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How do you know if your child would be competitive at top schools?

MyrtleDMyrtleD Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
Hi, I've noticed some students from top high schools are taking loads of AP classes that are not available to my son, even though his high school is the best in our area. Also, because of his interests in music and science, he dropped Spanish after freshman year, (Spanish 2) feeling he wasn't good at languages. Currently, my son is a sophomore taking:
AP world history
American Literature
Band (symphonic wind ensemble and philharmonic orchestra)
Honors science research
On his own he's studying AP psych and AP environmental science and will take the exams in a couple of weeks. No idea how that will turn out, though.

Next year he hopes to take:
British Literature (he's not allowed to take AP Lit until senior year, school policy)
AP biology
AP computer science
AP Calculus ab
band (same as this year)
AP physics or science research independent study.

He has an unweighted GPA of 3.98, ACT composite of 34, SAT 1430 (700 math and 730 reading) as a sophomore. Is in quiz bowl, is trying out for drum major in marching band, does science olympiad. This summer will be taking civics, spanish 3 (first half only, per the school's preferred online curriculum), and will be studying computer programming on his own. Also going to a music camp and visiting colleges.

I really don't know what his chances are of getting into a top college (he wants to be a science researcher and loves U of Chicago, Reed, Cornell, Harvey Mudd, and a number of others), and whether or not he should go back to taking Spanish at his high school, as he is very light on languages. Thanks for any insights you might have.

Replies to: How do you know if your child would be competitive at top schools?

  • TQfromtheUTQfromtheU Registered User Posts: 992 Member
    edited April 20
    The languages might be light, but check with your current favorite school.
  • brantlybrantly Registered User Posts: 1,934 Senior Member
    Admissions committees evaluate candidates in the context of what's available in their own school. So, no worries about the availability of AP classes.

    Only one year of HS foreign language? Even though he's interested in the sciences, it would make him more competitive if he took at least three years of THE SAME foreign language. It's not ideal to have only one year.

    Once correcting for the language, he could be competitive for highly competitive schools. He's not out of range, but you just never know. Essays and recommendations make a difference too.

    Where do you live? Could be an advantage if you're from an underrepresented state or a very rural area.
  • MarianMarian Registered User Posts: 12,548 Senior Member
    He actually has two years of foreign language. Colleges usually count by levels and include levels completed in middle school. His college applications would benefit from one more year of Spanish, but he may have forgotten a lot since the end of his Spanish 2 class. Some review over the summer -- perhaps with a tutor (who might simply be a friend who has taken Spanish 3) would help.
  • brantlybrantly Registered User Posts: 1,934 Senior Member
    @Marian OK, thanks. I wasn't sure about that. So he needs just one more year of Spanish. Not too onerous.
  • MassmommMassmomm Registered User Posts: 2,879 Senior Member
    No one on this site or any other can say for sure what your son's chances of getting into one of the schools you mentioned will be when he applies. So far, though, his stats are typical of the students who do apply to those schools, so he certainly has a shot.

    Colleges know that high schools vary widely in what they offer and in quality of teaching, so they're only going to care that your son took the most rigorous classes available to him, and that he did well in them. Beyond that, it will be his scores, his ECs, his essays, teacher recs, and some other indefinable quality that get him in. He just has to keep doing as well as he can, but also enjoy high school. It's valuable in and of itself, not just as a stepping stone to college.

