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Grades for college

Original post made by Concerned Mom on Jun 2, 2008

My child doing well at Jordan now but I am concerned at what grades are needed to be admitted into UCs, Ivy Leagues, CA state schools, etc. I am getting the impression that one needs to earn all A's in regular AND AP classes to get into Ivys and UCs. Is this true and is it worth the stress?! I have heard from students attending Ivy Leagues that Paly was more difficult than college. Isn't that backwards?

I know there are variables such as extracurriculars, special talents, outstanding SATs, etc.

What if a child earns all A's and takes no AP classes or earns "only" A's and B's in regular classes?

Should the child be stressed to the max or should we plan on transfering to the school of choice later and relax more at Paly?

Thank you, because Paly was much easier when I went through...

Comments (70)

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 2, 2008 at 11:57 pm

I think you're asking a good question - is it worth it? There's been plenty of press in the past year to suggest its not - that the path to success and happiness does not run exclusively through the Ivy League and the most competitive UCs. And for a middle schooler, maybe too soon to worry? This may not be what you want to hear, but there are very few guarantees out there, and almost none if you're thinking about competitive schools. Every year there will be admissions decisions that leave you scratching your head. There are also many, many, many excellent schools out there that many of us haven't heard of or thought much about. There is a match for everyone.

If you and your child make good educational decisions for the right reasons in the short term, I think the long term will work out well. Your child should take the course load that provides a good balance of challenge and sanity. Overloading on what you think colleges want will provide no guarantees and may end up backfiring if the child is less successful and ultimately finds education less meaningful and rewarding. How much a student's intrinsic motivation and chance to enjoy learning and childhood should be sacrificed for an extra 0.1 GPA or points on SATs? I'm not advocating a lackadaisical approach to academics, but the focus should be on maintaining health, sanity, motivation, curiosity, while fostering academic development, independence, life-long learning skills and self-discipline. At Paly we're fond of saying that college is a match to be made, a next step in an educational journey, and not a prize awarded after senior year.

Posted by Try Hard, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 3, 2008 at 1:24 am

If you don't take the hardest courses, the chances of getting into a top school goes way down (like almost none). Of course taking those courses doesn't guarantee anything - but if you don't take them, you pretty much guarantee that you won't get in.

I'm sure that there are many excellent schools that many of us haven't heard of. On the the other hand, brand recognition is one of the big things you want out of a $100-$200K college degree, not just "a good match." That guy reading your resume knows Harvard or Berkeley or UCLA or UC Davis (and kids who have graduated from them); but, say, St Olaf's, which is a very nice school, means nothing to him. You're not just buying "the next step in an educational journey" - you're getting a lifelong branding and membership in an alumni network.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:04 am

There are several good books on college admission that I would recommend you read:

"Price of Admission ..." by Daniel Golden,

"The Gatekeepers ..." by Jacques Steinberg

Both are available from the library, and are quite illuminating.

Posted by Grandma, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:34 am

Concerned Mom - lower your expectations and let your child be a child. So what, he/she may start out in Community College, he/she will still have an opportunity to work up to a four year college.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:36 am

I have one who just completed his junior year at Gonzaga--not a "brand school," to use the above poster's term (except perhaps in men's basketball) but a really great college for kids for whom it is a fit. My other starts at Middlebury in the fall--most definitely one of the selective "Little Ivies" that had an overwhelming number of applicants this year. Both are PALY grads, all 12 years in PAUSD.

I am not one to project how we handled this process on other families, but I do have a couple observations:

--try "shining lights" that help your kid see what different types of colleges are all about and have to offer. Do it without passing judgment. We have lots of ties to Stanford as a family, it is a great school with a great brand, neither of ours applied there because they did not find what it had to offer FOR THEM was the right fit. There are numerous variables that make of the traits of various colleges, and someone who might thrive at Michigan or UCLA could be miserable at Pomona. That does not mean one or the other is better, it is a matter of best fit for the individual student

--expect your child to be and do their best, nothing less and nothing more. Finding a "sweet spot" where they feel that they are in a good place, stretching but not tearing, leads to a happier, better adjusted child than one who at one extreme not sufficiently challenged and at the other pushed beyond their abilities. This is what parenting is all about--to understand what each child's sweet spot is.

