Preparing for College

Will No Pre-Calc Torpedo Elite-College Chances?

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)