Almost there: the academic performance of accepted students

Andrea van NiekerkBy Andrea van Niekerk|03/13/2012|5 Minutes

With March well on its way, many high school seniors have either been accepted into Early application schools or are beginning to receive acceptance letters from their Regular decision colleges. After the celebration and relief, some will begin to believe they are in fact already in college and that high school is, well, so last year. They will start taking skating on homework, consider dropping that pesky math course that requires hard work, and say things like, “I am not really going to study history/science at college anyway.”

There is only one appropriate response: don’t! The culture of college admission often encourages students to think of high school as little more than preparation for college applications. Once you have achieved admission to college, there seems little reason to keep going in high school. But college applications are nothing but a point of transition between these two experiences – it is not the main act for either.

• Your high school education has value of its own – after all, if you don’t go to college, this may be the end of your formal schooling. Even if you go to college and study engineering, for example, you may never do much history again, and if you major in political science, other than some general education requirement, you may never be exposed to geometry again. And right now that may seem like no big loss to you, but those are important bits of knowledge in your daily life as an adult – as you measure your new kitchen counter or read your newspaper – and if miss the opportunity to gain such skills in high school, it may become harder to get back to them.

• Once you are at college, you are not starting over but building on a prior knowledge of reading, writing, and mathematical literacy. If you skip out on that preparation, you go to college just a little further behind than you may have been otherwise. Colleges know this, and so they will not look kindly on you changing your senior curriculum because “it is just not that interesting to me.” In college lack of preparation also leaves you less able to discover ideas, applications and even entire subjects that did not occur to you in high school.

• Colleges also know that high school seniors do not necessarily know what is the best preparation even for their intended major. A student who wants to study psychology may need to have a foundation in statistical analysis, an engineering student may find it useful to know some economics or urban studies, and if you fancy yourself a CSI analyst in Miami, you need biochemistry. You are in effect also preparing yourself for the unknown.

• There are also practical reasons why colleges look askance at accepted high school students who give up on rigorous senior learning. They know that if the academic enterprise cannot keep you motivated in high school, it won’t in college either and before too long they may see you before a disciplinary committee on academic progress. They know that if you did not learn good study skills and habits of self-motivation and discipline in high school, your risk of failure at college increases exponentially.

And so, contrary to what you may hope or believe, colleges pay attention to your senior performance even after you have been accepted. If you want to drop an academic course, you simply have to request permission from the college first, and the more selective your college, the more likely they are to say no. In the summer they will check your final school report to see if you maintained the academic record that gave them reason to accept you (measured by grades and courses), and if you did not, you will probably hear from them. Students can have their offers of admission revoked, although this is a rare occurrence. They are more likely to receive from their college a letter of reprimand or a request for an explanation – what the Dean of Admissions at Connecticut College calls an “oops” letter. Having such evidence of your former, slacker self in your file at college is no way to start this new, exciting journey!