--One challenge living in a community like this, which has a disproportionately high number of "high achievers," (and I count my wife and me among these over-educated types) is a tendency to project that type of background on those growing up. It is not for everybody, most people don't have such background and do very well thank you, and frankly, it has baggage at times which I for one could do without. Some kids will have more of an inclination to aspire to such experiences, it is if that is the case, fine, but if it is not the case, that's OK too. Many very successful people right here in our back yard do not have degrees from the "brands"--they are considered successful because of what they have done with themselves in their adult lives, not because of where they went to school.

--I am not very good at it myself, but the advice "be in the moment" is important. It also is important to have goals and beacons to reach for, but if everything a kid does is premised on how it is going to look on a college application or what it will do for future career options, I question how much such a child actually will learn and enjoy that experiences themselves. It is fun to be a liitle league baseball player, even a bad one. Whether it leads to a plaque in the Hall of Fame years hence is not the reason to do it.

--kids have peers, and what they hear and learn in school affects them as much as what goes on in the home. That sort of group dynamic can be a healthy thing if the "team" challenges itself to do better than people individually can do. It also creates phony competitions, and as parents there is nothing we can do about that, except not add gas to such flames.

--As several admissions and college President speakers I have heard in recent months commented--the whole thing is overplayed, your child will be fine, wherever they end up. While some places have more to offer kids with certain interests than others, a good "grid" of colleges that largely match with the student's interests and abilities will lead to the ultimate selection being a good one, no matter which place it ends up being.

--remember the "soft skills." Grades and test scores are a start, but things like self confidence, a sense of humor, ability to work well with others, for example, are key things to someone who is going to do well in college and beyond. I fear too many of us do not spend enough time thinking about what we are doing to help our children become good at these sorts of things.

Good luck, it is hard, high pressure, but only to the extent you allow it to be. I know one guy who literally moved out of the State because he felt the schools here were too high pressure for his kid. Now he wishes he hadn't done it and wants to move back.

Posted by Well Rounded is everything, a resident of Monroe Park
on Jun 3, 2008 at 8:59 am

There is no need to woory about grades and course. Let the child be a child and enjoy life.

Leave the good jobs for the immgrants. Your child can well rounded to enable him/her flip round burgers.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2008 at 9:11 am

The average GPA of students admitted to UC schools is at Web Link It is posted by individual school.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 9:28 am

It is much easier for a student to get into a UC from the schools of the surrounding community than it is to get in from Palo Alto. PA students are competing against each other and all are applying to multiple colleges. The same grades from a different district have a much better chance of getting into a UC than the same grades from PA high schools. Just look at the list of where PA students are going each year, many choose to go to community colleges and even State Universities because they have not got in the first time around. They can then work in the way they have been taught to do so at Paly or Gunn and then get into the college of their choice after two years where the competition is so much easier for them to beat.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2008 at 10:48 am

I have several comments about students and parents who are obsessed with college apps. It seems we all have some reason to be! - but some take it WAY too far here. Grades are one part of it. I think PAUSD kids get penalized compared to kids from other districts - it is hard to have top class rank here, very easy elsewhere that I know about.

Another thing is that some students/parent plan and sort of concoct a paper record (which is part of college apps).

One can only hope that college admissions people start seeing through some of the phony or overblown stuff or parent-arranged "accomplishments." Some kids have been featured for doing community service, yet in the article it turns out the mom set it all up (more often than you would imagine). Or - the charity is based on "identifying a need for women's services" in India (when child's wealthy family was there travelling on holiday....)

I think the time has come for colleges to go back to giving credit to the child who goes out and just gets him/herself a job (please, not at his/her parents' software company).

Noticeably at Paly, there has been a problem of club presidents who set up but don't really operate their clubs (but are listed/documented as president and presumably, listing this on their college apps). For several years, I have inquired of my kids about some Paly club only to be told that after all, it is never meeting, or it has fallen through, or it has activities strictly oriented towards a paper record. I have also individually noticed these clubs fall by the wayside and/or do not have notices in the daily announcements.

Looking at Gunn, they seem to have a long list of real clubs, so they may not have this problem.

Why would I inquire about club happenings at Paly? I was once a student at a PAUSD HS -- we had a great variety of actual clubs that met once a week or so (usually lunch in a friendly teacher's classroom) and had activities as well as socializing but they WERE meaningful and not phony. I had a great time and learned a lot, too.

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:16 am


I agree that the club situation should be enforced.

