Preparing for College

Impact of 8th-Grade Classes on Ivy Aspirations?

Question: I'm an eighth grader who received the opportunity to take 3 high school credit classes this year. I can honestly say I am doing the poorest I've ever done, mostly due to my horrible grades on semester exams. I realize I have a LONG way to go, so should I even be worried about college? I want to get into an Ivy League school, but it's not looking that way.

The good news = Colleges may see your 8th-grade marks on your transcript, if you took these classes for high school credit, but they will pay very little (or no) attention to them. (However, some high schools will factor these marks into your cumulative high school GPA and class rank, but this is uncommon.)

The bad news = If you are struggling in these classes it may suggest that you will not be able to maintain the kind of GPA throughout high school that the Ivy League colleges expect … or it may not mean that at all. I suggest that you talk to your teachers now and try to figure out why you have such a hard time with exams. Perhaps you need some tips on studying and organization. But maybe by facing tough classes this year, you will be in a better position next year to tackle challenging classes. In other words, you “worked the kinks out” in 8th grade and will thus be better positioned to succeed in high school.

Finally, keep in mind that a lot of students your age have Ivy dreams. Many don’t know much about other colleges and don’t realize that these other schools might be better fits. My friend Steve bought a Ferrari because he thought it looked cool and would impress people. But it cost a fortune to own and operate. He couldn’t put more than one other person in it, which made it totally impractical for many of his activities, and the trunk was so small that it was impossible to stick his suitcase inside when he wanted to go on vacation. Similarly, students sometimes make college choices based on prestige rather than on what their academic and personal needs and goals will be.

Four years ago, a student in my orbit turned down an acceptance at an “elite” college because she was awarded a big merit scholarship at a good but lesser-known school. She was enormously successful at this college and got a lot of attention from faculty as well as a fellowship to do research in an area of interest. This fall she applied to law schools, and she wrote me yesterday to say that she’s been admitted to every place she applied (including the college that she turned down four years ago!) So, of course I have to wonder if she would have had the same amazing undergrad experience if she’d attended an Ivy or other hyper-competitive college instead.

So the moral of this story is that this crazy college process often ends up in a “meant-to-be” kind of way, even if it doesn’t always feel like it while you’re going through it. My advice for you is to take challenging classes in high school and to try to do your best, but don’t overextend yourself and don’t beat yourself up if it looks like you’re tumbling off of the “Ivy track.” There are many roads to happiness and success, and even if you don’t end up at an Ivy as an undergrad, if you do a great job wherever you land you’ll be back on that Ivy track for graduate school.

(posted 1/19/2012)