Frequently Asked Questions
I hear so often about how smart a student is and the GPA is usually freely offered to prove that point. While performing well in the classroom is important, we need to recognize two factors that can affect that performance. Colleges like to view the GPA in context of the available curriculum. A student with straight A’s over four years of high school is to be commended, but if that student never availed himself of Honors, AP, or IB coursework that was offered at the high school, the grades are a lot less impressive. Colleges want to see a curriculum of increasing rigor throughout high school. That is not to say that trying an upper-level curriculum and continuing those courses without success is a good idea. If your student tries an Honors or AP class and can’t get an A or B in the class, it is not advisable to take another in the same discipline. For example, you tried AP English or History and didn’t do well, but you are more of a Math/Science person. Try Honors Math or Science and see if you are better able to absorb that material at an accelerated pace.
In addition to increasing rigor, colleges also want to see three to four years of all core courses (English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Foreign Language). The diversity of these curriculum choices makes for a well-rounded student. If you drop one subject, and double up in another, that can be a way out of the requirement as long as you have a minimum of three years in each of these core subjects.
I work with students from public and private high schools throughout the United States. Some of these high schools offer many options for rigor and others few. The high school profile that is sent with every transcript must clearly explain what is offered and any limitations placed on students to take upper-level courses so that the person reading the transcript can understand what is offered and to whom. That is the first place that I look to put my students into the context of their home school.
There are three places in the application where the student becomes a human being separate from grades and test scores. The activities to which the student devotes time over the high school years is one of them. The activities should always be listed in order of preference to the student and what will emerge is a snapshot of what makes the student tick. But what happens to the student with lackluster participation in extracurricular activities? The answer is that it depends.
Some students don’t have a lot of time for after-school activities. This includes students who must work to help with family expenses, those with familial obligations like taking care of younger siblings because both parents work, or helping elderly grandparents after school. There are many very valid reasons why a student may not be able to do fun things after school. There are also those students who have health issues that make them physically unable to hang around after school. In any and all of these situations, the colleges will not penalize the student as long as the facts are clearly indicated in the application either as part of the counselor letter of recommendation or in the Additional Information section of the application, or both to make sure that it is not missed.
Over my almost 30 years of working with college-bound students, a variety of reasons for lack of activities have crossed my path. I make sure that the reasons are clear in the application so that the student is seen within the realities of that student’s life situation.
Students today are under a great deal of stress; some are self-imposed, and the rest comes from outside forces. We need to remember that these are children who are still discovering who they are and deciding who they want to be. Unfortunately, society no longer allows them time to simply think about these topics. We tell them that unless they are on top of the heap in all things, they are not worthwhile.
The focus on “good” schools, competitive admissions, and name-brand consciousness stresses them out particularly when we ignore the individual talents and values of the individual. We have overscheduled them, set up often unrealistic expectations for them, and then wonder why they are emotional messes. As a society, we must stop the insanity of our approach.
When I work with students, my focus is on finding out what the student wants, who the student is, and who the student wants to be. I take the student from where s/he is on a journey to becoming self-aware, to recognizing the individual strengths and weaknesses that we all have, and then to embracing the uniqueness of this particular student. More importantly, I help students to see and embrace their true value without the outside noise and lead them to discover the places where they can grow academically, socially, and emotionally.
The only reason that Ivy League and almost-Ivy colleges may be better is in the contacts that one can make there. This is because they cater to the upper reaches of American society: the rich and famous. There is no reason to assume that because you share classroom space with them, that you will either be able to keep up with them socially or that you should. These highly-rejective colleges do not offer a better education than other schools, and frankly, it is a better choice for students to find colleges where they can learn and socialize more comfortably and confidently.
We are a name-brand conscious country. In many ways, that is a shallow view. Is the $1000 purse really better than the one I can actually afford? I think not. Just because a student has the grades and test scores to be accepted to a trophy college, does not mean that it is the best place for that student. Beyond the hype, there are many factors to consider when choosing a college. Students spend about 15 hours a week in class. The rest of the time they have to live there. Will daily life make you happy or increase your awareness of what you don’t have?
