FLEX College Prep https://flexcollegeprep.com What is your college dream? FLEX can help! Wed, 15 May 2019 18:46:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2 https://flexcollegeprep.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/cropped-FLEX-Favicon-Blue-32x32.png FLEX College Prep https://flexcollegeprep.com 32 32 The SAT Is Changing Again https://flexcollegeprep.com/the-sat-is-changing-again/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/the-sat-is-changing-again/#respond Mon, 20 May 2019 17:29:06 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=211194 The post The SAT Is Changing Again appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


On May 16, 2019, the maker of the SAT (The College Board) announced that it would be adding an additional score to the three scores that currently make up an SAT score report: Math, Reading/Writing, and the optional Essay.

The fourth score would not be based on student performance. Rather, it would be implemented as part of what The College Board calls the “Environmental Context Dashboard,” which would assess factors like educational or socioeconomic challenges to place a student’s test performance into context. In short, an adversity score.

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What do the University of Southern California (USC) and Amherst College have in common? https://flexcollegeprep.com/what-do-the-university-of-southern-california-usc-and-amherst-college-have-in-common/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/what-do-the-university-of-southern-california-usc-and-amherst-college-have-in-common/#respond Wed, 15 May 2019 18:46:41 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=211135 The post What do the University of Southern California (USC) and Amherst College have in common? appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


Other than being great colleges, they share a staggering 11% admission rate. This means nearly one in ten applicants to either of these schools were invited to join their respective Class of 2023. But does that mean an applicant has equal odds of getting into USC as Amherst?

While Amherst’s admissions officers sorted through over 10,000 applications, their USC counterparts had to sift through 66,000. Despite the similar admission rates, USC welcomed over 7,000 students to consider becoming part of the Trojan family. On the other hand, Amherst sent acceptance letters to just over 1,000 applicants.

However, keep in mind that most applicants to USC or Amherst are applying for different reasons. Some may be drawn to the unique programs, strong school pride, and LA weather at USC.

Others will seek Amherst in the hopes of finding themselves in small classes with professors, taking advantage of the five-college consortium, and experiencing the seasons in New England.

Keep in mind that admissions officers are often using multiple factors to evaluate your application. Have you fostered a love of learning? What sort of impact have you made in your community? What sort of roommate would you be?

How will you maximize the resources at our school to achieve your goals after college? Expressing this effectively in your college essays will be an enormous task. At FLEX College Prep, Admissions Consultants help their students by providing insights into how they can succeed in the complicated world of college admissions.

Get started today by registering for FLEX’s free College Essay Workshops.

Class of 2020: Get a Head Start On Your College Essay Writing!

Register for a FLEX College Essay Workshop where you will learn what colleges are looking for and get help brainstorming essays that best showcase you.

Don’t miss this chance to get a head start on your college essay writing and join the thousands of students and families who choose FLEX for application and college essay help!

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Academics in College Admission for 5th – 9th Graders! https://flexcollegeprep.com/academics-in-college-admission-for-5th-9th-graders/ Thu, 09 May 2019 20:00:48 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=211083 The post Academics in College Admission for 5th – 9th Graders! appeared first on FLEX College Prep.

FLEX College Prep Presents an Educational Seminar:

Academics in College Admission for 5th – 9th Graders!

Find out what 5-9th grade families must know about their academic preparation for success in high school, college, and beyond. 

Event Details

Featuring insights from the FLEX Expert Academic Panel, including: 

  • Explanation of various aspects of academics pertaining to college admissions
  • How to help students prep for high school
  • Exploration of Writing & the Humanities, Science, & Math


  • Klaus Aichelen: FLEX Director of Academics & Principal Tutor, USA Biology Olympiad Instructor & Specialist
  • Tiffany Lu: FLEX Senior Director of Curriculum Development & Tutor Management, Stanford: BS Biology

Admission free! Space is limited!  

FLEX Cupertino

5.20.19  |  7-8:30pm

FLEX Los Altos

5.28.19  |  7-8:30pm

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GPA and Course Selection https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-and-course-selection/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-and-course-selection/#respond Sat, 04 May 2019 06:00:55 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=211051 The post GPA and Course Selection appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


The college admissions process has become increasingly competitive.

It seems that students these days must excel in all areas: they must be straight-A students, stellar test-takers and motivated leaders in the community.

Now this picture isn’t entirely factual. There is definitely room within the American higher education system for students who are less than outstanding in one or more areas of the college admissions process.

However, one section of the application does demand a strong performance: the high school transcript. Remember, this is the number one factor in college admissions! And the transcript is not just a list of numbers and grades. It is a far more revealing document: one that illustrates the choices a student has made, his or her perseverance, intellectual interests, and academic successes.

