Preparing for College

Berkeley and UCLA Without Top Frosh and Soph Classes?

Question: I wasn't encouraged to take Honors Classes when I was a freshman even though I was getting straight A's. I wasn't encouraged to take AP Classes this year (10th grade) and I didn't know about them until recently. But I have taken lots of honors classes this year, including English, science, and history, plus Spanish I and Algebra II. I wasn't informed about school clubs either, though I do volunteer at my church and local library and take social dance at a community college. I'm afraid I'm not "well-rounded" enough. Do you think I could still be accepted by the tough schools? My top choices are Berkeley and UCLA, but I'm very worried that I might end up attending our community college.

I'm not sure what you mean by a lack of well-roundedness. You seem to have elected a good balance of classes and have made a commitment to worthwhile extracurricular activities. (Colleges aren't all that impressed by students who join a wide array of school clubs. They tend to be more interested in candidates who are genuinely involved with WHATEVER activities they choose. This can even include paid employment. Frankly, admission officials actually get a bit bored when reading the same predictable list of school clubs on thousands of applications.) The fact that you didn't take honors in Grade 9 or APs in Grade 10 should not have a big impact on your admissibility (more on that in a minute) but I hope that you are now enrolling in the toughest courses you can handle, since you are clearly aware of the options.

Colleges will be impressed by your straight A's, so the only way your lack of honors and AP classes MIGHT affect you is if they significantly alter your class rank. That is, if your high school ranks its students and if it gives extra "weight" to honors and AP classes, then the students who took more honors and AP classes than you did and also received A's will be ranked ahead of you, despite your straight-A average. However, given that you took several honors classes as a sophomore and--presumably--will take other honors and/or APs as a junior, this shouldn't be a major problem for you. Overall, college admission folks don't pay a whole lot of attention to freshman year.

When you apply to college, you can include a supplementary note to admission officers explaining that you hadn't received proper guidance about course choices when you were in 8th or 9th grade. Do you come from a disadvantaged background? If so---or if your parents did not attend college--then your letter will carry more weight than if your parents are college grads. While I realize that it's entirely possible that your parents did go to college and yet you still were not aware of the courses available to you, college admission officials are likely nonetheless to be more sympathetic if you are a "first generation" applicant. (And if you do write this sort of note to colleges, try to avoid sounding whiny or victimized. Offer instead a brief and clear explanation of how you made your class selections.)

Test scores (SAT or ACT), however, WILL play a major role in your admission outcomes at many colleges and universities, so you might want to use the summer months to familiarize yourself with these tests.

In any case, you seem like you are on the right road to your target colleges. Do keep in mind, too, that there are LOTS of excellent schools--beyond Cal Berkeley and UCLA--that would welcome a student like you. You certainly don't have to end up at a community college even if you are denied at your dream colleges. If money is an issue, don't worry. Many renowned colleges have excellent financial aid that is based on your family's need, and with a straight-A average, you will also qualify for "merit aid" at many institutions.

Good luck to you as you pursue your goals. Sounds like you're doing well so far.