As the school year draws to a close, seniors everywhere have a sigh of relief. Their high school experiences are over, they have finished leaping through the hoops of the college admissions process, and they are about to embark on a brand new adventure.
But for juniors, the game is just beginning. High school juniors should already have begun the earliest stages of the college admissions process. This summer should not be one for relaxing and playing copious amounts of Xbox – this summer should be utilized to get a jump on picking, applying to, and getting into a college. And not just any college – a really good college.
Over the past year, C2 Education has held a series of webinars designed to address various college admissions issues; each of these webinars features a Q&A chat box for students and parents to ask their college admissions questions. The college admissions process is murky, self-contradictory, and confusing, even for people who are very familiar with the ways that colleges make their decisions, so it’s no surprise that these webinars generate A LOT of questions.
I’ve been on the panel answering many of these questions at each of C2’s webinars. Over time, I’ve seen a lot of trends in the questions that people ask us. Today I’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly asked college admissions questions to help you figure out the crazy college admission game. This is the first in a 3-part series addressing these commonly asked questions. Check back soon for the next installments!
If you have questions that aren’t answered here, feel free to leave us a comment below and we’ll do our best to get back to you with an answer!
Transcripts are a lot more than lists of classes and the corresponding grades. Admissions officers use your transcripts to evaluate your entire high school education within the context of your particular high school, so your transcript is easily one of the most important pieces of paper in your application file.
- Is it better to get an A in a regular class or a B in an AP class?
The answer you’ll get from any college admissions officer is, “It’s better to get an A in an AP class.” It’s a really annoying answer (in that it isn’t really an answer), but it’s sort of true. Yes, it’s best to take those really hard classes AND get really great grades. But college admissions officers know that you don’t live in a perfect world. In a situation where you have to choose between taking the AP class and possibly earning a slightly lower grade or taking an easier class and getting an easy A, you’re better off looking for the challenge. When admissions officers examine your transcript, they aren’t just looking at your grades – they’re also looking to see if you took challenging classes or took the easy way out. That said, if you know that you can’t handle the workload of an AP class, don’t tank your GPA by taking one. The key is to take the most challenging classes that you can reasonably handle – loading up on AP classes and getting bad grades in all of them won’t help you get into college.
- What if my school doesn’t offer AP classes/only offers a few AP classes/restricts how many AP classes a student can take?
Colleges evaluate your transcripts in the context of your school, which means that they take into consideration the courses available to students at your school. So if you didn’t take any AP classes because you COULDN’T take any AP classes, you won’t be punished for that. If you only took 3 AP classes even though your school offers 26 AP classes, it’s a different story. The same goes for rules limiting AP classes – you don’t be punished for your school’s policies. If you’re really concerned about it, you should ask your guidance counselor to make note of your school’s AP offerings and policies when they submit their recommendation to the colleges of your choice.
- What if I get a bad grade?
Never panic over one bad grade. If all your other grades are high, any admissions officer will realize that your one poor grade is an anomaly and not a reflection of your usual efforts. That said, there are still steps you can take to mitigate a less than satisfactory grade. First, consider taking the SAT Subject Test for that particular subject; if you got a C in Biology, a strong SAT Biology score can help to demonstrate that you did eventually master the content. Second, when you submit your applications, consider including a briefaddendum to your application explaining any special circumstances that contributed to your poor grade. If you had a severe illness, a death in the family, or something similar, it’s worth letting the admissions office know that there was a good reason that your grade slipped.
- What if my grades were bad in 9th/10th grade, but now they’ve gotten better?
Colleges look for trends in your transcripts as well. An upward trend, where your academic performance improved over time, is often seen as a positive – it shows that you’ve matured both emotionally and intellectually in order to improve your performance. A downward trend spells trouble because it suggests that you might do even worse in college. If your grades started out poor and have since improved, you should do what you can to mitigate those earlier bad grades. This means taking SAT Subject Tests in any subject areas in which you did poorly and submitting an addendum to your college applications to explain any special circumstances, including reasons for why your grades were poor to begin with and why you turned them around. (See the question above for more info on mitigating a bad grade.)
- How many years of a foreign language do I have to take?
Most colleges want to see at least 2 years of a foreign language. That’s the bare minimum. Because colleges also look for dedication and consistency, your best bet is to take the same foreign language during all four years of high school.