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Articles / Applying to College / Why Is Scholarship Student Excluded from Top Classes?

June 10, 2013

Why Is Scholarship Student Excluded from Top Classes?

Question: Is it true that colleges are looking for students that take the more difficult courses? My son who has an A in chemistry is being discouraged from taking an advanced bio course. He has an A- in math and has been encouraged to go into the “easier" pre calculus class. He is in a private school and an all around strong student.

I think they want the spots for wealthier children; he is receiving financial aid. I am not usually prone to paranoia.

Yes, you're right. College admission officials (especially at the most sought-after schools) do seek students who have challenged themselves academically by taking the highest level classes they can handle.


Given that your son seems to have the academic strength to elect top classes, you need to find out exactly why he is being steered away from the more advanced math and bio courses. Perhaps the school counselor and/or teachers have reasons that go beyond his good grades.

Similarly, last spring, my friend “Nora" (not her real name) wondered why her son, “Nick," who was just finishing 8th grade, had not been placed in freshman Honors English for the fall. She asked his 8th-grade English teacher who explained that, although Nick had earned an A- in the 8th-grade class, he was pushing himself very hard to do it, and so the teacher worried that high school Honors English would be too much pressure. But after Nick spent his freshman year bored to tears in “Regular" 9th-grade English, Nora convinced Nick's guidance counselor to place him in the Honors class for 10th grade, and the counselor agreed.

But, conversely, “Samantha" was wary of Honors Spanish 4, even though she had an “A-" in Spanish 3 and had been recommended for the Honors class. “I always got 100 on my homework and projects, so that kept my grades up," she explained, “but I got B's and B-'s on the tests and quizzes, and I really think my foundation was pretty weak." Indeed, when she got to Honors Spanish 4 she struggled and wished she'd opted for the easier class.

The moral of the story is that grades alone aren't always telling. So, ask your son if he feels that he's really ready for the more rigorous classes. If he insists that he is, talk to the school counselor and/or teachers to see why he is being held back. If their reasons don't convince you, try insisting that your son is given a shot at the tougher classes. If that still doesn't work, you may have to enlist a higher-level administrator (e.g., principal or headmaster) or a school board member to advocate for your son. (In some private schools there is also a dean or other official who oversees scholarship students and might be an ally for you.) But before you proceed, you'll also have to weigh the pros and cons of potentially ruffling feathers.

Finally, although college admission officials do like to see students challenge themselves, it won't be a total deal-breaker if your son isn't in only the most rigorous classes as long as he does well in the ones that he does take. However, if you feel that he's being stuck there for the wrong reasons, and the explanations that you get from school officials don't ring true, this may indeed be a battle you will want to pick.

You might also want to post this query on the College Confidential Parents' forumto see if other parents have been in a similar situation (especially parents of scholarship kids) and, if so, how they dealt with it.

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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