    And yes, top schools really want to see more years of a foreign language, so it might be helpful to add Spanish back to the mix.
  • thumper1thumper1 Registered User Posts: 63,930 Senior Member
    The foreign language thing might be an issue for highly competitive colleges. Many require two or three years...but recommend four. Your kid has two. That won't make him competitive at the tippy top schools where the recommended four years are taken by most students. I,would,say...he needs to complete Spanish 4. Can he do that?
  • makennacomptonmakennacompton Registered User Posts: 470 Member
    Music, band, and marching band are literally a component of most of the applications to the top schools. NOW is the time for him to demonstrate some imagination around his story of being a science researcher. When you apply to the top schools, you cannot simply say that you "want" to be this or that . . . you have to actually PROVE that you have done this or that already! Therefore, to be competitive at schools where his GPA and test scores are a dime a dozen, he must find a way to do research (washing bottles in a lab, if that's what it takes) NOW. Every hospital that has a medical school attached does research -- show up there and start asking and volunteering. He absolutely has to SHOW and PROVE his research credibility or his application will get washed out to sea among the identical others whose only non-academic pursuit was band. Literally (ok, not literally), there a billion apps each year with band and music on them. Unless he is winning national competitions or playing at Carnegie Hall, these local accolades are all but useless.
  • MyrtleDMyrtleD Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    He probably could figure out how to fit in two more years of Spanish, though it would require dropping classes he's really interested in, so getting him to do it would be a real battle. He's also concerned that taking Spanish classes will drop his GPA. He's planning online Spanish classes, though they are unlikely to gain him much proficiency, especially verbally, and I don't know how they are viewed by colleges. I've suggested a summer intensive language class, like at Middlebury, but he adamantly refuses.
  • makennacomptonmakennacompton Registered User Posts: 470 Member
    edited April 20
    The more he refuses, the more you need to tell him to drop down into the lower tiers on his college list. Language is really, truly, that important -- all the more so if the application is "standard": great grades, great test scores. . . but nothing else in depth or unique.
  • thumper1thumper1 Registered User Posts: 63,930 Senior Member
    edited April 20
    There will be plenty of colleges where he can get accepted with only Spanish 2 proficiency. However, he also may find he will need to take a foreign language in college...so check that too.

    The top 20 schools? Check to see what they recommend and require. If he is interested in any of those schools...he will need to meet their HS requirements.

    https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/preparing-for-college Chicago...2-3 years of FL recommended.

    http://www.reed.edu/catalog/admission/admission.html REed 3-4 years of FL recommended.

    https://admissions.cornell.edu/sites/admissions.cornell.edu/files/2017 Freshman Requirements.pdf Cornell 3-4 years of FL. Either 3 of one language or 2 of one HS 2 of another.

    https://www.hmc.edu/admission/apply/first-year-students/eligibilty/ Harvey Mudd 2 years
  • mackinawmackinaw Registered User Posts: 2,641 Senior Member
    One way to address the foreign language requirement (perhaps not in the case of this applicant) is via testing. My son used his 3-years of HS Spanish to test out of language in college. Some colleges also test foreign language of admitted students to determine the right placement level for those who want to continue study. Personal story: I showed up at Reed with 4 years of Spanish. I wasn't told until my junior year that my "Achievement Test" score in Spanish would have satisfied the language requirement. But wanted to study Russian and German, so I did that.

    As a more general point, not just in language but also in math and some other subjects an application that shows high SAT 2 or AP test scores will help in advanced placement or satisfying college level requirements.
  • MyrtleDMyrtleD Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    Thanks for the suggestions and the personal story.
  • hannuhyluhannuhylu Registered User Posts: 278 Junior Member
    34act as a soph is extremely solid just keep it up. The elite schools arent easy for any applicant to gain access too.(unless super athelete)
  • jonrijonri Registered User Posts: 6,974 Senior Member
    edited April 20
    I may be missing something, but if I'm not, your S isn't just light on foreign language; he's also light on social studies/history. Did he take a SS/H course as a freshman? I know he's taking "civics" in summer school, but he's still light because he's only taken 1.5-2.5 years of SS/H. Being light in TWO core subjects will hurt.

    We all tend to like some subjects more than others, but a junior and senior year schedule with only English,math, science, and music isn't going to impress anyone.

    One question top colleges ask of GCs is whether the student has taken the most rigorous schedule possible. I think your S may have trouble getting the school to check the yes box with this schedule.

    BTW, both AP psych and AP ES are considered "guts" by a lot of top colleges. He should not expect to get college credit for them at some of the colleges on his list. http://collegecatalog.uchicago.edu/thecollege/examinationcreditandtransfercredit/
  • happy1happy1 Registered User Posts: 18,536 Senior Member
    edited April 20
    You should look online at the recommended/required HS coursework for the schools you have in the back of your mind which can generally be found online. If he hasn't completed even the recommended coursework he will be at a disadvantage for admission as the top schools have many more very well qualified applicants who have completed all of the recommended/required coursework than there is space to accept. At first glance it looks to me like he could be deficient in both foreign language and social studies.

    And I agree with the above that self-studying APs typically doesn't do much to enhance an application -- his time likely could be better spent elsewhere (ex. foreign language, ECs etc.).
This discussion has been closed.