College Pete

Rigor v Performance: Your HS Student’s 2015-16 Course Selection

Rigor v Performance: Your HS Student’s 2015-16 Course Selection

It is time (or will be very soon) – Between now and March your student(s) will be required to register for classes for the upcoming academic year (check with your school’s guidance office for specific deadlines).  As I’ve told my clients, course selection should be a thoughtful, strategic, personalized and yet collaborative undertaking.

That said, I urge you to speak to your 8th- 11th grade child about their registration process sooner rather than later.  And in case you’re wondering how to get the conversation started or what to discuss once you do, here are a few key issues that I’m honing in on with my students.

First, rigor, focus and performance are all important components of your child’s high school transcript.  Admissions officers want to see a ‘healthy balance’ between rigor and performance in classes wheere the student seems to have a genuine affinity.   More simply put,  if your child is taking ‘gut’ courses -unrelated to his interests – to get the ‘A’, or getting A’s in Honors and not taking any offered APs in a field they like; or are pulling C’s in AP’s just to get the perceived requisite amount of APs on the transcript, it might be time to reconsider their curriculum choices.

Second, your child’s high school profile (as in what courses are offered and to whom, how GPA is calculated and whether or not students are ranked academically – among other details) is often the very first component an Admissions officer will consider when reviewing an applicant’s transcript.  Please do not compare your child’s experience(s) or performance in school ‘A’ with your niece’s in school ‘B’.  By the way, you don’t have to take my word for this – it’s something I’ve heard from every Admissions Officer with whom I’ve ever met – including Yolanda Coleman of UNC – whom I met with during this summer’s College Tour through the Carolina’s.  She wanted to make sure I let my readers know that neither GPA nor class rank is considered during the evaluation process at UNC.  Why?  There’s too little context, too many opportunities to ‘manipulate’ the system, and hardly any parity in how either is calculated within each high school.

Which is why I often remind my students that there is no magic or one-size fits all curriculum formula that will either guarantee or disqualify them from a particular college. Colleges tend to take a more holistic view of student placement.  Moving up a spot or two in ranking or making the top 10% does not guarantee admission anywhere (especially if it’s perceived as having taken an easier academic route to do so).  Conversely, most competitive schools value progressive improvement as students move through their high school years.  An errant C (or B) in 9th grade will not necessarily derail your college plans.

There’s an awesome quote by Fred Sachs hanging in the college counseling office at my daughter’s high school: “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won”.  Instead of looking externally for some ‘blueprint’ or a way to properly ‘package’ themselves… or to mirror another student’s experience, I urge my students to examine their goals, interests and natural abilities and align their school experiences accordingly.   When considering their courses and extra-curricular activities, I ask them to to ask themselves if they are continuously challenging themselves within the context of their post-high school goals, interests, abilities and current school’s academic environment.

If you’d like to hear me speak about the whole college process – including the College Admissions and Funding process…  how they dovetail, how much college costs (list price) v. how much of that cost you should expect to bear (net price); how the institutions determine who they’ll admit… and whether, how much and to whom they’ll award financial aid and merit scholarships (we assist a number of families who cannot demonstrate financial need but whose students still receive substantial discounts from the universities to which they are admitted) and a whole lot more, come register for one of my February classes.  The classes are free and open to the public.  You can click here to see where and when I’ll be speaking and to reserve your seat.


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