Courses, Grades and GPA

Understand the high school class requirements of the colleges to which you plan to apply. Many colleges and universities require or recommend a certain number of years of English, Math, Social Studies, Science, and Foreign Language. Students who don’t fulfill the requirements are often ineligible to be accepted. 

Last year, a student I worked with decided not to take the third year of a foreign language in high school. I had him check with the colleges he wanted to apply to that listed a requirement for a minimum of three years of foreign language. Some of these colleges indicated that they would not consider him without the third year of foreign language. This decision changed the list of colleges to which he would apply. I wanted him to understand the implication of his senior year course selection and not waste time applying to colleges that indicated they would not consider him without the third year of language.

Challenge yourself academically, while balancing your life. Take classes that challenge you (e.g., Honors, AP, or IB) while spending enough time to be healthy (e.g., to eat, sleep, exercise) and pursue your extracurricular interests.

Most colleges look at students holistically, so a tiny change in GPA is insignificant. One student recently told me she was planning to take a required art class, Pass/Fail. She didn’t want the class grade to lower her weighted GPA since the art class wasn’t an Honors or AP class. I told her not to take the class Pass/Fail because a college she was applying to required a year of art with a grade of at least a C. A decision to take the art class Pass/Fail might have had the unintended consequence of making her ineligible to be accepted to that college.

Students often do not realize that many colleges and universities will re-compute their GPA. The re-computed GPA may exclude certain classes and will often weigh the grades differently than their high school.

Read and carefully follow instructions when self-reporting grades in college applications. When self-reporting grades, carefully categorize courses. Some colleges only count English, Math, Social Studies, Science, and Foreign Language courses when they re-compute GPA. 

Recently, a student listed their Public Speaking class in an “Other” category instead of in English. Having more than four years in English would have been a plus for her, but her miscategorization would have jeopardized that. 

Another student took a high school Geometry class in 8th grade and made the mistake of leaving that class off her self-reported grades. That error might have disqualified her from consideration at a college she was applying to where high school Geometry was required.

When something about self-reporting grades is unclear, reread the instructions. Check with your counselor or the college if that doesn’t clarify the situation. Don’t guess.

College Planning Books

I just finished preparing a list of books for independent educational consultants and the families they serve for the Higher Education Consultants Association website.

These books would be great reference material for you, if you are a high school student or a parent of a high school student:

Dispelling College Myths

  • Where You Go Is Not Who’ll You Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni

How College Admissions Works

  • Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo

College Selection

  • College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Right College by Steven R. Antonoff

College Financial Concerns

  • The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price by Lynn O’Shaughnessy
  • The Price You Pay For College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make by Ron Lieber

College Majors

  • Book of Majors by the College Board

General College Guides

  • Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske
  • The Princeton Review The Best 3xx Colleges by Robert Franek (xx is a 2-digit number that changes with different editions of the book)
  • America’s Best Colleges for B Students, A College Guide for Students Without Straight A’s by Tamra B. Orr
  • Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope, Revised by Hilary Masell Oswald

Specialty College Guides

  • The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences by Marybeth Kravets and Imy Wax
  • Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers by Elaina Loveland
  • BS/MD Programs – The Complete Guide by Todd A. Johnson

College Application Essays

  • College Essay: Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps by Alan Gelb
  • College Essay Essentials by Ethan Sawyer

Going to College Advice

  • The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen

My Pet Peeve

Cornell University

I’m often surprised when I read a newspaper article that says a high school student applied and was admitted to all eight Ivy League universities. I am surprised not because they were admitted, but because I wonder why would anyone apply to all eight of the Ivy League colleges. It makes me wonder if the student applied primarily for prestige or really didn’t take the time to learn about the colleges they applied to.

While these eight universities have some things in common like low acceptance rate, high graduation rate, strong need-based aid, no merit aid, a high ranking in US News and World Report, and the same sports conference, they are more different than they are the same.

