The NEW College Prep

Higher-education-bound students focus their attention on the high school classes that will impress a college admissions officer and earn them a freshman spot at their dream school. And with good reason!

Nearly 90 percent of colleges say the strength of a student’s high school curriculum is of moderate-to-considerable importance in the admission decision, according to information from the National Association for College Admission Counseling. More than 96 percent of colleges say a student’s grades in college prep courses primarily influence their admission decisions.


College success isn’t just about getting through the door; it’s about rising to the academic challenges of tough college courses year after year. In other words, the students who succeed are those who can handle the rigor of university because they prepared while still in high school.

“Colleges want well-rounded students they know will succeed,” says Barb Sosin, former admissions professional at Kettering University in Flint. “So early on, students need to work with their high school counselors on building the best academic curriculum available. What can they take to prepare for the next stage?”


Wise students will dig deep into the academic offerings available to them, electing honors, advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses wherever possible, while maintaining the perspective that colleges recognize individual academic talent and interest.

“It’s about being appropriately challenged and proving early exposure to rigor and critical thinking. If you have taken a college-level course and achieved an A or a B, you are showing you can do college-level work,” says Jerry Pope, national college adviser in Niles Township, Ill., who highlights a study finding students twice as likely to attend college if they have taken just one AP course in high school.


Students who coast through high school with a plan to work hard only when comfortably seated in their first college lecture hall should use high school to truly prepare for the work ahead.

“I tell students that taking the most appropriate rigorous course load will prepare them for a lot of school choices. If they slack off in high school, going to college will be really hard. They should hone their writing skills because the expectation of writing in college is much higher,” says Marie Bigham, board director of NACAC.

Bigham adds that STEM students need a rigorous math and science curriculum in high school.

“We want them to have every science the school offers and math through the calculus level,” Bigham says.


From an admissions perspective, students should be prepared for colleges to assess and reassess transcripts, says William James, director of the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts, a six-school educational consortium in Oakland County.

“Because an A in one high school does not always translate to an A in another high school, colleges assign rankings to high schools,” he says. “Most students and parents do not know that non-core classes are dropped from the equation, as are weighted grades in honors or AP courses. In the eyes of the admissions counselor, a well-rounded student is one who excels in college prep courses.”



Advanced placement courses are designed by educational committees and approved by college professors who are experts in the subject being taught, and they are regularly updated.

“In total, it could take up to five years for a redesign of a course,” says William James, director of the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts, a six-district consortium high school in Oakland County. High school AP teachers are specially trained to teach their subject matter at a true college level. This rigor and the expectation that students will individually mine background material to master the subject cause initial surprise for students.

“You can’t be absent for a week and be OK,” James says. “Miss a couple of days in a row, and you’ll certainly fall behind.”

Unlike the international baccalaureate program, which is offered at fewer than 30 Michigan high schools, AP courses are widely available to Michigan students.

– Claire Charlton