Transition from High School
The imperfect transcript
By Robin Noble
My high school junior got a 7 percent on her first Advanced Physics test, a reward for writing her name correctly in the upper right hand margin.
She was surprised to find herself struggling. She had aced the suggested prerequisites for the class — Advanced Geometry and Algebra II. But these courses hadn’t supplied the innate knowledge many of her classmates seemed to possess. The dialogue of the class was way over her head.
The big red F came three weeks into the semester. Lower-level physics rosters were full and it was too late to switch to chemistry. My daughter’s options? Drop out and miss junior year science, or give Advanced Physics her all to grind out a C.
She wisely chose the latter but did so with a knot in her stomach. Would a C squash her chances for admission to the top schools on her list? The answer: Maybe.
“Of course, many factors influence admissions decisions, including essays, letters of recommendation and interviews. But the transcript is one of the most vital,” says Ann McDermott, director of admissions for College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, writing for The New York Times blog, The Choice. “It gives admissions officers an understanding of your academic experience to date, as well as your potential to succeed in college.”
Some schools are going to lop students off their lists quickly based on formulaic methods, and this is where a C can detract. But for most schools, an atypical low grade can be surmounted by the bigger picture the transcript provides. Admissions officers can spot a hard-earned C, and that C demonstrates more grit than an easy A.
Still anxious? Encourage your student to start asking questions. Have her call the admissions offices of her select schools and ask about that C directly. While she’s at it, she can inquire about the areas of study each school values most. In any case, encourage your student to continue taking difficult courses and to continue working hard.
Figuring out if a student (and all her intricacies) can be successful at a given institution (with all its intricacies) is a highly subjective process. This subjectivity can be maddening for applicants, especially those who just want to know what they have to do to get in.
You can help your student enter into a new mindset: Accept that the admissions process is about finding the right fit — for her and for the institution. To get the right fit, her application — in as much as it should be a best-foot-forward presentation — must be an authentic reflection.
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