Friday, April 27, 2007

Five Things About Getting Into College

1. Your High School Has a Reputation: Yep, and the colleges in your state know it. Possibly, if a lot of the graduates go to a particular out of state college, that college knows it, too. Your high school may be known as being horrible about inflating grades, grading fairly, being outstanding in science and math, or having really well-trained students in foreign languages who need math remediation. Some of the teachers in your high school also have reputations at college – as being outstanding in preparing students, or as being burnouts who hand out A’s and lard transcripts with false information like so many scared hookers needing to meet a pimp-enforced quota. You might want to see if you can find a loose-lipped or just open and truthful admissions office employee in a nearby college to see what your high school’s rep is.

2. Grade Point Averages/Class Rank: These don’t count as much as you might think, particularly if your high school has a funky system of adding points depending on how they rank the difficulty of the class. Once the colleges know, and that happens pretty quickly after the fact, that your high school is grading AP classes on a 6 point scale and honors classes on a 5 point scale, with regular classes at 4 points for an A, the GPA and class ranking stats are either disregarded or looked at very differently. This kind of thing is excused by high school administration as a way of preventing students from gaming the system by taking all slacker classes and getting straight As to beat out someone who took challenging courses and got a GPA lower than 4.0. It may matter for the high school, but once this enters the data stream, it diminishes the whole class rank/GPA importance at the admissions level. Often, colleges will ignore the high school GPA and recalculate yours on a strict 4 point scale, only checking on course names/attributes if the GPA is unusually low. Also, class size matters. Being #5 out of 2000 is different than being #1 of 200.

3. Standardized Tests: The ACT and the SAT tests are important because they are the only uniform, objective measure of student achievement and aptitude available to the college. As GPAs and transcripts become infested with all kinds of manipulations, these tests become more and more important in the admissions process. Really outstanding scores can open doors on their own – admissions departments will look at those and, regardless of grades, see a gifted student looking for somewhere to call home, and most colleges would dearly love to enroll and enthrall as many gifted students as possible. The better the supporting grades, especially if they were in challenging courses, the faster the acceptance letter goes out. Even average or barely above-average grades can be excused under the “bored gifted student” theory, if the scores are high enough. When you get into the middle regions on the test scores, that’s when transcripts and high school GPAs are examined more closely for support or explanation. Conversely, a straight A transcript with a mediocre test score will signal that there's a high likelihood of grade inflation.

4. AP Classes: AP classes are not as highly regarded on campuses as you might think. At this point, most Ivy League colleges are only accepting scores of 5 on the AP exam as being sufficient for the student to skip an introductory level class. Some of them are no longer allowing students to skip introductory classes at all and don’t accept AP scores in lieu thereof. Other colleges may accept a 3 but require an additional placement test to confirm knowledge, however, they’ll let 4’s and 5’s skip the intro classes. There has been a debate raging for years over the validity of the AP class structure and curriculum as opposed to honors level classes and how each of these aligns with college expectations. I personally do not recommend AP classes for my kids or for others UNLESS the student has already taken every other available class in that discipline and has a true interest and desire to take the AP class. There is much more to be learned and experienced in the college classroom of comparable level that cannot be duplicated in a high school setting, and in the race for grades, GPAs and class standings, students who take an AP class just for the “status” or points may be missing out on far more valuable lessons in a good honors class, or in the college class they’d like to skip.

5. You don’t have to graduate from the first college you attend: I think the estimate, last time I saw it, was that about 3/5 of all colleges students who graduate do not do so from the college they first entered as freshmen. Since the 70’s, college students have become more nomadic, life stresses have changed, and families themselves move several times, bringing college students with them sometimes.

It’s not a bad idea to consider getting those first couple of years of credits from a cheaper college whose credits will transfer to your student’s eventual college of choice. The costs of attending a 4-year university are rising frighteningly every year already, anyway. It may be that your student doesn’t have the scores or grades to get into their preferred college – better to go to somewhere cheaper and prove themselves by doing well in college level courses and then transferring to the desired location. This also gives students a chance to accustom themselves to college level work, save a little extra money so any student loans won’t be outrageous, and to figure out if they really want to stick with their first choice as a major, or if something else is a better fit, which might also change their minds about what college they want to finish up at.

Most colleges require that you take 60 hours through their school in order to get a degree from them. That’s the last 2 years, at 15 hours per semester. Transfer information is available on their websites, and that information shows what colleges and which courses from the current college have been comped out to classes on the desired college campus.

OK, that’s it for me for the week. Have a great weekend!

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