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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Let's talk about course selection

Whenever I'm the "Dean of the Day" (giving info sessions, answering questions for walk ins, taking phone calls that the front desk doesn't handle), I get questions from students and parents who want to know how many APs we want to see on transcripts. When I tell them we don't have a number in mind, people seem skeptical.

Let me explain why we don't have ideas about the ideal program in mind.

First of all, Virginia high schools have a lot of curricular diversity, as do the rest of the schools in this country. There seem to be roughly six types of advanced programs out there: Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge (AICE), Dual Enrollment, and then there are schools that combine two or more of those programs and schools that don't use them at all. Obviously, when it comes to the IB schools, you're either going for the full diploma or you aren't (we think you should for for gold, but understand that there are sometimes reasons students can't do that). With the other programs, the options vary from school to school. One school may be able to offer over 20 AP courses and another may offer five. One school may have such a tight collaboration with a Community College that they are able to offer dozens of Dual Enrollment courses, while others can only offer a handful.

We can't have a preferred number of advanced courses. It wouldn't be fair. If you attend a school with multiple options (IBs and APs, for example), we will adopt the philosophy of your school when it comes to determining what is the best possible program. Some high school have a definite hierarchy (which is evident in the profile they send us) and others consider all of their advanced programs to be at the same level.

We will look at the program you have chosen in reference to what was offered at your school. We wouldn't penalize a student who was only offered 5 AP courses at their school. We would look at the program they put together in light of their limited options. Ideally, as you've been able to make choices about your program, you will have worked in those advanced courses so that by senior year, you are close to college level work. You want to show your schools that you are ready for the next step; that the transition to college isn't going to rock your academic world in a bad way.

As with GPAs, resist the urge to compare your program to the program of a student from another school. We aren't comparing apples to oranges and neither should you.

If you're a junior or sophomore reading this, this is a time to think about balance. You want to decide how many of these top courses you can handle while still maintaining good grades. Don't sign up for every top class you can fit into your schedule if that means you'll be struggling and Cs. Similarly, don't shy away from challenges just to have all As. Obviously, it's nice to see all As in top courses, but we would rather see you sacrifice that A and get a challenging course into your program over taking the path of least resistance.

It's all about balance!