Yale University

I am left questioning how “smart” the student really was who applied to these eight schools. I ask myself, would someone who:

  • Liked Columbia University’s strong core curriculum, like the lack of a core curriculum at Brown University?
  • Liked college in a big city like The University of Pennsylvania, like being at a college in a town like Dartmouth University?
  • Liked the focus of the university being on the undergraduate students like at Princeton, be happy at Harvard where there are more graduate than undergraduate students?
  • Wanted to live on campus in a residential college system like Yale’s be happy at Cornell which only has housing for about half of its undergrads?
  • Wanted to go to a college with a semester system, be happy with Dartmouth’s quarter system.
  • Wanted a smaller undergraduate student body like Princeton’s be happy at Cornell where the undergraduate student body is more than three times as large?

Last, but not least these universities have strengths in different majors and some have majors not offered by any/many of the others.

University of Pennsylvania

What’s your reaction to my pet peeve? What do you think makes these 8 schools similar or different?

College To Career – For High School and College Students

Most high school and college students fall into one of three categories with regard to career:

  1. They are all set to dive into a specific career path.
  2. Their career is unknown, but they have a specific subject they really enjoy.
  3. They have no idea of a career or a subject of special interest.

If you fall into the first category, you may want to investigate the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn what level of education is needed for the career you have chosen, what the job forecast is for that career, and what the job typically pays.

If you are in the second category, you may want to find out what career options you might have if you major in that subject in college by checking out a site like this.

If you have no idea of a career or subject of interest, it might be best to determine your personality type using a Myers Briggs personality test and then see how the careers for that personality type appeal to you.

Whichever group you are in, it is good to get first hand career exposure for careers you are considering by doing as many of the following as soon as possible:

  • Talk with someone in that career
  • Shadow someone in that career for a few hours or a few days
  • Volunteer or work part time in that career or a related one to see if and how you like it
  • Do research or a capstone project related to your career
  • Take advantage of service learning related to your career (i.e., a class with a community service component) to gain some real world experience
  • Join a student organization related to your career.
Hands-on activities and projects by engineering students at Olin College

Be sure to take advantage of the career guidance available in high school and college. For example, your college advisor or a professor in your major can help you by:

  • Talking about the career with you and answering questions you may have
  • Providing guidance regarding what classes to take
  • Providing you research opportunities
  • Introducing you to potential employers
  • Providing references and letters of recommendation for graduate school or jobs.

Don’t forget to take advantage of your colleges Career Services offices which provides services like:

  • Career assessments
  • Help with resumes, cover letters, and interviews
  • Listings of internships, co-op opportunities and jobs
  • Career fairs
  • Graduate school application assistance including preparation for exams (e.g., GRE, LSAT, MCAT).

You can help yourself in your career search and growth by:

  • Strengthening you writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills
  • Joining professional organizations for your profession
  • Networking (e.g., with alumni, with local business people, with local chamber of commerce members)
  • Using social media like LinkedIn to aid in your job search.

While you are in college, don’t forget to keep your grades up and make use of these services so you can do your best academically:

  • Study groups
  • Professor’s office hours
  • Tutoring
  • Writing Center
  • Math Center
  • Learning Differences Resources (if appropriate).

Computer Science Woes

At many colleges and universities, the Computer Science major is impacted, that is the major continually gets more eligible applicants than it can accommodate. This is a problem that has existed for several years and appears only to be getting worse. At the Cal State University campuses “impacted” is also a designation that allows the Computer Science department to require a higher GPA or specific major preparation as a way to reduce the pool of applicants to those who are best prepared to enter the major.