In this next series of posts, I’ll explain how colleges evaluate GPA. Then I’ll answer three of the questions I most frequently get asked on this topic. I’ll give case studies of two very different students in order to show what effect their GPA had on their college prospects. Finally, I’ll discuss the International Baccalaureate (IB) option and compare it with the AP system, which is much more common in the U.S.

The high school GPA is the most important factor for admissions at virtually every college in the U.S. Many students don’t understand exactly how colleges evaluate high school transcripts.

Take a look at our list of frequently asked questions on the importance of a good high school GPA and the college admissions process.

Students need not be perfect to have a realistic shot at many of the most selective colleges. See this GPA case study about Dan, the good but not perfect, student.

Many readers know a student like Debbie. Her high school transcript wasn’t in the best shape, and with poor grades, she needed to do more to get into a good school.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between IB and AP programs? Learn more about the International Baccalaureate Program here.

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The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program https://flexcollegeprep.com/international-baccalaureate-program/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/international-baccalaureate-program/#respond Thu, 02 May 2019 18:50:58 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=211036 Ever wondered what the difference is between IB and AP programs? Learn more about the International Baccalaureate Program here.

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In this last section of chapter two, I’ll introduce students to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

In many ways, IB coursework is similar to Advanced Placement (AP) coursework. Both programs have similar strengths and weaknesses. At their best, IB and AP courses both challenge students to master advanced material and to develop sophisticated study skills and habits that will be invaluable to them as college students.

But both programs also face the same criticism: as with all programs culminating in a standardized test, the IB and AP have been said to limit creativity and force teachers to “teach to the test.”

There are, of course, major differences between the IB and AP programs.

First of all, the IB program is significantly less widespread and well-known in the U.S.

While 22,600 American public high schools offer AP courses in the core subject areas (English, math, science, and social studies), only 942 schools offer the IB Diploma. One consequence of this is that fewer colleges offer college credit for IB coursework than for AP coursework.

American public high schools that offer AP courses.

Schools that offer the IB Diploma.

Secondly, although IB courses, like AP classes, are highly demanding college level courses culminating in standardized examinations, students in the IB stream have the further option of taking the entire IB curriculum: a sweeping two-year program that results in a special IB diploma.

  • Requirements include a course called “The Theory of Knowledge,” an extensive 4,000-word research paper, and 150 hours of community service. IB diploma candidates are also required to pass six IB exams in the core subject groups: language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, maths and the arts.

One demerit of the IB system is that there is very little flexibility built into the program. Because of the regimented set of requirements and coursework, the IB program—compared to the AP option—leaves little room for students to take initiative or explore their academic preferences.

On the other hand, one advantage the IB system enjoys over the AP track is that it is a thoughtfully constructed full curriculum, not an a la carte menu of course options.

Courses are designed to function in a complementary way to give the student a solid grounding in a wide variety of subjects. Additionally, the extra-academic features of the IB, such as the community service requirement, force students to develop qualities they might not exercise in the classroom.

Few students would be disciplined enough to engage in 150 hours of community service on their own!

These stringent requirements, in combination with the limited availability of the IB diploma in American high schools, can give the IB an aura of “prestige” or exclusivity.

The IB System vs. the AP Track

How should we weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the IB system against those of the AP track? How does a college admissions officer view the two programs? Is one better received than the other? And should parents and students seek out one program over the other?

When a college admissions office says that its officers evaluate an applicant based on the curricular opportunities available at the applicant’s own high school, it’s telling the truth.

The good news for students and parents is that admissions officers do not favor IB over AP or vice versa.

During this time of hyper-competitive college admissions, families should not bring additional stress on themselves by seeking out an IB high school when their local high school already offers a strong selection of AP courses.

What is important is that a student take advantage of the most demanding courses available to him or her. Doing so will give colleges all the evidence they need that the student is capable of performing at the collegiate level.

Of course, each student must find the right balance between taking advanced college level courses and earning high grades: as we already emphasized, taking AP or IB courses and earning Cs is definitely worse than taking “regular” courses and earning As.

An Associate Director of Admissions at Cornell University summarized the moral of the story the best.

“No matter which program your school offers,” she advised, “challenge yourself! We want to see that you took advantage of some challenging opportunities at your school. AP and IB both fit into this category.”

Case Study: Alice

But let’s get a bit more specific. What should a student do if his or her high school offers both IB and AP courses? Which track should the student take? To better weigh this matter, let’s consider the following case study.

Alice was a high school student who wanted to double up on her sciences in the next school year. To do so would have required her to leave the IB track she was on, since it did not offer her the flexibility to take two science classes in one year. However, she was concerned that such a change would reflect poorly on her when applying to colleges.

