It can often feel like college admissions is a numbers game. The GPA, the number of AP Exams, the scores on those AP Exams, the SAT or ACT results, the number of extracurriculars — the list goes on and on. For students who feel those numbers don’t accurately reflect their academic ability, it can be demoralizing.
But colleges base admissions on more than just test scores and grades, as we discussed in our last blogpost. Institutions try to build rich, diverse communities on their campuses. Beyond the numbers, colleges want to see students challenge themselves, and engage in their communities. They look for students who improve over the course of their academic careers.
Admissions offices know that a student’s GPA doesn’t tell the whole story. Students adapt to the rigors of high school at different rates. Personal issues can prevent them from being their best in a given quarter, semester, or year. Other students simply lack the maturity or motivation to fulfill their potential. Colleges and universities do not want to miss out on desirable students simply because they had a rough semester, or failed to get straight A’s during their freshman year. As a result, admissions offices don’t simply look at a student’s GPA. Rather, they look at the student’s transcripts for signs of improvement, for an upward trajectory. They look at students’ selection of courses to see if the students have challenged themselves.
Our founder, Andrew, was one of these students. For much of his freshmen and sophomore years of high school, he struggled to do the work for his math and science courses. He took AP and honors courses, and did his homework, but he rarely exerted himself enough to earn A’s. College felt abstract to him, and he did not have a clear sense of the benefits of going to a school like his eventual alma mater, Columbia University. It was only as he approached the end of his sophomore year that he realized that he wanted to go to a school where he would feel challenged.
Students in this position sometimes panic as they begin thinking about applying to college. Andrew certainly did. What if I can’t raise my GPA enough? What if the college thinks I’m lazy because I used to get bad grades? These are natural anxieties. However, too many students let these anxieties get the best of them. They don’t begin to work harder, because they think it is too late to get the GPA they need for their dream school.
That’s why it is important for students and parents to know what colleges look for. Admissions don’t care about the fifteen year old who underperformed in Algebra 1. They care about the junior who began getting A-’s in pre-calculus, and the senior who started getting A’s in calculus. They care about the student who decided to take an AP science in junior year, when given the option.
Naturally, the earlier students start taking their work seriously, the better. Nonetheless, students who previously lacked motivation or struggled in school should know that their prior frustrations or difficulties are not the academic equivalent of a life sentence. It is never too late to work harder, to enroll in more challenging courses, or to engage actively in extracurriculars.
Working hard does not automatically translate to better grades, of course. That’s why our team members at Tutoring Service of New York spend so much time helping students develop habits they can use to achieve sustained success. Improving grades involves more than simply flipping a switch. Taking advantage of resources available to students at school is critical to improvement. As students seek to improve their academic performance, It is crucial that they establish relationships with their teachers and guidance counselors whenever possible. Tutoring Service of New York can also help by assisting students with homework assignments, helping students develop better study habits, or preparing students for final exams. In the end, what is most important is that students feel supported. Every student needs encouragement to push themselves and improve. High school is hard. It becomes a lot easier when you have someone in your corner.