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Articles / Applying to College / Is Second-String Math Program Sufficient for College?

Sept. 1, 2017

Is Second-String Math Program Sufficient for College?

Question: So I'm in 9th grade taking Algebra 1 this year and I had taken a course that would bump me up to Geometry but unfortunately I failed the test. I want to ask, is taking the regular math stream ( Alg 1, Geo, Alg 2, Calc) in high school good enough for colleges or is it better if I go up one math grade for college?

Completing calculus by the time you finish high school will put you ahead of the majority of college applicants. So you will be in good shape when it's time to apply to college.


BUT ... if you are aiming for the Ivies, MIT, CalTech or a handful of other hyper-selective universities (the picky places that accept roughly 20 percent of their applicants or fewer), then you'll find that the majority of your “competitor applicants" will have completed math through Advanced Placement Calculus. Some will have even finished AP Calc in grade 11 and gone on to take college math classes in grade 12.

Thus, if your math trajectory takes you through “regular" calculus but not AP in your senior year, this is not an automatic deal-breaker at the most selective colleges but it will put you at something of a disadvantage. If, however, your school does not offer AP Calculus, then the deficiency will not be a factor.

Bottom line: The math trajectory you are on seems fine. But if you discover that the class you're in now doesn't seem sufficiently challenging, you can ask your guidance counselor or the math department chair if you can take geometry over the summer and then jump onto a higher track. But don't worry about your current trajectory if you feel comfortable where you are because it will position you well at most colleges.

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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