What should Alice do?

To answer this question, let’s consider what kind of student benefits most from taking the IB curriculum.

The ideal IB student is a gifted individual who thrives under the challenge of advanced coursework, but does not have a focused academic interest yet. This student prefers to get a broad education covering the humanities, science, and math without concentrating on any particular area.

Now the truth is that many high school and even lots of college students fall under this category. It takes a while to identify the field where talents and interests best line up.

  • In fact, most colleges don’t allow freshmen to declare their majors, preferring to allow students up to two years of freedom to explore several interests and seek out their real calling.

But of course there are other kinds of students. Some students have long standing and very specific interests. Alice, for instance, had always been very interested in the natural sciences and she wanted to take full advantage of the range of AP courses and electives her high school had to offer within this particular genre.

Other students might realize that they are very passionate about a subject matter that is not featured within the IB curriculum, which the strictures of the diploma program would not allow them to explore. For such students, taking AP courses might very well be the better way to go.

AP courses provide students with greater freedom and flexibility in customizing their high school education.

So we recommended that Alice leave the IB track and pursue her passion.

Find Your Interests

As always, there are no cookie-cutter answers to admissions questions. As with all aspects of education, each student must figure out what is in his or her best interest.

With regard to the IB and AP programs, the most we can say is that when given the choice between the two systems, students who have a clear sense of where their talents and interests lie should take advantage of the freedom given them to design their own AP curricula, whereas students who are less sure of their direction should undertake the broad and general education provided for by the IB curriculum.

With this information in hand, students should make an educated decision as to what will be best for them, remembering above all that—as I have emphasized throughout this chapter—receiving excellent grades in demanding courses takes top priority.

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Is Your Middle Schooler Ready for High School? https://flexcollegeprep.com/is-your-middle-schooler-ready-for-high-school/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/is-your-middle-schooler-ready-for-high-school/#respond Tue, 30 Apr 2019 20:03:35 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=210915 The post Is Your Middle Schooler Ready for High School? appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


On April 29, 2019, FLEX College Prep conducted an academic expo at the Los Altos Youth Center to help the families of middle school students (grades 5-8) better prepare for high school.

The panel, moderated by FLEX CEO Danny Byun, was comprised of experts in three areas of education (math, science, and the humanities) who had over sixty years of combined experience working with Silicon Valley students.

The panelists discussed the common challenges facing students as they transition from middle school to Silicon Valley high schools and made recommendations for planning ahead.

The panel opened with a consideration of what families should expect in high school. Before a discussion of each subject area, families were invited to consider a question designed to highlight common misconceptions about high school academics.



Tiffany Lu, FLEX Senior Director of Curriculum, asked the first question.

Which is the first math course in which “hard work doesn’t always pay off”?

A. Algebra 1 (8th grade)

B. Geometry (9th grade)

C. Trigonometry (11th grade)

D. Calculus, regular or AP (12th grade)

Answer: B

Summary: In discussing the fact that students–even “good” or “hard-working” students–often begin to struggle with math during 9th grade geometry, Ms Lu explained that high school-level math requires students to have a conceptual understanding of math, whereas middle school-level math, up to algebra, relies on a more formula-driven, drill-style of learning.

By high school, students without strong problem-solving skills, such as the habit of drawing a diagram, and strong reading skills in deciphering a word problem, will find it difficult to maintain good grades on computational skills alone.



Yoon Choi, FLEX Director of English, discussed the challenges of reading and writing at the high school level, not only in English and humanities classes, but also across all disciplines. She opened her discussion by asking:

What is the biggest obstacle for students in developing strong writing skills?

A. Weak vocabulary

B. Not enough practice writing

C. Not enough practice reading

D. Video games & social media

Answer: C

Summary: Ms. Choi discussed the fact that for many students, poor reading skills results in poor writing skills. She explained that the sudden increase in the volume of reading and the requirement that students read across a variety of genres (literature, history, science, social science) can be overwhelming, even for a strong reader but particularly for a weak one.

This problem is compounded by the fact that high school students are no longer tested on their knowledge in short answer or multiple-choice tests alone, but more and more, students must create persuasive arguments in the forms of essays and research papers.



Klaus Aichelen, FLEX Director of Academics, presented on the challenges of the sciences at the high school level. He asked:

Which is the first high school science course in which “hard work doesn’t always pay off”?

