Guest Blogger! The Scoop on Math And College Admissions
I asked Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions at George Mason University, to break down how colleges weigh math performance in the overall admissions package.
Here's what he said:
"As an admissions officer, I love hearing about all the SECRET WAYS TO GET INTO COLLEGE. There’s never any evidence that any of them work, other than a story about somebody who got in at some point by sending in their application some way, joining some club, or forking over a fortune to some company.
"The reality, unfortunately, is really boring. Here it is (you might want to sit down for this): It’s all about grades.
"That’s really about it…except that when I say 'grades' I really mean the whole academic record. To start with, colleges are much more interested in grades in core academic courses: math, science, English, social studies, and/or foreign language. Every time I say that someone asks, 'But what about band?' I usually say, 'Yeah, maybe, if you’re seeking admission to a music conservatory.' …But mostly it’s the core academic courses. Usually the same student (or more often, parent) jumps up and says, 'But it’s HONORS band!' Yes, I get it, and no I’m not picking on band, since the question is just as often about debate, art, or a few dozen other courses that I’m sure are very rewarding and interesting. What they aren’t, however, are your core academic courses, which is what admissions offices use.
"Admissions officers don’t even always treat the core subjects equally. Math grades get the most attention, as there’s a lot of evidence that performance in math courses, especially in Algebra II, are the best predictors of performance in college. So if Michael decides to apply for another undergraduate degree, she should be all set, if Ms. Colclaser gives her a good grade.
"To get an idea of overall academic potential, still generally focusing on those core subjects, we look at trends in your grades (up is better, although best of course is to have stayed up all the way through), the quality of your courses (looking for AP, IB, honors, etc.), where you rank, the quality of your high school, etc. etc. All of that is factored, to one degree or another, by admissions officers to get an idea of what kind of student you are, and likely will be in college. That evaluation accounts for the VAST majority of your admission decision, but, of course, not all. For more such incredibly insightful observations, check out my blog at http://admissions.com and http://notjustadmissions.com."
To follow up, I asked Flagel, specifically, how much math admissions officers want to see. Is calculus strongly preferred or is it bad to top off at Algebra II?
Here's his response:
"Most schools say a minimum of three years of math leading to Algebra II, but most really want at least Algebra II or pre-calc. And the reality is that for competitive institutions, pre-calc is really a bare minimum, with most of those looking for calculus and even beyond. (In Fairfax, for instance, students can take a higher level math course beyond AP Calculus through a partnership between Mason and FCPS). While Algebra II has shown a lot of predictive power (of college grades), colleges definitely weigh the strength of the total course schedule, so the stronger the math courses the stronger the candidate."
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