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DOES FRESHMEN YEAR REALLY COUNT?

DOES FRESHMEN YEAR REALLY COUNT?In a word, yes. As most parents of graduating seniors can attest, the four years from freshman to senior year flew by in a wink. Most students and many parents think that freshman year is too premature to be making plans for college. However, the truth is that the foundation for a strong college application begins with that first schedule of courses.

First of all, it is important to understand that there is a difference between the kind and number of courses required for graduation from high school and those required by colleges and universities for admission. As the competitiveness of the college increases so do the demands on the level of course difficulty and the number of credits taken in certain courses. It is important to be aware of these differences if not before starting freshman year, certainly during that year so that adjustments can be made.

The single most important factor that makes a strong college application is the quality of the courses taken. When reviewing applications, almost 100% of colleges look first at the quality of courses taken and, second, the GPA attained. After that come standardized tests, extra-curricular activities, interviews, essays, all in varying order depending on the school.

The courses selected are important because they lay the foundation for later courses. Math, science and foreign language courses are given sequentially, meaning if you don't have Algebra I, you can't take Algebra II. If you don't take basic Chemistry you cannot take AP Chemistry. More and more competitive colleges are suggesting, and some requiring, 3 years of the same foreign language and some recommending four years. Without some planning a student may close off options when it comes time to apply for college.

Secondly, many students and their parents are under the impression that colleges will disregard a low freshman year GPA. With this in mind, students often do not take the freshman year seriously only to find when applying to college three years later that a lackluster freshman year has had a disastrous effect on their GPA. A couple of Cs or, worse, Ds in the freshman year will weigh very heavily on the GPA throughout the succeeding years. For every C the student will have to get an A in order to bring the GPA up to a B. For every D it will be even harder. Although college admissions officers understand the adjustments that some students go through during their high school freshman year and a few colleges will discount low freshman year grades, nevertheless they are the minority and not the majority. The more competitive the college/university the less lenient they will be.

So that this message is not all doom and gloom, let me emphasize that if you do have a not so great freshman year all is not lost. You do not have to give up the dream of going to college. You just have to work harder and improve your course selection and grades. Colleges will look favorably on an upward improvement in grades and thus will be more understanding of a shaky freshman year.
Judith Christie
College Planning Consultants