A. Biology (9th grade)

B. Chemistry or Chemistry honors (10th grade)

C. AP Physics (10-12th grade)

D. Physiology & Anatomy (elective)

Answer: B

Summary: Mr. Aichelen explained that in high school, as students moved from a more intuitive science such as biology to more conceptual sciences such as chemistry, students find that they cannot just rely on memorization and common sense. In order to excel in high school level science, students need to have a big picture understanding of concepts, which will enable them to digest and accumulate the sheer volume of information that is being presented to them. He also added that science testing also moves away from short answer and multiple-choice tests and requires that students are able to demonstrate their understanding in written form.

As the discussion continued, the panelists gave recommendations as to how middle school students could plan for the challenges ahead, and also introduced FLEX courses designed to meet these recommendations, including a course on study skills and time management created by Ms. Lu. Mr. Byun cautioned parents to establish good habits in their students early on, briefly touching on the pervasive problem of video gaming and social media. He also provided an overview of the variety of ways in which FLEX can help families plan for high school and college.


Contact Us

For more information on FLEX programs designed to prepare middle school students for high school, contact us: 

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Early Decision: What Can We Learn from College Acceptance Rates? https://flexcollegeprep.com/early-decision-what-can-we-learn-from-college-acceptance-rates/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/early-decision-what-can-we-learn-from-college-acceptance-rates/#respond Tue, 30 Apr 2019 19:46:41 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=210911 The post Early Decision: What Can We Learn from College Acceptance Rates? appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


What can we learn from colleges’ acceptance rates?

What does a college’s admission rate really mean? Why does it matter if you apply early or regular decision?

Let’s take for instance the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) during this past application season. While its early decision acceptance rate was 18%, the overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2023 hovers at around 7%. It seems your overall chances at Penn would be seven out of a hundred, right? Not quite. If you waited until the Regular Decision deadline to apply to Penn, the regular decision admission rate was an unforgiving 5%.

While the math here regarding early-versus-regular decision admit rates is obvious, this is but one of many factors that you should consider throughout the application process. Even for Penn’s Early Decision applicants, more than four out of every five were turned down.

In addition to carefully weighing whether to apply under Early Decision I, Single Choice Early Action, or Early Decision II, students need to communicate all the necessary information about themselves.

How will you show that you are prepared for the academic rigors of university? Which activities and summer programs help distinguish you from the rest of the pack? Do you have a creative portfolio that highlights your unique talent?

At FLEX College Prep, Admissions Consultants help their students by providing insights into how they can succeed in the complicated world of college admissions. Get started today by registering for FLEX’s free College Essay Workshops.


Class of 2020: Get a Head Start On Your College Essay Writing!

Register for a FLEX College Essay Workshop where you will learn what colleges are looking for and get help brainstorming essays that best showcase you.

Don’t miss this chance to get a head start on your college essay writing and join the thousands of students and families who choose FLEX for application and college essay help!

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Case Study: Debbie, The Struggling Student https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-case-study-debbie/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-case-study-debbie/#respond Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:46:06 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=210897 The post Case Study: Debbie, The Struggling Student appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


Let’s turn now to a very different case study.

Debbie was an average happy-go-lucky teenager at La Cañada High School. She was not particularly academically inclined and didn’t really like school; she was much more enthusiastic about surfing the Internet and texting with her friends. To no surprise, her high school transcript wasn’t in the best shape.

Many readers will know a student like Debbie.

Whether for lack of motivation or academic aptitude, she found herself with some poor grades at the end of her sophomore year when I first met her. At that point, Debbie was just hoping to get into a good UC. My job was to help her maximize her chances of getting into a UC like Irvine, Davis, or Santa Barbara.

This is what Debbie’s sophomore year transcript looked like:



Fall Semester

Spring Semester

Honors Algebra 2/Trigonometry






Spanish 2






World History









Debbie’s unweighted GPA was a 2.93. Currently, a weighted GPA of 3.5 is only good enough to get into UC Santa Cruz and UC Riverside—and a 3.0 is the minimum needed to apply.

Let’s first calculate Debbie’s weighted GPA.

Remember that different colleges have different ways of calculating GPA, and that the UCs—unlike private colleges—are very open about the details. We know exactly how the UCs weight GPA and exactly what the GPA cut-off is (3.0, weighted, for California residents). In particular, we know that:


GPA is calculated using only grades achieved in the “a-g” UC-mandated subjects.

A maximum of eight AP or UC-approved honors courses are weighted.
Grades do not come in pluses or minuses. For example, a B+ and a B– both count as a B.

Now let’s apply this information to Debbie’s transcript.

Debbie took one advanced course in 10th grade—Honors Algebra 2/Trigonometry—and received a creditable B+. However, the UCs do not award honor or AP credit for Honors Algebra 2/Trigonometry at La Cañada High. (Students can check whether specific courses at their high school receive the weighting credit by looking up their high schools on the UC website.)

