Admissions

Will Skipping 12th Grade Calc BC Hurt Elite-College Chances?

Question: On the math track that my son is on, he will end up taking AP Calc AB as a junior. Will this force him to have to take AP BC Calc as a senior if he wants to be shown as challenging himself for college admissions? He is currently a rising 9th grader and while he does very well in math and seems to understand the concepts without too much effort, he is not a big fan of it. If it won’t be seen as a detriment to not take BC Calc as a senior, what is an equivalent, yet challenging course to take in lieu of it?  (the only other classes I see in the math department are Discrete Mathematics or Computer Science). It seems unfortunate to be on an advanced track that began when he was in 5th grade, and be forced into taking a class that he likely may not want just so he can be a competitive college applicant. Are there any other alternatives? 

Parents of students who are just starting high school are wise to look down the road to see where choices made in 8th, 9th, or 10th grade will lead. But, on the other hand, it’s important to allow wiggle room for a child’s interests and goals to change, and you certainly don’t want your son to think that high school is little more than a high-stakes dress rehearsal for college or for whatever lies beyond. So you’ve got to walk a fine line (as so much of parenting requires): Pay attention but not TOO much attention.


If your son is aiming for the most hyper-competitive colleges and if, as a senior, he has the grades and overall profile to be a contender at these picky places, then he will want his guidance counselor to check the “Most Demanding” box when evaluating his course load. So, if he is still balking at Calc BC by the time he’s a junior (and he may NOT be), then he can take a senior load that includes other STEM classes (AP Physics? AP Chem? AP Computer Science? AP Stats? etc. ) or he might consider a math class at a local college (there are multiple options once he’s done with Calc AB).  These choices should still keep him on “Most Demanding” turf.  But if, on the other hand, the uber-selective places seem out of reach by then, he will not have to concern himself with taking every killer course in his path, and your worries about Cal BC will be moot. So if you’re going to lose sleep or grow gray hairs because of your son’s curriculum decisions, at least wait a couple years first!

As a junior, my own son took regular calculus (not AP) and also AP Stats. He took no math at all as a senior (though he did take AP Physics 1 & 2 plus a college astronomy class). He got into the one Ivy League college he applied to and enrolled elsewhere on a full-ride scholarship. He did not get into Stanford, which he had never seen and where I made him apply (long story!) so perhaps there is an Admissions God looking over our offspring after all, though it rarely seems like it!  He was also denied by one other elite non-Ivy (where I was convinced he’d get in with merit aid) and was offered full-tuition scholarships at two other universities. So did his lack of heavy-hitter senior math affect his admission outcomes? I’ll never know for sure. But what I DO know is that I’m glad I didn’t strong-arm him into taking a class that he didn’t want to take. He really enjoyed physics and astronomy and didn’t miss math for a minute.

Right now there’s talk in the admissions community about ratcheting down the pressure on students to pile on the AP’s and on encouraging them to follow their passions–which may take them elsewhere–instead. By the time your son is a senior, the admission officials at the most sought-after colleges may actually practice what they’re starting to preach, although I wouldn’t bet the mortgage money on it. However, there will always be options for your son besides Calculus BC that won’t put his application in the Ivy League “shun” pile. But that’s really a bridge you can cross down the road.