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What to know

Admissions officials say that both the rigor of your coursework and GPA are critical factors in determining whether you are admitted to their college or university.

Here is a list of letter grades and their respective point and number values:

Letter Grade Point Value Number Value
A+ 4.0 97-100
A 4.0 94-96
A- 3.7 90-93
B+ 3.3 87-89
B 3.0 84-86
B- 2.7 80-83
C+ 2.3 77-79
C 2.0 74-76
C- 1.7 70-73
D+ 1.3 67-69
D 1 64-66
D- .7 60-63
F 0.0 0-59

Some high schools offer an additional point for Honors, AP and IB classes; e.g., an A or A+ in a regular course is 4.0, but an A or A+ in an Honors/AP/IB class is 5.0.


How Colleges Look at Academics

Academic preparation is defined as all coursework and other scholastic experiences you are involved with during high school.

Very selective colleges such as Ivy League schools want something more that separates you from the crowd: evidence of "intellectual vitality," the way you pursue knowledge about subjects that interest you, have an active, curious mind and show a true love of learning.

• Students can act on their intellectual interests at school and on their own through stimulating out-of- school offerings, including

Academic competitions and talent search programs

Organizations and schools that support first-generation college students

Study abroad programs - Be sure to also check out the "Travel Abroad and Exchange programs" on the Cool Websites page.

Attendance at local colleges - Ask your college counselor for a list of nearby community and other colleges.

Pre-college summer programs

Online educational opportunities

• Colleges require or recommend as many as 20 academic college preparatory classes during high school, including:

4 years
Math 3 years required, sometimes 4 years recommended
Laboratory Science 2 years required (including lab), 3-4 years recommended
Foreign languages 2 years required, 3-4 years in same language sometimes recommended
History/social sciences 2 years required, 3-4 years recommended
Visual/performing arts 1 year required
College prep elective 1 year required

On their respective websites, check the academic requirements of each school to which you plan to apply. Go to, enter the name of a college, and once the college comes up, click the Admissions link.


What to know

Choosing courses

Take as many demanding courses as you can handle and get the best grades you can.

The courses you choose as a freshman set the stage for course selection for the rest of high school.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you have to take every tough course, be in a ton of activities, and get four hours of sleep to accomplish it all. That's neither healthy nor smart.

• In general, it is better to take an advanced course and get a B than take a regular course and get an A because this shows colleges that you are challenging yourself.


What to Do If a Course Gives You Trouble

• Don't procrastinate or be shy:

First, talk with your teacher to find out what he/she recommends

If that doesn't help, on your own find a tutor, a study buddy or someone else who can help

• Remember, good athletes use coaches to improve their ability to play well; likewise, good students use academic coaches (aka, tutors) to do better or excel in a class.


What to know

Freshman Year
Freshman courses often set the stage for what you take during the rest of high school. Discuss with your high school counselor what classes to enroll in the 9th grade, and how that affects what you will take in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Also, freshman year is the time to establish yourself as a good student, especially if you think you might want to apply to very competitive colleges.

sophomore Year
10th grade is when students usually start taking advanced courses, such as a first AP course and/or a couple of Honors courses. Sophomore year is when grades become increasingly important. Look for courses and activities that turn you on intellectually.

junior Year
Colleges are particularly interested what you do academically in the 11th grade. Take the most rigorous courses and get the best grades you can, while keeping a proper balance in your life. Continue demonstrating your love of learning.

senior Year
Admissions offices expect you to continue taking rigorous courses and get good grades during your senior year. Don't even think about slacking off in the 12th grade, because that could hurt your chances of getting into colleges. However, if you are an athlete with a very demanding practice and game schedule or someone with learning issues, carefully choose the courses you take.


When to do it

There is a lot you can do to support your child's academic and intellectual interests. The most important thing is not to "bug" them about it. Whenever you can–especially at the dinner table in the evening–get involved in discussions with your teen about current events, what's happening in the world, and other topical issues. Encourage your child to express him or herself and to have opinions different from your own. Support any interests in reading books, whatever they might be. Colleges say that there is no better preparation for college than reading.

If you notice that your child seems to be struggling with a class, consult with his/her teacher and find out what's going on. If needed, identify tutors or educational coaches to help. If problems persist, have your child tested by an educational psychologist to see if learning issues might be blocking him or her from doing well.

Be especially supportive and understanding during senior year, when all students struggle with the college admissions process.


by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz
Excerpted from adMISSION POSSIBLE® (Sourcebooks, Inc, April 2012)

If you want to know more about this and other admissions topics, read
Getting into the Best Colleges for you
. Order it here!



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