College applications. Around this time every year many college bound seniors and their parents begin panicking about college. After what they considered a well deserved summer respite from the SAT, ACT and other standardized tests which are not offered over the summer and the break from school, students commonly choose to pretend that those pending college applications do not exist. They think if they ignore them then they will go away or that they will somehow figure it all out.
Then the fall rolls around - along with the first day of school. Panic strikes. Students talk to students about their summer experiences. Students realize that peers may not have revealed their summer plans the previous spring in fear of a copycat syndrome. They wanted a competitive edge but upon their return to school the truth emerges. At that point some of those students who wanted to "relax because after all, it is the last summer of high school" start to evaluate everything they have done during high school - the classes they chose, their performance, their activities. The time to "figure it all out" has arrived. Time to take an inventory.
Of course, back to school night for parents turns into an absolute nightmare for some when other parents who have perfected the art of of persuasion convincingly expound upon their children's summer experiences (usually boils down to how their child spent the summer preparing to take over the presidency of the United States), first choice schools, early decision, legacy…and "don't you know that unless you have constructed a building on a college campus your chances are all but shot at a college?" If a parent considers making a $10,000 donation to a college another parent will advise, "I would add 2 zeros to that number." This commences the fear factor that to which parents fall victim. In actuality, the fear develops as the result of other parents attempting to keep other parents at bay. These parents seek to convince other parents that they should reconsider the schools to which their child applies so that "they are not disappointed" or "do not waste their ED opportunity at a school that is a long shot." While most students and parents muster the ability to maintain composure when processing all the chatter around them, behind closed doors all hell breaks loose when students and parents compare notes about what they heard.
Most savvy parents neglect to tell other parents about their "dirty little secret": the college admissions expert who has advised them throughout this process (more and more starting as early as freshman year) and continues to support their child so that no detail is overlooked and they avoid the common mistakes about which unsuspecting students have no knowledge. A good (albeit they are few and are few and far between) college consultant will guide a family with an objective perspective on a given student's situation. In terms of curriculum, over the long term they advise what classes a student should pursue, which APs are "fluff" APs, and the importance of taking the most challenging courses throughout high school, which, to the dismay of many students includes:
- 4 years of English with at least 2 years in Honors and/or AP
- 4 years of Foreign Language culminating with an AP senior year
- the following sciences: Biology, Physics and Chemistry as well as an additional AP in one of the three
- a math pattern that enables students to complete pre-calculus before the end of their Junior year and preferably includes a calculus lass for senior year
- 4 years of history with 2-3 of the classes on the AP level
- a breadth of electives that shows the student will take risks and break out of a stereotypical role (consider a welding class - and no, this is not a joke)
The importance of the senior year curriculum cannot be underestimated. It could serve as the key to unlock the gates of a first choice institution. Colleges want to see students who consistently set the bar higher for themselves each consecutive high school year and, most importably, senior year. So upon returning to high school in the fall and making final course decisions, consider this: of course colleges would like to see all APs and As in those APs, but we are all only human. More realistically, colleges want to see that a student has challenged him/herself, even if it means sacrificing an easy A for a hard earned B. Forget about GPAs - every college recalculate the GPA differently so upon receipt of transcript and the GPA a student thought they had may turn out as something very different depending on the college.
The kiss of death? Earning a grade of A consistently in a certain discipline but foregoing the opportunity to take AP courses within that discipline. This decision jumps off the transcript for colleges and screams: "I always performed really well in this subject BUT I have a million excuses for why I never stepped it up and took an AP in the subject." Instead of entertaining any excuse, the file is automatically dropped into the reject pile. Students must realize: colleges are looking for a reason the reject you! Armed with this knowledge go forth attempting to give them a few reasons to reject you as possible. It starts with the curriculum.
While on that subject, we must not forget college classes. The importance of taking an actual college course while in high school has gained popularity in recent years. Today, it seems like a foregone confusion that students while have a college transcript to send in addition to their high school course. Sometimes the college class may not seem like the most challenging, but it fits within the framework of a student's overall presentation of themselves. For example, a student interested in theatre can earn college credit by taking a theatre course at a local community college, through an extension school or even online. Do not underestimate the importance of college courses in terms of supplementing a strong high school transcript. There is no "do-over" in the the college admissions process.
Look for forthcoming articles included in the "Race to College Admission: A Marathon, not a Sprint" series on decision plan strategies, four year curriculum, how to find the most interesting and competitive summer experiences, high school activities/honors and standardized test scores.