As a result, Debbie might as well have taken a regular class and received an A. Additionally, Debbie received Cs in English and World History, putting her cumulative sophomore-year GPA at under 3.0. In other words, as a sophomore, Debbie did not meet the minimum requirement for UC eligibility.

For Debbie, everything rested on her junior-year course selection and GPA.

Schoolwork had to take top priority, even at the expense of developing her extracurricular profile. Unless Debbie raised her GPA, she wouldn’t even have the option of applying to a UC. So for Debbie, it was very important for her to pick junior year courses that would maximize her chances of academic success.

Students like Debbie are often better served by taking regular classes than by struggling through APs. Although we encourage students to take the most rigorous courses they can handle, a C doesn’t count as “handling” a course.

Bluntly, students should not take an AP or honors class at the expense of getting a C! With this in mind, here is the course schedule we recommended for Debbie’s junior year:

  • Precalculus (regular or honors)
  • Physics (regular)
  • U.S. History (regular)
  • English (regular)
  • Spanish 3 (regular)
  • And an elective: Drama (or some other elective that would satisfy the “Visual and Performing Arts” requirement).

With the possible exception of math, we encouraged Debbie to stick with regular classes, making sure she got As and Bs in all her classes.

  • Debbie could have elected to take either regular or honors Precalculus (she would receive an honors credit for the advanced class), because her comparatively strong performance in math her sophomore year suggested she was capable of succeeding on the honors math track.

However, we recommended that Debbie not take honors-level options in her humanities classes, since she evidently had weaknesses in those areas and coursework would only get harder her junior year. Finally, we recommended that Debbie take an elective class, such as drama, that would enable her to do something she enjoyed while earning a relatively easy A.

  • Now the recommendations above were targeted at a very specific student. We counseled Debbie on the assumption that the general level of motivation and academic achievement she had demonstrated so far was indicative of what was to come.

If Debbie was willing and eager to make some drastic change in attitude or in her approach to her studies, our counsel could have been different.

This is where parents play a vital role in the college planning process.

Parental involvement is a not-often-discussed but crucial part of the college admissions process. That is why in the FLEX college counseling program, we meet with the entire family whenever possible in order to gain a comprehensive assessment of each student and his or her support system.

Let’s say that Debbie, faced with the sobering reality of her academic prospects, decided that she would put in a tremendous effort her upcoming junior year. Let’s further say that Debbie’s parents, with a realistic assessment of Debbie’s character and aptitude, trusted Debbie to really see this change of heart through.

In this case, we might have recommended that Debbie take a challenging course such as AP Statistics to give her academic record a real jolt. However, such a move would have been obviously risky: if it turned out that she was actually unable or unwilling to do the work necessary to succeed in AP Statistics, she could have forfeited any chance of getting into a UC.

Now as a college counselor, I certainly don’t want to tell other parents how to do their job.

  • First of all, I know it is all too easy for a third party to make recommendations. It’s the students and parents who have to do all the hard work!
  • And second of all, as a parent myself, I don’t think other people should tell me how to be a parent! Nevertheless, parental involvement can seriously affect a student’s academic success, and I know from experience that even well-meaning and genuinely concerned parents can still have serious blind spots.

Take Debbie, for example.

Debbie’s parents granted Debbie complete freedom to surf the Internet and rack up minutes on her cell phone. It’s a parent’s job to monitor the use of such technology—and to enforce a blackout when necessary.

Contrary to what teenagers would have parents believe, students do not need constant access to the Internet to get their schoolwork done.

For Debbie to have a realistic shot at securing UC eligibility, her parents needed to be more involved. They needed to have an accurate understanding about their child’s personality and her capacities, both intellectually and temperamentally. And they needed to be willing to force her to eliminate temptations and distraction.

Debbie and her family needed to make some cold and unemotional decisions in light of her sophomore-year record. The good news, though, was that Debbie still had the time to decisively alter her college prospects. Everything depended on her performance her junior year.

As it turned out, Debbie was able to find the necessary focus her junior year. She followed our advice regarding her junior-year course selection and focused all her attention on her school grades, dropping her flute lessons and scaling back some of her commitments to her church youth group praise team.

With the extra time—and with a lot more parental vigilance—she was able to bring her grades up and eventually secured admission to UC Irvine, UC Davis and Boston University.

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Case Study: Dan, the Good, but Not Perfect Student https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-case-study-dan/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-case-study-dan/#respond Fri, 26 Apr 2019 19:43:21 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=210705 The post Case Study: Dan, the Good, but Not Perfect Student appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


We will now turn to consider the profile of a student whose GPA put him “on the table” at top-tier private schools. Now realistically, to get into a school such as Harvard or Stanford, a student must do everything right. Students who get into these schools take the most challenging course loads (5 APs senior and often junior year) and still make straight As.

