April 26, 2020
Question: My son is a “music major” at a performing arts high school. As a music student, he has access to fewer AP classes than his friends on other arts tracks do. This could have some impact on his class rank. Will colleges understand? My son is hesitant to ask at school for fear of making waves.
Sometimes when college admission officials evaluate their applicants, it can feel a lot like comparing apples to oranges. These officials deal with many different grading systems and ranking protocols. So they will take class rank with at least a few grains of salt and will usually look beyond the rank number to see how school officials arrived at it. In addition, students are evaluated in the context of what is available to them. So if your son had more limited access to AP's than some of his classmates did because he's been on the music track, then the college folks should notice this ... at least IN THEORY.
Whenever a student applies to a college, the high school counselor will send that student's transcript to the college, accompanied by a "School Profile,” which provides information such as course options, grading scale, etc. Admission folks are supposed to read the School Profile carefully to get a sense of what courses were available to their candidate. However, not all admission officials are as conscientious as they should be when it comes to understanding the course options available to each applicant. And not all high schools are as conscientious as they should be when it comes to creating clear and thorough Profiles.
So … I suggest that you and your son look at his School Profile. It may be available online. Otherwise, ask the guidance secretary for a copy. (Tell your son that this doesn’t qualify as “making waves.” ;-))
Read through it to see if does a good job of explaining how rank is calculated and how music students don’t have access to the multiple AP classes that other students do.
If you’re not satisfied with the Profile (and my best bet is that you won’t be!), then you might want to ask your son’s guidance counselor to spell out in his or her recommendation that the music students are at a disadvantage when it comes to electing the most demanding classes.
Your son can also explain this in the “Additional Information” section of his applications, if he’s concerned that the school counselor won’t do it … or won’t do it well.
Overall, I don’t think that the situation you describe is going to have any negative impact on your son’s college outcomes. But it still might make you … and him … feel better to make sure that the restrictions on music students are explained by the counselor or in your son’s applications.