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Choosing Next Year’s Courses: The Minimalist

Posted on 03/12/2018, by Dr. Ellen Fithian to Parents of 7th and 8th Graders, Parents of 9th Graders, Parents of 10th Graders, Parents of 11th Graders (0 comments)

IIn my last post I discussed the challenges faced by parents of Maximizers – aspiring valedictorians who try to cram every weighted course in sight into their overloaded schedule. We now turn to their antitheses, the Minimalists - students who prize the spare elegance of a bare bones transcript.

Some draw the line at earning just enough credits to graduate from high school, while others set the bar at the minimum course requirements of the college they’d like to attend. After all, the Minimalist reasons, if a student has done all that’s required, why do more?

The answer is that meeting minimum requirements reduces both a student’s chances of getting in to a selective college - and getting out of any college with a degree.

Getting In To College

While there are a number of two and four year colleges that are happy to welcome just about any student whose tuition check clears, selective schools carefully evaluate the rigor of the courses a student has taken. 

A 2017 survey of four year colleges by the National Association for College Admission Counseling revealed that “strength of curriculum” was rated considerably important (the highest rating) by almost 52% of colleges. Colleges value the students who’ve stretched themselves academically for two reasons. First, such students are more likely to be enthusiastic participants in the intellectual life of the campus. And second, they’re more likely to succeed in college  - and to graduate on time.

Getting Out With a Degree

The discouraging reality is that most students today don’t graduate from college in four years, particularly students at the least selective institutions. Consider the following sober statistics, compiled by the Education Trust and available on its website, College Results Online.

At Virginia’s fifteen public universities, the percentage of students who graduated from the school they started at within four years ranged from a low of 17.6% (Norfolk State) to a high of 87.4% (University of Virginia) as of 2014, the most recent year listed. The median four year graduation rate for the fifteen institutions was only 44.8% (Longwood University). To be fair, colleges with lower graduation rates tend to have a higher percentage of students from low-income families, who may face financial obstacles to completing college. However, sound research on factors contributing to college completion suggests that taking rigorous courses in high school improves the likelihood of timely graduation.  

The Minimalist’s assumption that if she meets the requirements to graduate from high school she will be prepared for college has a certain common sense logic. It should be true, but unfortunately it often isn’t. I hope you’ll be able to convince your teen of that after you’ve shared the information I’ve just provided.

Having extolled the virtue of strong academic preparation in high school, what does that consist of? Which courses are most important? For information on that topic, read the article on Courses in the guide section of this website.

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Posted on 03/12/2018, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)




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