However, as the profile below will illustrate, students need not be perfect to have a realistic shot at many of the most selective colleges, including some Ivy League schools.

Dan came to us with a strong but far from perfect transcript. This is what Dan’s sophomore-year transcript looked like:



Fall Semester

Spring Semester

Honors Algebra 2/Trigonometry



Honors Chemistry






World History and Government












This is the academic record of a student with strengths in the humanities but some difficulties with math and science.

Notice that Dan did not receive straight As; however, he also didn’t get anything lower than a B. In addition, he was able to pull each of his Bs up to an A during the second semester, which is important because, as colleges well know, second semester coursework tends to be more difficult than first semester coursework.

In the summer after his sophomore year, Dan traveled to the East Coast and attended the summer program at Columbia University. He took a course in Constitutional Law and left with an A.

Let’s see how things went Dan’s junior year:



Fall Semester

Spring Semester




AP Statistics



AP Biology



Honors English



U.S. History









Notice that Dan dropped from honors to regular math. Normally, this would raise a red flag, especially since math was Dan’s weak point, but he compensated for this by doubling up on math, taking AP Statistics. This demonstrated that Dan was not just taking the easy way out.

Science was also not an area of strength for Dan, but he continued to challenge himself by taking AP Biology. He began that class with a B– but was able to raise his grade to a B+ during that crucial second semester. A private school admissions officer would certainly see and appreciate the effort and character demonstrated by this course selection and performance.

Moreover, Dan’s transcript continued to shine in his areas of strength. He pulled excellent grades across the humanities: in English, U.S. History and Spanish.


In the summer after his junior year, Dan took one course at a local community college—Introduction to Biotechnology—and again earned a solid A. Dan’s decision to spend two summers in a row taking courses in subjects not available at his public high school was revelatory of Dan’s intellectual curiosity.

Obviously, Dan didn’t take these courses to get a head start on schoolwork. And the high grades that Dan earned demonstrated that he took these courses seriously and applied himself, even though these grades wouldn’t factor into his GPA. This was a great testament to Dan’s integrity.

Now let’s look at Dan’s senior-year courses and his Fall semester grades—the last grades that colleges saw when considering Dan’s application for admission:



Fall Semester

AP Calculus AB


Honors Physics


AP English




AP Spanish




In his all-important senior year, Dan continued to demonstrate the willingness to face challenges in math and science.


He dropped from an AP science to an honors science but didn’t drop the sciences altogether, instead completing a full four years of science. And although he didn’t take Honors Precalculus his junior year, he chose to take AP Calculus AB his senior year. 


His junior year math coursework prevented him from taking AP Calculus BC, but admissions officers would have applauded Dan’s decision to take a fourth year of math. 


Dan also finished a full four years in English, social studies and foreign language.


Although he didn’t end up with any AP-level coursework in social studies, he did take at least one AP in every other major subject area (math, science, English and Spanish).

He fully demonstrated to colleges both the willingness to try, and the ability to succeed in difficult courses. Colleges could reasonably expect that Dan would continue to demonstrate the same level of academic initiative and accomplishment in college.

Dan’s transcript painted the picture of an academically curious student: not a perfect student, but one who was willing to work hard and seek out challenges. Dan was a student who got the balance right.

Armed with a good SAT score, great extracurricular activities, well-crafted essays and glowing recommendations, Dan had a shot at several of the top-tier universities, including Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern.

Of course, nobody could guarantee that Dan would get into any one of these schools. And as I have to emphasize, Dan only had a realistic shot at these schools because his good-but-not-perfect transcript was accompanied by uniformly and uncommonly strong performances in all the other areas of his application.

At the end of the day, Dan gained admission to Brown, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and Tufts University. He was rejected from Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, and U Penn.

Prospective applicants should take home the following moral from this case study. The perfect GPA is not the end-all, be-all of the college admissions process. A 4.0 alone won’t get students in. Of course a GPA that is too low will get a student rejected—but a less than perfect GPA need not foreclose on Ivy hopes.

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GPA – Frequently Asked Questions https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-frequently-asked-questions/ https://flexcollegeprep.com/gpa-frequently-asked-questions/#respond Fri, 19 Apr 2019 04:25:48 +0000 https://flexcollegeprep.com/?p=210688 The post GPA – Frequently Asked Questions appeared first on FLEX College Prep.