In my work with students, I encourage them to find that balance between stretching their boundaries and reducing their stress. I encourage them to dig deeply into what an education means to them and why they want it. I guide them to finding out what is important and how they want to live. In so doing, I have had great success both with students who attend the Ivy League and those who decide to take a less stressful, but equally rewarding path.
A good school is the school that is right for you. That means that you must look first at your own academic record, the rigor of your curriculum, your test scores and then consider what you want to accomplish and how you want to live while in college.
The Ivy League is comprised of 8 very different colleges who share two things: an athletic conference and low acceptance rates. They are not better or worse than other colleges. If your student does not fall into the upper middle 50% of GPA and test scores for these colleges, they may not appear on the list. They may also not appear if your student’s college preferences don’t match the colleges in the Ivy League. Furthermore, the Ivy League, like all colleges, looks at more than the GPA and test scores. Are you active in your school community? Do you contribute to community service opportunities? Do you have a specific talent that sets you apart from the pack? Numbers are only one piece of the puzzle.
That’s great and means that I have offered your student options that would not have been considered otherwise. The schools on the list meet the college preference criteria that you gave me, consider the GPA, rigor of curriculum, and test scores that you have, and look for the areas outside of the classroom in which you have made an impact.
Grade inflation is rampant. The average weighted GPA for graduating seniors in 2023 was a 3.0. with variations based on gender and race. Given that a standard curve would indicate a 2.0 (C average) as the center, we can see that the stats are skewed toward the upper end (Source: ProsperityforAmerica.org)
We are going to blame COVID for a long time because it had a serious impact on education in general and students in particular. For education, we discovered that virtual learning was possible and not watered down in many cases. Teachers discovered that teaching live and teaching in a virtual environment were very different. We found out that test scores were not as important as the College Board and ACT want us to believe. Students lost social opportunities which are key to their development. They lost their sense of security and many developed mental health issues resulting from isolation. These are long-term issues with which we must deal.
We have learned just how important to social development is the ability to socialize with their peers. School-age children learn how to be civilized human beings by interacting with other students. They learn how to problem solve, how to negotiate, how to make or find their place in the social order by socializing with others. We now have a generation of students who have a hole in that developmental process. In addition, they have lost the security of feeling that the adults around them can protect them, whether from illness or gun violence in our schools. They are angry and it shows.
Blame the teacher when s/he cannot teach, does not differentiate her lessons to meet student needs, or simply doesn’t care. It is preferable when you are going to blame the teacher, to get all the facts before discussing this with your student. Is the student exhibiting the best effort? Asking questions? Going for extra help? Engaged in the class? If the student is doing his/her part and the teacher is not, go to the principal
Freshmen should be doing at least 1-2 hours, sophomores 2-3, juniors and seniors, 3-4 hours on average each night. That includes homework (what needs to be handed in) and in-depth study (organizing notes, reading the text, getting ready for the next unit).
Students who are college ready are eager to take ownership of the process. It is important to make them understand that this is the student’s life that is being planned, therefore what the student wants and is willing to work for is of the utmost importance. Parents need to let go and let the chips fall where they may. If the student doesn’t do what is necessary, then the student may need more time to mature before college. There is no disgrace to this. The student must own it.
Too much parenting is indicative of parents who have not separated appropriately from the child. Healthy separation occurs when the parent makes the student responsible for his or her own behaviors and allows the student to take the consequences without interfering. We must stop rescuing our children for their own benefit. We will always love them, but they must accept both their failures and successes and the outcomes of both.
You paid me for my expertise and years of experience. When you go to a doctor, do you tell her what you want to hear or listen to her analysis of your issue? When you see a lawyer, do you tell him the law as you see it or expect that he knows more about the issue than you do? The same applies here. Part of my job is to manage your expectations, and to help you understand the realities of the college process as it is not as it should be or as you wish it to be.
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A Certified Educational Planner and member of IECA since 1995. I have been honored with the Steven R. Antonoff Award for Professional Achievement by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). Contact Charlotte today.