People often wonder about when they should start the college process. This is a tricky issue because I don’t want to see students who never get off the treadmill. In other words, I don’t want to see people so college obsessed that they look back on their high school years and decide that they never enjoyed the ride; they never smelled the roses. On the other hand, if students don’t start thinking in middle school about developing a four-year high school plan that will allow them to take rigor with depth and breadth while simultaneously having a balanced life and playing to their strengths, there is a very good chance they will be eliminating themselves from consideration at certain schools simply because they never took the right courses in high school.

While I worked as an adjunct college counselor with Susan Tree from 2001 to 2009 at Westtown, she regularly compiled a list of grievances that college admissions counselors had about student curriculums. These were the mistakes students made that unfortunately at times kept them from gaining admission to the colleges to which they were applying. Susan passionately warned students to heed her advice and not eliminate themselves from consideration because of poor course selection. I met with Susan at Westtown on 6/5/2014, and with her permission, I am sharing some of these common errors. Some of the things Susan mentioned were Westtown specific, but these principles will apply to any school if you have other options. Of course, you should go back and look at what we said in the Game Changer series about how schools evaluate students when they all have different curriculum options at their respective schools.

In this blog, I will share some of the wisdom Susan passed on to me and some things that I have heard directly from colleges. You will recall the story in the Game Changer workbook about my conversation with the admissions counselor at the college of William and Mary regarding curriculum and admissions decisions. Hopefully, that story convinced you of the importance of the curriculum.

Students and parents are notorious for confusing high school requirements to graduate with what the colleges you apply to consider to be an acceptable curriculum. One of the most important areas where students make poor decisions is with their science curriculum. With some colleges and universities now requiring four years of science, two years and even three years may not be enough. Also, are students taking lab sciences?  Colleges that do a holistic review do not view all courses in the science field equally. Fortunately, there is more flexibility now than when I was active in college admissions in the early ’90s with physics, chemistry, and biology. It is still a safe route to take all three courses, but it is not the kiss of death to not have all of them on your transcript. I just spoke with a prominent college about this issue, and they responded that this approach represented “old school thinking,” and they have moved on from that mentality.

Students often don’t realize that for the colleges and universities that do a holistic review, they will be looking at your curriculum in light of the major you indicate you are interested in studying. A student that wants to be a journalist will get more grace for only taking three science courses and doing so with modest grades than a student who wants to be a doctor if they don’t show their love and proficiency for science in both their breadth and grades.