The last section offered some general advice and information about the GPA. This section answers three specific, frequently asked questions:

  1. Which classes should I take?
  2. How much does it matter that my grades go up and down?
  3. Can I get a C and still get into one of the most selective schools?

Which classes should I take?

The simple answer is: take the most challenging courses available while leaving time to “have a life,” pursue passion projects and develop extracurricular activities.

More specifically, though, students should make sure to take four years of coursework in the core academic subjects: math, English, social studies, science, and foreign language. Why is this important?

I’ll illustrate this through a case study. Fred has taken three years of high school French and doesn’t much feel like taking AP French his senior year. He’s heard it’s a hard class…and French was never his strong suit. And anyway, Fred wants to be an engineer! What should Fred do?


Well, let’s look at this from the college admissions officer’s perspective.

The high school transcript can be seen as a “predictor.” In other words, it demonstrates how a student might be expected to perform at the college level. Now the easiest class at a top-tier college will be harder than the hardest class in high school. If Fred is worried about managing the most challenging coursework at his high school, then colleges will be appropriately concerned about his ability to perform at their schools.

Furthermore, colleges like students to show a certain baseline interest in becoming a well-informed, conversant citizen of the world. This might sound vague, even hokey, but there’s a reason why colleges maintain a distribution requirement that forces math majors to take foreign languages and music majors to take introductory science classes!

This brings us to one last reason Fred should take AP French—and as many other AP classes as he can. Many colleges give students the chance to “opt out” of certain distribution requirements if they attain qualifying AP scores (generally 3 or 4 and above). If Fred doesn’t take AP French his senior year, chances are he’ll have to take its equivalent as a freshman in college!

Of course, realistically, there might be times when scheduling conflicts prohibit a student from taking certain classes. Maybe AP French and AP Calculus are scheduled at the same time. As a student interested in majoring in engineering, Fred should by all means take AP Calculus and forego AP French. However, the scheduling conflict should be addressed in Fred’s application, preferably by his school counselor. Fred could also overcome this conflict by taking French at a community college. This would show initiative as well as dedication to really mastering French.

Let’s look at two more case studies, focusing now specifically on the choice of AP courses. Many students are unsure of which AP classes they should take and how many they should take in a given year or semester. Such decisions become especially difficult when scheduling conflicts occur.


Case Study: Stephanie

Stephanie is currently a sophomore at a competitive public school in the Bay Area. She has managed to get mostly As, though also a handful of Bs, in her first three semesters of high school and she expects to maintain a similar GPA this semester.

Stephanie must now register for her junior-year classes. She is committed to taking Spanish 3, Precalculus, English 3, and AP Chemistry. But she is undecided about AP U.S. History: she has heard lots of horror stories about the difficulty of the class and the massive amounts of work involved. In fact, many of her upperclassmen friends have discouraged her from taking the course. But Stephanie has also heard that colleges prefer students who take challenging courses.

With so many conflicting pieces of advice, Stephanie isn’t sure how to proceed. How much would the decision not to take the AP course affect her admissions prospects? Should she take AP U.S. History?

Now before we try to answer this question, we need more information about Stephanie’s college goals. There are rarely simple and universal yes-or-no answers to any admissions question. All students are different, and their decisions should be informed by their specific goals.

  • We have to factor in, for example, the fact that Stephanie is targeting the top-ranked schools in the UC system (UCLA, UC Berkeley) as well as a few selective private colleges. This means that her competition will most likely be taking—and acing—AP U.S. History.
  • We also need to weigh in what we know about Stephanie’s abilities and her work ethic. Stephanie has maintained a strong GPA so far. Her academic history suggests not only that she has the ability to do well in AP U.S. History, but also that it would be only natural for her to seek out maximally challenging courses as a junior.

So even though the thought of tacking on AP U.S. History to an already packed course load is daunting to Stephanie, I would recommend that she sign up for the course. AP U.S. History will provide Stephanie with a chance to demonstrate her academic prowess. And taking the class will show that Stephanie is not the kind of student who shies away from a challenge. Of course, my recommendation assumes that Stephanie would put in a real effort.


Case Study: Michael

Let’s look at a rather different case. Michael, a freshman, loves learning languages. A Japanese-American with a fairly good grasp of his mother tongue, Michael developed an interest in foreign languages from an early age. He completed Spanish 1 in junior high school and is currently enrolled in Spanish 2, with stellar results. Michael is also studying Chinese on his own. His parents are aware of his talent and would like to see him develop his potential in this area.

Their question is, How can Michael best develop and demonstrate this genuine passion for languages to colleges?

I had three specific recommendations for Michael. 