However, there is no way to stop parents from helping to inflate their children's applications. If it means the difference between going to their ideal university or going to a less ideal college, of course, parents are going to want their children to attend the ideal university and want to help the child's admittance. Even if universities admitted purely on GPA & SAT scores (which would clarify that it's the childs work), then it wouldn't be fair to those who don't test well or aren't as intelligent. Integrity may be more important to you, but the truth is, life isn't fair and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. Another cliche, "It's who you know that counts" holds truth.

As for kids being able to list that they had a job in high school, no high GPA students would have time to hold a job unless it is during the summer, and during the summer, they are probably doing internships or taking SAT prep classes for college applications! Or simply wanting some free time from the difficult academic year...

When I attended Paly in the 80s we had plenty of free time. But that was the good ole days and things have changed.

Posted by kc, a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2008 at 11:58 am

You should get on college confidential. It is a website full of discussion forums where parents and students (mostly high school and college) ask questions like this daily.
Web Link

Posted by Balanceisbliss, a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:22 pm

David Cohen and Paul Losch offer the most balanced perception of the process. I say perception because each process is perceived by the specific individual.

For example, "I know one guy who literally moved out of the State because he felt the schools here were too high pressure for his kid. Now he wishes he hadn't done it and wants to move back." For my family, that lives where our children attend a Newsweek top high school as well as having lived in MP and PA, I would never move back to PA because it provides an inflated pressure that is not needed or required. I equate it to the Pediatrician who tells the parent to relax because no one is going to ask you or your child when they were potty trained or when they walked - it just is not important! Everything is important in PA/MP/LA and/or Bay area.

In addition, many children now attend college for a Masters program specific to their study of choice, so the importance of the undergraduate degree is terms of connections. In the end, and in disagreement to a prior post, it is the FIT that counts. Is the school, study of choice and environment(social/academic) such a fit that it provides for a child or inspires the child to study further.

It is the same for Advanced Placement course work. I am thankful my children's schools encourage the children to explore. As a Sophomore, my child will take AP Human Geography instead of the usual offering for history. He will take the required course either in junior or senior year. However, AP Human Geography is offered next year only, and then skips a year, and my child is fascinated by Geography and placed second in the middle school Geography contest at their school - loves it. Maybe this child will study it further and be inspired to study it in college versus the Computer Engineering track they are involved in currently (taking Engineering courses as well as high school courses.) This course could be viewed negatively by a college, but my child is following a passion. This child will most likely continue on with the Computer Engineering track, but I know when the child takes AP Economics or another challenging course he/she is following an interest/passion and not what a particular college might desire.

S. Kiekegarrd said, "Life is a mystery to be lived not a problem to be solved." High school is not a problem, but an opportunity to solve the mystery of who they are and what to do for the rest of their life...........and they better love it.

Each transition seems hard, especially when we do not know what is required at the next level. In particular, for Palo Alto that creates such unnecessary competition based, in part, on ignorance of the next step. Let your child be the cue!

Since I have been dealing with recent high school and college graduates and have heard (complaints) from friends around the country doing the same, as a parent get back to "real world"...child needs to work....better yet.....create their own business - be it summer lawn mowing, newspaper routes, weeding a neighbors yard - get REAL!

Posted by Tania, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:35 pm

I agree with everything said above, but want to add that even though it is definitely nice to have a brand school on your resume it only marginally helps in career after college. If you want to go into investment banking and management consulting for the McKinseys of the world then you need to have the pedigree of a "brand" school, but if you are looking into joining a Silicon Valley company as an engineer or a finance analyst you'd be much better off graduating from a school like San Jose State University, which has strong ties with all recruiters in the valley. In fact companies like Cisco, HP, Intel hire many more undergrads from local schools than they do from Berkeley or Stanford.

Posted by balanceisbliss, a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:57 pm

To ditto Tania...........the McKinseys of the world want a masters.....that is when you can go for the "brand" school..........also when it is easier to get into.

In addition, the state/university schools are more attractive just as for colleges selecting a public high school student is more attractive than selecting a private school student - initiative/drive/getting a high school degree based on adversity and diversity ......more likely these are students who were working their way through college.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:12 pm

another ditto

The big brand name schools will have job fairs for students which will include not only the big brand name companies, but the smaller startups can attend also. The smaller schools will probably not have the same job fairs, but will have message boards that companies can use. My feeling is that the bigger schools can get their students into jobs whereas the smaller schools may require that the students themselves put more effort into seeing what is available in the job market. When it comes to something like engineering jobs, there are plenty out there and it requires effort to find them. True Sun, Cisco, etc. may be obvious places, but there are so many companies around that college grads do need to put effort into their search. However, the most diligent searchers will find that their efforts will be truly rewarded. Who knows what will be the next Google, EBay or Facebook.

