grades

What Does Test Optional Really Mean?

If your student excels in extracurriculars and has a good GPA, but doesn’t test well, then Test Optional schools are great options. About 1, 000 colleges accept applications without requiring SAT or ACT scores; they refer to those schools as test optional. This option gives the student more opportunity to be valued by their strengths, instead undervalued because of their weaknesses. But make sure your student has a good GPA if they don’t submit test scores.
Universities tend towards tests because they receive so many applications they need some way to screen candidates. But some universities are becoming test optional. The University of San Francisco, for example, is finding that a better indicator of how well a student will do in college is their grades in college prep classes, not SAT test scores. More liberal arts schools are test optional because they have extra resources to review individual applications.
“About half of the top 100 liberal arts colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report are test-optional. Institutions that are test-flexible allow applicants to substitute scores from other tests such as SAT Subject Tests or Advanced Placement tests.”
FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a non-profit that advocates against the tests. is the best way to find test-optional schools and has a list of over 1000 colleges that are test optional listed alphabetically.
If your student plans to apply for financial aid, then they might need to do some additional research. Candidates may not be eligible for merit aid if they don’t supply their scores, so please make sure your student asks the colleges about merit aid.

How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?

Bad report cards are warning signs that something in your child’s world is not right. Did they take on too heavy of a course load? Are classes are too advanced for them? Is something socially upsetting them? Whatever the reason, it’s time to take stock. 

I learned early on that what my kids feared most was disappointing me and their dad with bad grades. As soon as I figured this out, I made it very clear to them that their grades good or bad were not important to us, but they should be important to them. I suggested my job is to support them and help them to get the best grades they can and when they are slipping in a subject to let me know early on and I’d try to help them to figure out why. I found when the fear factor was removed, my kids took more responsibility for their grades and did not want to disappoint themselves. 

But what can we do as parents when a bad report card comes home? The first thing is to evaluate whether that class is just too hard. Perhaps meeting with the teacher and figuring out if they might have been placed in the wrong level. It’s okay to do a math level they can succeed in instead of an advanced math course they might fail in. This is also a good time to test if your child is putting in the work they need to for this class. 

A meeting with our child’s Advanced Chemistry teacher after a bad grade made all of us aware of his study poor habits. When he was in Chemistry the previous year, he studied the night before each test and got A’s. This year in Advanced Chemistry the tests are cumulative, so his teacher pointed out he needs to study every night even if he doesn’t have a test the next day to secure the ideas they review in class. She also went over some test-taking skills and found that he panics with short-answer questions. She suggested he start the test in the middle, warm up with the sections he is comfortable with and then go back to the short answers. These helpful hints have really worked and his grade is back up to an A and he feels a lot more confident and less scared of both his parents and his teacher. 

During a meeting with his English teacher she emphasized that going to her for help with essays before turning them in is crucial. Once he did that, his English grade improved. Teachers want their students to do well and if the student shows an interest in their grades and improving them, the teacher is thrilled and might even offer extra credit. 

Evaluating your child’s extracurriculars and how they spend their time after school and on weekends is important. Perhaps being on two sports teams and three clubs is just too much. It’s true that colleges like to see well rounded students, but that GPA can really make or break whether they get into the school of their choice. So when in doubt, get those grades up before anything else. 

It’s always best to look at your child’s grades before their report card comes out. So the more involved you are with their assignments and tests early in the semester the better. But what to do if a child fails a class. Check in with their advisor. Sometimes it might be best to take that class again in summer school, the following year, or at a community college. 

And finally, if your student’s grades are slipping, make sure things are okay socially. Are they being bullied? Hanging out with the wrong crowd? Or depressed? Falling grades can be a warning sign so rule all the outside factors out and seek help if need be.

High school is a tough time academically and socially, so the more your child knows you and their teachers are on their side and want to see them succeed, the happier they will be. These are the last years we have at home with our kids, so please don’t make it all about punishment for a bad grade. Enjoy this time and work through the struggles with them. And they will succeed.

How to Help If Your Child is Struggling Academically in the Middle of a School Year?

We just had parent teacher conferences with our eleventh grader. It was the perfect time to review his grades since he still has time to improve before the first-semester report card comes out.

His science teacher, who was concerned that his grade wasn’t as good as it could be after the last test started the meeting by saying, “Don’t worry, your parents and I are your support team. We are rooting for you, not against you.”

After spending 11th grade with my daughter being angry at her if her grades slipped because I knew how crucial that year was, I decided it was important to take a different tactic with my son.

Instead of being upset with a bad test score, we talked to him about the root of the problem. He’s got good grades in everything else, so what was it about chemistry?