If you or your student wants to major in Computer Science, you will want to read these three articles to better understand the situation:

  • Here’s what happened with Computer Science majors at Haverford, Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Stanford, Pomona, and San Francisco State in 2018.
  • Here’s an analysis of the Computer Science teaching shortage from 2019 that appeared in the Communications of the ACM, the monthly journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. It also explains how different colleges including RIT, UT Austin, Pitt, UIUC and RPI have tried to address the teaching shortage.
  • Maybe you think I am just talking about the past. Here is a piece from June 2022 on the demand for the Computer Science major at the University of Washington and the reasons for their inability to meet that demand.
University of Washington

Can I Get In There?

If you are wondering what your chances are at getting accepted to a particular college or university here are four things to consider:

  1. What percent of students do they accept?
  2. What criteria are important to that college?
  3. How well do you meet the criteria?
  4. Will the major you have selected have an impact on whether you will be accepted?

What percent of students do they accept?  

The higher the percent of students the college accepts, the better your chance for admission. If the percent acceptance is very small, your chance of admission is very small.

Percent acceptance ranges between 2 or 3 % and 100%. Schools that accept 100% include many 2-year community colleges and some 4-year colleges.

Some schools accept a much different percent of applicants depending on whether the student applies as an early decision, early action or regular decision applicant. Percent acceptance may also vary by gender or ethnicity. In-state and out-of-state acceptance rates vary significantly and many public colleges and universities.

What criteria is important?

Important criteria may be reflected in the school’s mission statement. It also may be reflected in published data (see collegedata.com) which indicates how important (i.e., very important, important, considered, or not considered) each of the following is to the particular college:

  • Rigor of secondary school record – Rigor considers the number of years of a particular subject that you have taken.  Colleges often specify the number of years required or recommended for a particular subject like English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Foreign Language. Rigor also looks at the level of the course you took (e.g., college prep, honors, AP, IB) as compared to what your high school offered.
  • Academic GPA
  • Standardized Tests
  • Class rank (if available)
  • Recommendations
  • Application essay
  • Application interview
  • Level of applicant’s interest
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Volunteer work
  • Particular talent/ability
  • Character/personal qualities
  • First generation to attend college
  • State residency
  • Geographic residence
  • Relation with alumnus
  • Religious affiliation/commitment
  • Ethnicity
  • Work Experience.

How well do you meet the criteria?

For every criteria that is very important, important or considered by a particular college, consider how you will measure up.

For example, consider how your grades and course rigor and how your SAT/ACT test scores compare to the students the college accepts. If your high school has Naviance or SCOIR, you can use scattergrams to get an idea about how your grades and test scores stack up to others from your high school that applied to a particular college or university.

Will the major you have selected have an impact on whether you will be accepted?

The acceptance rate at some universities may also be dependent to the college which you are applying. For example, the College of Engineering may be more competitive than the College of Arts and Science.

Some majors which are in high demand and/or which there are few professors may be “impacted” majors. They may be more difficult to gain acceptance into than other majors. You may get accepted to the college or university, but not for your first choice major. At some schools, no one is accepted directly for a particular major. Students can only declare that major after meeting certain criteria as a college student (e.g., completing certain college courses with a particular grade).

Conclusion

Be realistic about your chances of admission. Be sure to include colleges with a high and medium probability of acceptance, not just colleges with low probability of acceptance.

If you need or want assistance with the college selection and application process, work with an experienced independent educational consultant like me. I help students select colleges which meet their academic, social and financial needs and I work with them throughout the application process to make sure they put their best foot forward in their applications.

Colleges Still Accepting Students

It’s May 2. Yesterday was National College Decision Day, the deadline to select the college you will attend this fall and to make a deposit. 

However, if you are still looking for an undergraduate college for the Fall, go to nacacnet.org and review “College Opening Update.” Currently, the site lists 337 colleges with openings, and the list is updated daily. You can search the site by state (or country) or several other criteria.

When I searched by state for colleges in Pennsylvania with openings, I found a mix of 33 public and private colleges listed alphabetically by college name. For each of these colleges the following information was provided: college name, whether they are public or private school, the size category, whether they are accepting freshmen or transfers, whether housing or financial aid are available, a contact person, email address, phone number and website.

