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Articles / Applying to College / How Will Lower-Level Math Classes Affect Admission Outcomes?

Sept. 25, 2008

How Will Lower-Level Math Classes Affect Admission Outcomes?

Question: Will the fact that my son has 3 years of "Math Skills" (I, II, III) affect his applying to college, as opposed to the courses being named Algebra, Geometry, etc.? How will "lower" classes affect his chances of getting into college?

As long as your son has taken the requisite number of math courses, the fact that these are called "Math Skills" will not be held against him in the strictest sense at many colleges. What I mean by "the strictest sense" is that colleges that require three years of high school math will typically accept the three years that your son has elected.


However, there are some schools that also require that certain topics have been covered during those three years. The University of California system, for instance, demands:

Three years of college-preparatory mathematics that include the topics covered in elementary and advanced algebra and two- and three-dimensional geometry. Approved integrated math courses may be used to fulfill part or all of this requirement.

It's not clear from your question if your son's Math Skills classes are considered remedial, or are they simply "average" as opposed to challenging? Do they cover algebra and geometry--at least on some level--even if they are not actually called, "Algebra," "Geometry," etc.? If they do, then they should fall under the "approved integrated math course" category. If not, then some institutions may not accept this math.

In addition, the more selective colleges will be wary of a student who has been in a lower math sequence throughout high school. Even though this might not be an automatic "deal-breaker" if the student has other strengths that are attractive to the school, it might be something that goes into the "Minus Column" when that student's admission verdict is being weighed. If, however, there's enough other ammunition in the "Plus Column,' then the less challenging math sequence won't ultimately affect admission outcomes.

Bottom line: Depending on the particulars of this math sequence, it may affect your son's acceptance at some colleges, but he should still have many options nonetheless.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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