During the meeting, we asked his teacher to dissect his last test. During that time she determined he had froze on the first part of the test with the multiple choice problems. By the time he got to the short answers, he had lost his confidence and couldn’t even finish the test. Thus the poor grade.

So she introduced some test taking skills and told him to start with by reading the test through first and then start the short answers. She told him to write out the formulas before starting the math problems and then basically do what he would consider the “easy problems”. If he thought of those as a warm up, then he’d be ready to take on the word problems.

She also implemented a plan that he reviews his chemistry every night not just cram for the test. It had been okay to cram for the test last year, but in 11th grade, the tests are based on the progression of the year’s work, not just that past week. 

I truly believe we are his support team and I’m looking at things differently now. Generally, we are slowing things down at home. I’m trying to cook more substantial food for him and make sure he has eaten protein before school. We are trying to be quieter in the evenings and have asked him to pick one night a weekend to see friends.

He won’t get in trouble for a bad grade, I had to let him know that. I think he had been afraid he disappoint us which just made the pressure worse. These next two years are going to be hard enough for him. He doesn’t need our added stress. 

It’s too late to drop classes, so if your child is struggling, maybe it’s time to get a tutor. Nothing wrong with a little help. Often a local college student who is majoring in that subject is a good choice and more affordable than a tutoring center. Libraries offer tutoring programs for free as do after school facilities like Boys and Girls Clubs. 

Keep talking to your student and perhaps their teachers. Teachers love when students come to them. They really do like to see that the student is making an effort. If you have the chance to jump in now and help, you might relieve some stress all around. 

How to Help Your Kids Plan for College Admissions?

After going through the college application process with my daughter, I don’t know how students can navigate through this world without some kind of guidance. The college application process is so much more complicated now than it was when I went to school. There are too many articles written and books published about the subject, it’s hard to know where to start.

The one thing that comes up a lot with high school college counselors is that colleges want to make sure the students are taking advantage of what the high school offers academically. For example, if your high school offers honors classes, then the colleges want to see that the student is taking them. And they don’t want to see that your child has free periods. If your student only needs three years of a language to graduate, encourage them to take that fourth year of a language. Same with math, don’t stop at the three year minimum. Senior year isn’t the year to take it easy. On the contrary, colleges especially look at what the student has taken on in their final year.

I’ve also learned that consistency is better than variety. It’s better to be on the Student Council for four years than to try a different club each year. Colleges look at follow through and how the student can grow within that experience. What the student does in the summer before junior and senior year is important too. Colleges want to see the student spending part of the summer either taking academic classes, doing an internship or working a summer job.

Some kids are driven by test scores, others want to enjoy high school and come out with a well rounded transcript. It’s important to get to know which kind of student yours is. My daughter realized she wanted to study journalism, so she picked her high school electives and internships around that. My son wants to go into the performing arts so he is gearing his extra circulars in that direction. Both kids already understand from their school that a high GPA and a rigorous course load is important, so that’s a given.

After watching my daughter study and retake the SAT three times and still end up with not the grades she wanted, I am convinced that she might not be the best standardized test taker. I don’t think my son is either, so instead of getting him a tutor and stressing him out about studying for the SAT’s I think he should focus his energies on his GPA and maybe apply to schools that are test optional. It’s not fair to force your student to do something they are not good at when they could spend that time working on what they excel in.

If you have the means, I think a virtual college counselor is a great idea. The virtual counselor will focus on your child and be able to access all the information out there. Sometimes working with an adult who is not the parent is important. An objective point of view can be refreshing to the student. And with crowded high schools, college counselors can’t always devote time to every student. So don’t take on the entire burden yourself. There is help out there and you’ll need it!

The Importance of High School Transcripts

Picture your dream home. Maybe it’s a chateau in France or beachside in Malibu. Maybe you have a pool or personal movie theater. No matter your tastes or desires, though, your dream home has something in common with that of every other reader’s. Can you guess what it is? Okay, time’s up.

Everyone’s dream home has a solid foundation underneath it.

You can’t see the foundation from the outside, but it’s the most important part of any house. A good foundation can hold up a house for a century or more, while a bad one can cause the structure to lean or crumble. So what does an article about getting in college have to do with proper home construction?

Your academic transcript is the foundation of your college application portfolio.

In this article, we’ll examine how your transcript tells a story more complicated than just course names and grades. We’ll even explore how it might affect you after you know where you’re going to college.

The Importance of a Solid Foundation

Continuing with our dream home metaphor, the house you see and everything in represents your extracurricular activities, awards, SAT scores, volunteer work, letters of recommendation, and extraordinary accomplishments that make you unique. However, the transcript foundation makes it all possible. Let’s see what this looks like in real life.

