Class of 2019. The school year is about to begin, sales for notebooks and binders are out, clothing stores are flashing sales on the coolest styles and must-haves, and students are cramming in their summer homework and reading. While wardrobe, friends, and homework are critical, there are many more concerns that families have when beginning high school. Most of these concerns revolve around myths that students and parents have heard through the grapevine about freshmen getting ready for high school and preparing for college. I will try and dispel some of these myths for parents and students and provide suggestions and support along the way.
Myth #1) Grade Point Average (G.P.A.) in 9th grade doesn’t matter. This could not be farther from the truth but I will explain how this came about. The University of California requires all students to maintain a grade of a “C” or better in all minimum entrance requirements for admissions. However, the GPA is calculated with only completed courses taken in grades 10 and 11. This means that, for the UC and California State University Systems ONLY, a student’s 9th grade course grades will not be calculated in the GPA. Students must still maintain a minimum of a grade of “C” or better in all courses that meet the A-G requirements. Plus, nearly all private colleges and universities (and many out of state public colleges) will consider the student’s GPA beginning in 9th grade. If a student is concerned about class ranking, the GPA begins to accumulate as a 9th grader. For students that think they can play catch up in later years, that task will be harder than you think.
Myth #2) Join sports and as many clubs as possible. Gone are the days when “a well rounded student” is what colleges most want. The reality of it is, colleges prefer students get involved in a few activities and spend some quality time with those activities whether it is volunteer work, sports, and/or religious involvement. Consistency and commitment. Not sure where to start looking? Find out the student’s interests and start from there. Interested in soccer? Find a local park that needs coaches for summer soccer camps. What about reading? Volunteer at the library. Find things of interest. What will “look good” for colleges is a student’s commitment to the activities they are involved in not in the quantity listed on the application.
Myth #3) Top tier colleges will not accept B’s. This is mostly untrue. Top tier colleges that ONLY look at a student’s transcript for admissions will only care about the courses a student takes and what grades they earn. ALL other schools (where a student must submit their resume of activities along with letters of recommendation, personal statements, and test scores) will consider the courses a student takes as part of the whole package. This leads me to my next point.
Myth #4) A grade of “A” will always look better than a “B”. False. Colleges want to see a healthy balance on a transcript between rigorous courses and the grades earned. If a student earns an “A” in a non-honors course, admissions officials will wonder why the student did not challenge him or herself by taking a more challenging course. There may be reasons (scheduling issues, confidence, sports interference, etc) which a student can explain when the application seasons comes around, but it is best to have a healthy balance between rigor and abilities, beginning in 9th grade.
Myth #5) It’s time to start looking at colleges as soon as possible beginning in 9th grade. No. There are far more important things to worry about in the transition to a new school, like being exposed to many new and exciting people and activities, more homework than ever, and learning how to manage it all. While a strong start can be helpful, students change over the years. I have been awed every year at how much my students grew from year to year The 12th grader is a completely different student than the incoming 9th grader. So many changes in a short three-year time span will make planning so early futile. What is important is to build a solid four-year plan, provide and seek support for any subject where the student may be struggling, and find activities of interest to the student.
It can be very easy to start on this unhealthy level of stress about being the best applicant beginning in 9th grade. The best thing that parents can do is encourage students to hone their potential, to provide support where a student may be struggling, seek allies with the student’s teachers, become actively involved as a cheerleader for their student and allow them to begin building a path that their 12th grade self will thank them for in a few years.