two periods of music. You have to learn the standard repertoire.

The certificate programs keep students on track and provide a level of assurance that skills have been mastered, but that's not the same as what you can do in a performance. You can even get a "diploma" at the end that is well regarded, but it's not clear how useful that will be for college. In the US, everything revolves around the audition.

When my son sent an audition DVD to Interlochen, they didn't ask how many years he has been playing, his repertoire, or how many performances he has given. The DVD will say
it all. This might be different in Canada or Europe where certificate programs are more common. My son's teacher doesn't have a good feel for that, but he says that the audition is always the key.