Admissions and your academic record part II

The most important year in your academic record is your junior year. Why? When reviewing your transcripts, it’s the last complete year that admissions officers see. They also look more closely, if they have it, at any senior records, and then sophomore, and then freshmen. They look closely at trends, whether your grades went up or down (up is better). Translation – even if your freshmen and sophomore years weren’t where you’d have liked them to be, pour it on in junior and senior year and you can still have a big impact on where you get admitted.

Important note – your work is NOT over once you get admitted. Admission is always conditional on your completing your work at the same level (or better). Colleges will look at your final high school grades, and can ask questions or even revoke your admission if there are problems. Last year I revoked admission for more than 20 students…DON’T fall victim to senioritis!!! That doesn’t mean you can’t slip at all, but please keep your partying within limits that your grades can handle until you have that diploma in hand.

Be seeing you!


Daily Shameless Plug: Mason professor makes water drinkable around the world

Dr. Abul Hussam has been recognized the world over for his innovative approaches to effectively purifying poison water with out great cost.  Time magazine international edition just named him one of their “Heroes of the Environment”.  I love seeing our faculty in print, and he’s been in pretty much every major U.S. publication.  It may be even cooler to see the way these accomplishments are seen overseas – check out

More about courses and grades

Nothing is more important to your admission than your academic record – no matter what anyone else has told you because I’m right and they’re wrong. I suppost that’s why my recent post on AP and IB courses and test scores resulted in a few emails (even a phone call!) asking for more insight on how admissions committees look at your grades.

To start, we’re usually not talking about ALL your grades. Yes, colleges look at your overall grade point average, but we’re a lot more interested in your grades in your academic coursework than anything else. That’s grades in English, math, science, social science, and foreign language. Sure, there are exceptions if you’re applying for a specialized program (culinary school will likely care more about your sauces than about your algebra skill), but for the most part, the academic grades are the focus.

Everytime I present that in a speech, the hands go flying up in the air, “But…what about band?” Hey, I was in the drum line, I get that the classes may be hard, but still its the academic courses. This response usually gets me at least one hand still gesticulating wildly, “But…it’s HONORS band.” Yes, well, in that case…we STILL care more about your academic courses. Grades in those courses are the best indicator of how you will do in college courses.

Tomorrow – what years on your transcript count the most (and least) and do final grades count once your admitted? Be seeing you!

Daily Shameless Plug: The economics department everyone knows

For several years Mason had the distinction of being the only school in the world with two Nobel prize winners in Economics.  While that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment, I find our economics faculty are generally better known for all the press they garner than for the awards they receive.  Walter Williams has a regular column that appears in 140 newspapers and websites, and the rest of the faculty show up just about every week on the national news programs or in the national press.  Check out the latest – a New York Times article by Tyler Cowen:

A in a regular or B in Advanced Placement

I’m still at the national conference for the Collegeboard. Yes, that means I’m working on a Saturday (becuase I am VERY dedicated to you). One of the session was a meeting of ACAOPU (yes it is a very silly name) the Association of Chief Admissions Officers of Public Universities. A large discussion there with the big chief of Collegeboard, Gaston Caperton, focused on research about Advanced Placement courses. It seems that just taking the courses isn’t nearly as predictive of success in college as getting good grades in the course, and that becomes even more predictive with good scores on the test. I restrained myself from saying, “Duh.”

I do, however, get asked ALL THE TIME how many AP or IB courses students need to take and how those grades are looked at compared to regular courses, and whether tests will be taken into account. Here’s what some of the most competitive publics said:

We want to see a rigorous curriculum, and generally that means taking some AP/IB courses. there is no specific number, but the competition is increasing as more schools offer them, more of them, and more students take more of them. Also, bogus AP courses make us laugh (one Dean claimed to have seen AP Gym).

The old sarcastic reply was repeated – do we like B in AP or A in regular: we prefer to see A’s in AP courses (kind of a jerk response, but I’ve used it). Truth is that very situation varies so it will change from place to place, student to student, and day to day…but you can assume that at the MOST competitive institutions everyone took very rigorous courses and geneally received great grades (or they can hit the three point from outside the line, or Daddy has his name on a building).

Scores, however, are a different matter. For AP’s taken in your senior year, we don’t even have scores until long after decisions are made. No one reported going back to look at scores after the admission decision was made, or giving much weight to scores they do have.

My take: first, you should try picking courses because they interest and challenge you, and not just to get into a school, since there are plenty of schools and just maybe you should focus on the best learning for yourself. The Collegeboard seems to want EVERY student to take AS MANY AP COURSES AS POSSIBLE. I think that leads to a bit of insanity, and maybe a complete lack of a life. I do think, however, that its great to challenge yourself when given the opportunity and the interest. I’ve mentioned before that one thing to consider is how much you think a course might drop your grades – if its going from an A- to a B+, I wouldn’t sweat it. If you’re pretty sure taking the AP is going to drop from a solid B to a low C or even risk a D, I think that may be a bad decision.

Finally, it’s entirely up o you whether you take the test. If you do well you may get some credits at your college, and if you do lousy it isn’t likely to impact your admission.

I apologize that there isn’t a clear answer on this one – but hey, I didn’t create the system, I just write about it -and try to make the best of it for one (phenomenal) university.

Be seeing you!

Daiy Shameless Plug: Another Mason faculty member fighting cancer

I’ve mentioned before that Mason faculty in the very high tech field of protemics are making huge strides in treatments for cancer.  A stroy out today highlight faculty working on another area of treatment, and finding that an all plant diet helped patients fight prostate cancer:

Personally I hope I never have to give up my steak (apologies in the advance to my vegan readers, if any), but I THINK i could do it to save my life…probably…

Be seeing you!

Colleges ponder who the heck you students are

I’m currently at the national meeting of the College Board (the group that brings you Advanced Placement curriculum and the SAT, so I’m sure near and dear to your hearts).  They led a presentation about “Millenials”  – that’s all of you who are applying to college as freshmen.  Their study asserts that the time students spend on homework has been declining for ten years (so you spend less time now than the past few years of students – have you noticed?).  Also that you are more focused on making money now than ever before.  Finally – the researchers claim you all want “sincerity” and “humor” in college recruiting, and that marketing tag lines and hyberbole are big turnoffs.  So get ready for a slew of new materials from colleges that let you know how much money you’ll make, and try their best to be funny and “sincere”.  I, of course, would never stoop to such tactics.  By the way, if you go to Mason I’m convinced you will make a TON of money…