Ned is a college admissions counselors. He opens up your application to find lots of paperwork (or attachments if you applied online). He flips to the transcript. If it’s within or exceeds the ballpark of what his college wants in its next crop of freshman, he continues to review the rest of your application before making a decision. If the transcript is borderline good/bad, he might review one or two more items before continuing or stopping. And if the transcript is weak, he ignores the rest before putting your application in the ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ pile.

There Are Exceptions

Every college is different, and some specifically require their college admissions counselors to take a holistic approach: reviewing everything in an applicant’s portfolio before making a decision. However, with so many high school seniors applying to the nation’s top colleges and universities, college admissions counselors use tricks like the one in the previous section to weed out applicants they believe may not succeed academically. After all, nothing looks worse for a college than a high drop out rate.

So how college admissions counselors interpret transcripts beyond ‘Many A/B Grades=Good’ or ‘Many C/D Grades=Bad’? Lucky for you, one word sums up something just as important they hope to see when they review your transcript:

Consistency

Some students make straight As without effort while others struggle to make Cs. No matter a student’s academic potential, consistent grades paint a clear picture: an applicant will likely perform the same in college. An applicant whose grades are all over the place brings up many questions and concerns in the eyes of college admissions counselors. Maybe the applicant would excel if accepted. Maybe not. For the average college admissions counselor, the safe bet is to assume ‘maybe not’ and send the application to the reject pile.

Like before, there are exceptions. Students who struggle their freshman year and then improve academically throughout high school is a positive example of an inconsistent transcript. College admissions counselors are people, too; they understand that the transition to high school is not an easy one for some students.

Another important exception involves the courses themselves. A C grade in a World History is a lot easier to achieve than a C grade in AP World History. If you took many honors or AP courses in high school, consistency might not play as big of a role in college admissions counselors’ decision making.

What if you’re a senior? It’s January; your college applications are done and over. As Julius Caesar would say, “The die has been cast.” Before we wrap up, let’s address one question I bet that’s on your mind:

Do I still need to care about my high school transcript?

Short Answer

Oh yeah.

Long Answer

Your high school transcript doesn’t lose its importance when you apply to college or even when you receive an acceptance from your dream school. Depending on your situation, it may continue to influence your academic future for the next year or more. You may discover further scholarship opportunities which require you to submit a full academic transcript. A significant dip in your grades would not look good.

The other impact your transcript can have post-graduation is college course placement. Many colleges use a combination of transcripts, SAT scores, and placement tests to put incoming students into math and English courses. If you excelled throughout your senior year, your college might let you skip a course or two, the benefits of which include saving money and possibly graduating early.

So please take the advice of your parents, teachers, and me: don’t slack off the spring semester of your senior year. Future you will thank present you for your diligence and hard work.

Final Thoughts

For college-bound students, maintaining a consistent academic transcript pays off during college admission season and beyond. As you plan for the future, don’t forget the exceptions we’ve discussed. Polish every part of your application portfolio and double check that you have everything you need to apply.

Beyond that, good luck!

Do Grades in Senior Year Matter?

Eight hours on New Year’s Eve. That’s how much time was spend in our house finishing up college applications. Proofreading final supplements, finalizing payments, sending in SAT’s and art portfolios, asking last minute questions to the very patient and available high school college counselor. But the most time was spent deliberating over the final college list. Going back and forth about whether or not to apply to Early Decision 2. We decided not to.

Exhausted by four o’clock in the afternoon, the applications were all in. I was ready to sleep, my daughter was ready to celebrate. As the fireworks went off above our house at midnight, I realized what a hurdle we’d been through getting this far. It was a time to pause. The next chapter was just about to begin. Decisions will be made. And this time next year, she would have completed her first year of college. And right now, we have no idea where that will be.

I like that the application process coincided with New Year’s Eve. I’m ready to put the hard work behind and start fresh. For my daughter, she’ll move through the rest of the year with the school musical, swim team, and her final semester of high school.

But since all the applications are in and transcripts to colleges sent, do these final grades matter? Yes, they do. The colleges will only accept students who maintain their grades in the spring semester of senior year. I have heard stories from parents whose child let their grades slide and their offer to the college of choice was withdrawn.

UC Irvine rescinded 500 acceptances last year two months before Fall term stating in some cases the reason being fallen grades in senior year.  Although seniors should be allowed to take a breath after all this hard work, they need to be careful and treat the rest of the year as carefully as they have the previous years.

I want my daughter to have a fun summer. A summer job and trips to the beach is what I hope for her. No academic classes. Although we have just learned that if accepted to any of the UC schools, the freshmen are encouraged to start in the summer semester, eight weeks earlier than the fall semester begins. That would mean one month of summer, then moving into the dorms in July. So much to think about and to plan for, if only we could plan. Instead we wait a couple of months until the decisions roll in.

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