Posted by Try Hard, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:13 pm

There are many good schools and many ways to live a happy life, no doubt. But a BA from an Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or other elite school absolutely confers a life/career-long advantage - in getting into grad schools, in getting jobs (both at first and later), at attracting mates, at professionally and personally networking with other grads, etc. It doesn't guarantee anything, of course, and getting a brand name grad school degree certainly helps, but there is a good reason that many families strive to get their kids into elite schools - it pays off, big time.

Posted by Been there, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:33 pm

I have one child that went through Palo Alto school, graduated from Paly and is currently a junior at a UC... So a few quick facts:

1) You should not even start worrying about grades until sophomore year of High School for the UCs. Grades prior to that DO NOT enter into the application. It's the case for many universities. Some universities will look at freshman year grades, but definitely not the UCs.

2) You don't necessarily need straight As to get into the UCs, although it seems to be the case for UC Berkeley and UCLA. It's not true of the other UCs. Other factors will come into play, including your SAT scores. AP classes boost your grades (they are given extra points), so that's their value for the college application.

My daughter did not have straight As at Paly. She had very good SAT scores. She had a few AP classes, but less than other students. She also had a part time job outside of school. I mention the job because, even though having a job in high school is looked down on in this town, it was a continues to be a very positive thing for my daughter. Not only it taught her many things personally (including a sense of responsibility, the value of money, people skills and a knowledge of the working world), but it's also been a tremendous asset to her since then at school and in her job searches.

Good luck !

Posted by balanceisbliss, a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Try attracting mates w/a BA from an IVY?. Oh please, look at the thread. It is what grades for college. Majority of CEOs don't even graduate from Ivy league and Facebook and Microsoft founders are drop-outs. The ones that are truly successful....found their passion......Palo Alto would benefit if they helped the students find their passion not working towards a degree to help them attract a mate or please obsessive parents............. Also, you definitely do not need a BA from an IVY to get into a masters program at an IVY.

Posted by Been there, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Oh, and by the way... your point about working harder at Paly/Gunn than in college. I would not put it this way. In my daughter's experience, what Paly gave her was an extremely good preparation for college. Every day, at her UC, she sees students who came from "easier" school districts but are now struggling in college. She has had not difficulty transitioning to college and is doing very well. She has many times said to me that she is very grateful she went to Paly because how well Paly prepared her for college.

Posted by been there, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2008 at 5:43 pm

I apologize for my typos and mistakes. I should have taken the time to edit my posts. Sorry!

Posted by degrees & status in the bay area, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2008 at 6:47 pm

Having worked at several top tech firms in the bay area, I have to agree that certain firms will only hire students from ivy league schools, especially that certain place in Mountain View with the free food.
That said, must a parent devise a "paper plan" ( please parent who mentioned that elaborate exactly what that is ) to fill out your child's academic resume. We had a beloved family friend, who was not particularly a genius, but was a very good swimmmer. She scored fairly well on the SATS, and then on yearbook picture day went and stood in with almost every single club on her high school campus, which she had never before attended. We think she put that on her app, but who knows. She ended up going to Stanford though, and is very successful.

Posted by sohill, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Relax Woman!

Posted by Confused?, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2008 at 11:06 am

It almost seems like we as parents are helping kids lower their own expectations with things like 'let children enjoy their life', 'they will figure out eventually' ..

Help your child set a goal at the time they enter the high school. As a parent we are the best judge to determine what the child can achieve. Medicine, Engineering, Legal are not the only careers available! Some kids may have an aptitude towards these career lines, others may not.

But do help the child to get clarity and help them to adhere to the path to achieve the goal - rather than offering options to find the easy way out

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm

And then of course there is always the spider method. If at first you don't succeed, try again. It is much easier to get into a UC from Palo Alto on a transfer from Foothills or a State University. You still end up graduating from the UC and probably save money too.

Posted by balanceisbliss, a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2008 at 1:04 pm


High school is a time to figure out who you are and what you want to do in life........part of the journey.........part of the process.

I do not know where in this thread you read between the lines that posts are "offering options to find the easy way out."

I think parents can encourage their children to do their very best as they are exploring. However, they should not be guiding their children to take a certain subject or join (or say they joined)a club(s)in hopes this will look good to Ivies or Stanford. To get into Stanford now is like getting in through the lottery, so what is the point.

