a year ago
Admissions Advice

Do Colleges really like to see B's in harder classes versus A's in easier classes?

Hi! So, I've heard it said, even when I went to a small seminar about applying to U of Michigan, that college admissions officers would rather see B's in harder classes than A's in easy classes. I just was wondering how true this is. I have a B- (I'm going to get it back to a B by retaking a test) in my Honors Algebra 2 class. I've never been a real math person but I suppose I let my guidance counselor persuade me that the class was easier than it really is. But I digress. Is it better that I get two B's in my math class this year than if I had taken standard Algebra 2 and gotten A's? I'm slightly hesitant as I know that GPA and test scores are often used as cutoffs for admissions. My dream school is the University of Michigan, but I want to apply to a few other more competitive schools like Duke and Notre Dame. I want to talk to my counselor about switching into regular Algebra 2 for my second trimester of math because I don't want to stay in a class where I have been underperforming significantly. What should I do? Would it be more advantageous to stay in the honors math class and get 2 B's or switch into the standard Algebra 2 class and get 1 B and 1 A? Thank you in advance and have a great day!!


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a year ago[edited]

Everything that you heard from your seminar is correct and I myself was in the exact same position 2 years ago. I took honors Algebra 2 and got an 89 the first semester and an 88.5 the second semester or a B+ on my transcript. That is is the only B+ on my record and I was feeling upset about it for a long time because a.) I tried my best b.) my teacher didn't hold office hours or tutorials so he was not very engaged or committed to our success. But I signed up for honors Pre-Calc and got an A- and then over the summer took Calculus through an online college course and got an A and 3 college credits. And now I'm coasting with a solid A in AP Statistics because all the hard maths is behind me. I'm taking the AP Calc this May nevertheless just in case one or two of the schools don't let me transfer my A in Calculus over. But that's voluntary on my part. I already know I can do the work at the college level with adults so I have more confidence than I did taking Algebra 2. It also helps if you have a parent that believes in you and also encourages you to try things and never criticizes your mishaps or failures to achieve specific goals. My dad could have said "look what you've done? now you can't apply to elite colleges!" Instead, he said, "there are more people in the world that became successful from failing and learning from those setbacks than people that propelled into those positions because of innate talent. You are a grinder and need to learn by doing it yourself, other people can memorize the entire book without effort. Be patient and keep trying and everything will fall into place."

All that Pre-Calc and Calculus grinding helped me not so much with fulfilling the hardest core requirements at top Elite colleges but rather helped me improve my ACT from a 33 to a 35 from Spring 11th to Summer 12th. So it showed multiple things 1.) I'm not a quitter 2.) I challenged myself with the hardest classes available to me, 3.) I showed an upward trend in my grades and complexity. 4.) Nothing on my transcript reflects that I ever took an easy path to get As.

So my advice to you is to ask yourself if you were an admissions officer what kind of student do you want on your campus?

a.) Someone who takes risks, challenges themselves, looks at failure as an opportunity to refocus and redirect, or

b.) Someone who looks good on paper but has nothing of substance to show for it?

If you spent as much time looking at youtube videos as I have one thing you will notice is that there are so many kids graduating from high school with grade inflation. So many kids have 4.33, 5.34, 5.62, 4.62 GPAs and so many kids have 4.0 unweighted GPAs so context is super important for college admissions officers. If 50% of the school has an unweighted 4.0 GPA and avg. SAT is 1050 or 21 for the ACT, then the school is not doing a very good job, just handing out As. Now if 10% of the school has a UWGPA of 4.0 and an avg SAT of 1450 and 31 for the ACT, then the school is focused on college prep because the classes are hard. So don't focus so much on just grades, focus on getting something out of your classes that add to your narrative.

In my case, I"m not interested in STEM but I wanted to show in my college application that I have a love of learning, I"m not afraid to take risks and fail, and I'm going to work hard even in things that are not my passion.

Hopefully, you can read between the lines, and make a solid informed decision on what kind of college applicant you want to be before applying to colleges. Two years ago, I doubted myself because of this ding on my transcript. Today, I'm applying to each and every school I want to be part of without hesitation or fear.

Good luck with your high school career and future plans.


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