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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Does senior year matter?

PK asked:
Hello Dean J, I was just wondering how senior year grades were considered. Are they included in your overall GPA or not?

I don't know where the idea that senior year wasn't considered in the college admission process came from. I remember hearing the same thing back when I was in high school and it didn't sit right with me. Now that I'm on the other side of the desk, I can put this one to rest. Senior year definitely comes into play during our review process. Let me explain my thinking...

The way I see it, part of what we do is spot trends. We look at the last four years as predictive of the next four years. Obviously, high school starts the same way for many students. Aside from making some choices about foreign language and electives, your course are often dictated. As you advance, you're able to make more choices about what you'll take. Ideally, by senior year, you'll have work that shows us that you're ready for college level work.

Now, if a student seems to be doing great work in junior year, then pulls back in senior year, dropping their AP/IB/DE classes for lower level work, we're concerned about the transition to the college level. Is this student really ready? Will they "hit the ground running"? Why take this student when our applicant pool has plenty who have maintained a high level of difficulty for all four years of their high school career?

Consider, as well, an analogy I often use during my presentations. Your high school career can be compared to a concert. The start of the show is usually full of energy, with signs of good things to come. Junior year is the like the end of the main set. It ends on a high note, making the audience want more. Senior year is like the encore. There might have been a time when encores weren't standard, but these days, they're expected and the songs played better be the best ones of the entire night. They're the songs that send the crowd off thinking that they can't wait for the next show. They HAVE to see that band again.

If the band pulls back, starting the encore with a great song, then finishes it with a ballad, you might leave the show wondering why they didn't do more with all of that momentum. This is a similar to the feeling we have when we read an application that shows a step down in curriculum strength without any explanation or when we get mid-year (or even final) grades and they are significantly different from the ones earned earlier in the high school career.

As for the second part of PK's question, we don't recalculate GPAs at UVa. We look at the method used by your school to calculate them and go from there.