  1. Michael should continue taking Spanish through the AP level, making sure to continue to achieve high grades. This would demonstrate consistency and a commitment to fully mastering the language.
  2. Michael should also take the Japanese SAT, aiming for a perfect score. This would allow Michael to demonstrate his Japanese language skills, something which colleges would not otherwise be aware of.
  3. Finally, Michael should continue studying Chinese on his own—since he does not have space to add it to his school schedule—with the goal of eventually sitting the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam. A high score on this test would enable Michael to prove that his self-study was highly effective—just as effective, in fact, as studying Chinese in school over a period of years would have been.

Following these recommendations and attaining the above goals would certainly result in a college application that spotlights Michael’s passion and gift for learning languages. And if Michael develops an interest in certain related majors, such as international relations or political science, he would have a definite advantage over other applicants with similar grades in similar classes but no cohesive and demonstrable intellectual interests.

Does it matter that my grades have fluctuated?

Students who are competitive at the most selective colleges generally have consistently strong grades across the board.

This means that the simple and blunt answer to the above question is, Yes.

However, a more detailed answer to this question would have to take into consideration the particular kind of fluctuation evident in the transcript. For example, junior- and senior-year courses are generally more advanced and more difficult than freshman- and sophomore-year courses. Because the courses get harder, grades received during junior and senior year mean more: they demonstrate a student’s ability to succeed when confronted with advanced material.

This means that a weak freshman year can be compensated for, though not canceled out, by strong junior-year grades in suitably more advanced courses. It also means that even an impeccable freshman year can’t make up for a disastrous junior year, no matter how aggressive the freshman-year coursework.

Second-semester grades are slightly more important than first-semester grades for the same reason: coursework tends to get more difficult as the year progresses. Therefore, the student who gets a B in AP Chemistry the first semester of junior year but improves to an A the second semester is in a better position than the student who starts off with an A but then slides down to a B.

It is important to understand, however, that a steadily improving GPA is absolutely meaningless if the higher grades are attained only by scaling back on coursework, whether by taking fewer courses or by dialing back the difficulty level. Again, college admissions officers have seen every trick in the book when it comes to trying to make a high school transcript seem better than it really is. But when it comes to this part of the college application, nothing but hard work and consistent accomplishment will look like hard work and consistent accomplishment.

Can I get a C and still get into one of the most selective colleges?

I referred this question to a member of FLEX InfoBankTM, a former Admissions Representative at both Stanford University and a top-ten liberal arts college.

The short answer to this question? No: a student who gets a C cannot get into one of the most selective private schools.

Now there may have been very good reasons for the C. Maybe the student is brilliant at math and science but just not that good at the humanities. Maybe the student was too busy studying for the SATs and the APs and participating in various extracurricular activities to find time to ace that one tricky class. These are reasonable explanations. However, the most selective private colleges get so many applications from students with perfect or near-perfect GPAs that they simply don’t need to select a student with a less stellar academic record.

The good news is that there is still room at lots of excellent colleges for such a student. Additionally, if the C is a one-off anomaly caused by some personal circumstance legitimately beyond the student’s control—a serious illness or a family trauma, for example—then the student can explain the situation. Usually, the school guidance counselor is the best person to provide this information.

For this and lots of other reasons, it is a very good idea for students to get to know their guidance counselors…and to make sure their guidance counselors get to know them! A guidance counselor can be an invaluable help in the college admissions process.

By the end of the first semester of senior year, every student has a long record of the academic choices made and the scholarly successes attained over the last three and a half years.

The high school GPA is one area of the college admissions process that just requires good old-fashioned hard work. There are no “tricks” or “gimmicks” to be used here.

So the only advice I can give is: take the hardest courses available and excel at them! Though this may sound heartless to students struggling right now to juggle a heavy course load, this is the reality of college admissions today.

Remember the illustration given in chapter one of the college selection process by the Stanford admissions officer. Think of all 47,451 applications received at schools like Stanford, piled up all over the admissions office floor. Remember that of all these applications, only those that are deemed academically qualified will get on the table for serious consideration.

What exactly gets these roughly 37,960 applications off the floor?

Academics. GPA and SAT (or ACT) scores. These numbers are decisive in getting applications past the first cut. But once applications are on the table, academic achievements no longer play a decisive role.

Schools don’t rank students in order of SAT score or cumulative GPA and then start admitting students from the top down. No: at this stage, admissions officers want to get to know each applicant’s individual story as revealed through his or her extracurricular activities, essays and recommendations.

In other words, in most cases GPA is just an initial qualifier and not the final deciding factor. Still, GPA is of crucial importance, and for most students, it should be their highest priority. Although a great GPA won’t be enough to get a student in—and a perfect GPA is never absolutely required—a low GPA is enough to get a student rejected.

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