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Articles / Applying to College / School Band vs. Higher Class Rank

School Band vs. Higher Class Rank

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | April 2, 2014

Question: My daughter is finishing her freshman year in High School. She is active in her high school marching band. In order to participate in the band you must be enrolled in “band” as a class. This class is classified as a general study and doesn’t have an AP or Honors level. We decided she could participate as a freshman and revisit the scenario for her sophomore year schedule because all the students are required to take a general study art class for graduation. The reason this class now becomes an issue is that it will affect her weighted GPA as a senior essentially eliminating her from being valedictorian or perhaps even top 10 (she was valedictorian in 8th grade). On the admission side do they prefer a top 5 (class of ~550) or a top 20 with the marching band activity? I should note that although she excels in music – it is not something she wishes to pursue. At this time she is set on engineering.

College admission officials will usually tell you that a student should pursue interests outside of academics and that it’s fine for an applicant to stick with band, even though it’s not a “weighted” class and so this choice will probably have a negative impact on GPA and class rank.

BUT … I’ve found that these admission folks often speak with forked tongues and don’t always practice what they preach. In other words, they are likely to be more impressed by the candidate with the higher rank and grades than they are with the student who marched with her flute or clarinet at graduation. While every admission official on the planet will tell you that band is a very worthwhile activity, there is certainly nothing unique or “sexy” about it that will jump off the page at decision time. Sure, plenty of band students are admitted to “elite” colleges every year, but, in your daughter’s particular case, it sounds like band isn’t the right choice.

If this were MY child, and she were passionate about band, then I would say, “Stick with it anyway.” But if she’s equally willing to take more challenging classes and leave band behind, then that’s probably the wiser route when it comes to admission options down the road. Your daughter can, of course, continue with her instrument, if she’s so inclined, once her band days are behind her. (However, I tried that plan with my own son, and his saxophone hasn’t left its case since 8th grade 🙁 )

Keep in mind, however, that band can be more than just music. At many schools, it’s a way for the stronger students to share in an activity that they all appreciate and which may even be a cornerstone in their social life outside of school. Taking a band class during an otherwise rigorous school day can also provide a much-needed break.

So if you do feel that band could play an important role in your daughter’s life–even if she isn’t aiming for a future in music–another option you can pursue (although it may be tilting at windmills) is to get together with other parents from your school (especially, although not exclusively, the band parents) and try to make a change in the curriculum and in the way that GPA’s are calculated.

Right now the school requires one “general study” course for graduation. But what if you could get the school to require FOUR general study courses? That way, each student would be given a mental-health break in the day as well as the opportunity to explore new and worthwhile areas that honors students are commonly discouraged from including in their schedules. (At my son’s high school, these areas include woodshop, cooking, multimedia, personal finance, etc.) If all students were REQUIRED to take one class like these each year, I think that the upshot would be less stressed and more well-prepared young adults.

Granted, if you keep your daughter in band and decide to take up this cause, you may be defeated, and then her valedictory status would be at risk. But I still think it’s a cause worth fighting for. However, if this is not your battle, and a top-of-the-class finish for your daughter is a priority, then I suggest that she turns in her plumed hat and music stand at the end of this semester.


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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