Stephen Friedfeld, Ph.D.
When evaluating your child’s high school profile, admissions officers take a variety of factors into account – grades, extracurricular involvement, essays and interviews to name a few. While each aspect of the application is important, your child’s academic record (GPA and course selection) is first and foremost.(Stephen has 10+ years of admissions experience at Cornell University and Princeton University. He is a founder of AcceptU, an admissions counseling group comprised entirely of former admissions officers from highly selective colleges and universities. For questions or to learn more about AcceptU, contact Stephen (email@example.com, 617-424-0700) or visit www.acceptu.com. )
Most parents voice a similar concern: Is receiving an “A” in a college prep or honors level course preferable to receiving a “B” in an AP level class?
First off, context matters. Curriculum and courses differ widely from school-to-school. As such, admissions officers will be evaluating your child’s academic profile relative to the other students in their class. The admissions officer assigned to your surrounding area and/or high school will become quite familiar with the curriculum, grading scale and overall rigor of courses.
Second, challenge yourself within your academic areas of interest. While admissions officers like to see a challenging curriculum overall, they are most concerned with the rigor of classes within your child’s particular academic areas of interest. If your son or daughter is set on pursuing the sciences during his or her time in college, be sure to take advantage of AP science courses in high school. Will mixing in an AP English class hurt your chances? Most definitely not; however, your child’s performance in the English course won’t be viewed as strongly as grades in AP Biology, Physics and/or Chemistry, which translate more directly to the courses they are planning to take in college.
Third, it’s important to show an upward trend in academic performance. Incoming high school freshmen should be aware that first-year grades are discounted by admissions officers. Getting off to a strong start is great! But, by the same token, receiving a few B’s or C’s during your freshman year is not the end of the world. Admissions officers are more concerned with longer-term trends in performance over multiple years.
With all that in mind, the answer to the question is ultimately yes. Assuming students can appropriately balance a rigorous curriculum with their other endeavors, AcceptU advises students to take the most rigorous curriculum possible, especially within their academic areas of interest. Demonstrating an ability to embrace a challenging course load reveals many favorable traits that can help mitigate a slightly lower GPA and be a more accurate predictor for success in college.
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