For example, the first entry looked like this:

Albright College
( PA )

Enrollment: Private,non-profit
1,000 – 4,999

Freshman: Yes
Transfer: Yes
Housing:
 Yes
Financial Aid: Yes

Contact: Jennifer Williamson admission@albright.edu

Phone:  (610) 921-7700
Website:  https://www.albright.edu/home/

Albright College

Senior Year Blues

If you are a high school senior and not feeling great about your future because of the following all is not lost:

  • You didn’t apply to college, but you recently decided want to go
  • You applied to college, but you didn’t get accepted into any of the schools you applied to
  • You applied to college, but none of the schools you got accepted to are affordable for your family or
  • You applied to college, but you don’t like any of the schools you were accepted to.

Here are three approaches you might take:

  • Attend a local community college or a college with open admissions in the Fall
  • Take a gap year, and apply to colleges in the Fall
  • Check the list of colleges with available space in the Fall on the NACAC website (https://www.nacacnet.org/) typically posted on May 2 or 3. Apply to the colleges that you would like to attend and that you believe will be affordable for your family.

Best of luck!

New Year’s Resolution for High School Juniors

If you are a high school junior who made a New Year’s resolution to start college planning in earnest, here are ten things you can be doing:

  1. Do your best in your classes and extracurricular activities.
  2. Plan your summer. Consider a job, a learning experience, and/or a volunteer activity.
  3. Select challenging classes that interest you for your senior year of high school.
  4. Prepare for and take the SAT or ACT.
  5. Determine what you are looking for in a college: academically, socially and financially.
  6. Discuss with your parents how much money is available for college.
  7. Build a balanced list of colleges that meet your needs and that which is affordable for your family.
  8. Research and visit the colleges on your list, virtually or in person.
  9. Write your Common App essay after the prompts are announced, typically in January or February.
  10. Make a list of your extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, jobs, and hobbies that you spend time on regularly starting with the summer after 8th grade. Include any leadership positions you held, the number of hours per week and weeks per year you spent on the activity, and in what grades you participated in the activity.

If you need assistance in any of these, feel free to reach out to me.

25 Things to Do After Getting Accepted Early Decision

Congratulations on your early decision acceptance. Here are 25 things to do:

Follow college’s instructions that came with your acceptance.
Stop work on any other college applications.
Withdraw any other applications you have submitted to by emailing the admissions office. Include your name, high school, and a brief note that you were accepted early decision to a binding program and you will be attending that school. 
Follow your high school’s procedure for recording your acceptance.
Thank your high school guidance counselor and those who wrote letters of recommendation for you.
Look for outside scholarships.
Get a meningococcal conjugate vaccine if you will be living in a residence hall. If you received it before their 16th birthday, you will need a booster shot for maximum protection before going to college.
Request that an official final high school transcript be sent to your early decision college. This can’t be sent until the current school year is over.
Send ACT/Sat score officially through the testing agency if it was previously only self-reported. 
Take any pre-tests required before registering for fall classes.
Determine if you can receive credit for college level work you took while in high school and submit any paperwork needed (e.g., send official AP scores or official transcript from dual enrollment courses)
Review course catalog and register for fall classes in accordance with college’s directions.
Complete financial aid verification process, if necessary. 
Accept or decline the loans you have been offered. 
Complete loan counseling online for any loans you are accepting. 
Sign master promissory note for any loans you are accepting. 
Consider finding a summer job.
Submit housing deposit and enrollment deposit.
Sign up for summer orientation.
Confirm freshmen move-in date and make your travel plans. 
Purchase items needed for college living. 
Check student portal and email daily.
If you don’t already have one, open a bank account.
Look into getting a state ID card if you don’t have one and don’t have a driver’s license. 
Consider reading a book like “The Naked Roommate” and/or “How to Survive Your Freshman Year” before college starts.