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Articles / Applying to College / Will No Pre-Calc Torpedo Elite-College Chances?

Will No Pre-Calc Torpedo Elite-College Chances?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Sept. 5, 2012

Question: Our son intends to study Latin, German and Classics in college. He attends a private college prep HS and has strong credentials - lots of AP and honors. However, he opted out of Honors Algebra II, a prerequisite for Pre-calc, and has been told by his counselor that he has effectively eliminated the possibility of gaining entry to a selective college (e.g. Georgetown level). Is it true that no Pre-Calc will be that significant a negative for an otherwise strong student who will pursue a liberal arts degree?

If "The Dean" is reading you correctly, you're saying that your son is aiming for highly selective places like Georgetown but won't be taking any upper level math classes. (You said that he opted out of Honors Algebra II which sounds like he will still take Algebra II but at the regular, college-prep level, right?)


If this is the case, it won't be an automatic deal-breaker, but it will definitely be a big check-mark in the minus column. The hyper-competitive colleges expect their applicants to elect the most rigorous courses offered, regardless of prospective majors. Of course, they realize that there are some areas where even the brightest kids dare not tread. So if a student has other desirable strengths, skipping out on AP Calc, AP Physics, Latin V, etc. is acceptable. But most admission folks at the "elite" colleges feel that math is important, regardless of a student's long-range plans. So stopping at Algebra II isn't a wise idea.

Thus, while The Dean won't completely side with the counselor by saying that your son would be wasting his application fees at the top schools without electing more math, I do feel that he'd be putting at least a small bullet in his foot.

If your son is worried that taking Honors Algebra II and then Pre-Calc will cause him to focus too much on those classes and could potentially hurt his other grades, he might consider taking math as a stand-alone class in the summer.

I'm not saying that I'm a fan of the current system, but it's the one we're stuck with for now.

(posted 9/5/2012)

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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