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Articles / Applying to College / Will Lack of Calculus Torpedo College Dreams?

Will Lack of Calculus Torpedo College Dreams?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Sept. 4, 2013

Question: I really need help and I feel like no one else can answer my question. I am in 10th grade now, and I have been very worried because of the fact that when I am a senior I will not be taking Calculus. Right now I am in honors but I still won’t be able to get to Calculus. Besides that I have an almost perfect college application. I’m worried that that will not let me go to the college of my dreams. I’m in all other AP classes and I am an A student in all of them. I am in clubs, national honor societies and am even the president of the Spanish one. I do dance and play the violin. I have been getting around a 2014 on my SATs. I’m afraid all my hard work will be for nothing.

If the “college of your dreams” is MIT or CalTech or any other top-notch, hyper-competitive science/math/technology school, then you would be wise to find a way to take calculus by the time you finish high school … either online, over the summer, or in the evenings at a nearby community college. (Or, similarly, you could use an online, summer, or college course to accelerate in math so that you will be ready for calculus at your OWN high school by the time you’re a senior in two years.)

But, although calculus does “look good” on transcripts at the most selective schools, for most applicants to most colleges, it is not an imperative. So if you can’t get to it in two years, please don’t worry.

You don’t say in your message what the “college of your dreams” is, so it’s hard to be truly helpful without that information. But keep in mind that at the highly sought-after colleges, nearly all accepted applicants have top grades, top test scores AND often something that’s “special. This means that many strong students who play an instrument, dance, and lead school clubs can have trouble standing out in a crowd. Yet the vast majority of colleges and universities will welcome an applicant like you, whether calculus is on the transcript or not.

Finally, even if you are not admitted to your top-choice college, never say that your “hard work will be for nothing.” There is much to be gained from doing well in school and from putting effort into a range of extracurricular pursuits, if you like them. Unfortunately, many teenagers today view high school as little more than a path to the “right” college. Try to take time to enjoy what you’re doing and to realize that there are many roads to happiness and success.

Hope that helps. (And if you want to tell me what your dream school is, I may be able to help even more.)


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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