My child is interested in business as well as computer programming. I suggest this child looks into AP Econ. I am not doing it so it looks good for the application, but that it may inspire further interest and challenge the child at the same time satisfying a requirement.

I disagree with parents being the best barometer of their child's abilities....I have seen too many miss or unaware of their children's talents. It is better to raise a child comfortable in their own skin so they will be comfortable trying new things.

I think the majority of the posts are telling the mother to take a deep breath and exhale.....the process is not as complicated as it may seem.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Funny, I know some non-Ivy grads at that company with the free food.

I think there's definitely an initial advantage going to a top school and it can help with getting into grad school--though not quite the way people think. If you're planning to go out on the market with a BA, one of the big brand-name schools is a better bet--bigger network, more on-campus recruiting.

For grad school, however, the small top school is a better bet. You're less likely to be competing against fellow grads. When I went to a certain elite grad school, the head of the department used to identify me by my undergrad alma mater. It made me stand out. That same school, however, was almost no use for getting that first job.

After the first couple of jobs, however, both degrees became pretty irrelevant. It's "What have you done lately?" And, yeah, as it happens, some San Jose State types I know had to start a little lower on the totem pole, but have long compesated for any elite-school advantage.

As for my young non-Ivy friend at the place in Mountain View. He did go to a good school, but not a top-10. The other thing he did, however, was take a break from school and code for a year. So he came on board with a recent BA *and* real work experience.

To some extent, there's a chicken-and-an-egg issue here. Do the grads of top schools do well because they went to top schools or because they have skills and talents that got them into the top schools in the first place. The studies I've seen indicate it's the latter--that where you went to college doesn't make as huge a difference as people think--i.e. if you're somewhere in the top 100, you'll do about the same as if you went to one of the top Five.

Posted by sohill, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2008 at 4:19 pm


Right on.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Middle School advice -
Most importantly, grades don't count (towards college that is) - middle school is the time to learn how to take tests, how to study, how to be self motivated, etc. Middle school is the time to flunk a test because you didn't study, have your grade dropped because your project was late...

Let your child choose electives they are interested in (don't limit them to music and language as I have seen many parents do). There are a lot of kids who take a language in middle school for 2 years and still end up in the level one language class. On the other hand, if that is where your child's interest lies, encourage them!

Getting into the Ivies is often a lottery - no matter how perfect your grades and SAT scores are - there are a LOT of kids with great grades and scores. Concentrate on interests and passions, there are kids who get accepted to schools because of their passion.

Posted by Child Goofup, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2008 at 5:55 pm

What hypocrisy, Palo Altans !!!

People move to Palo Alto for good schools - but when it comes to college they seem to think it is not necessary to go a top rated college.

What gives...

Child was not good enough to make to IVY league and now parents have to make excuses for their children.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2008 at 6:07 pm

What's really at stake here, the kid's future or the parents' egos?

Posted by sohill, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2008 at 6:54 pm

It would be a good idea if those giving "advice" would have some knowledge of what you are talking about:
1) there are only eight institutions that are Ivy league :
Dartmouth College (yes, it's a university)
University of Pennsylvania

Others maybe top schools but Ivy League they are not.

Contrary to what some are saying admissions officers look for the "something" more than grades. When the rejection letter comes it's often surprising for those who thought they did the" right things" that they are unceremoniously rejected. That something missing is self awareness, intellectual curiosity, the desire to learn- in one word, what makes the student tick with self confidence.( there is also a certain amount of random "luck"). If what makes the student tick is parental pressure your student isn't going to be a great asset to any top institution. Granted, the state colleges have to admit with a somewhat different criteria and that's a another type of admission.

A great school district is one were the students have opportunities for the pursuit of student's interests and the collective interactions are likely to produce advantageous and novel experiments, ideas and participation that are beyond the curriculum.

It would be a good idea to stop speaking about something you haven't a clue about, like the free food company. You are likely to be wrong and annoying to those who are actually eating the free food.

Finally. Concerned Mom:

I told you to relax because it seems to me from what you said that you think that having a nice confident life in middle school is a sign of misspent youth. If you continue worrying about Ivy leagues you are giving your child a good dose of anxiety- and it is clear that comes from your anxiety. I sympathize, but as the mother and mother-in-law of Ivy league graduates I can tell you that's not worth the price of admission to be so anxious.
You child is capable -let him/her run his own race. He/ she will end up learning how to win. And surprising you.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Not a criticism, but I thought there were 9 Ivy Leagues, hence the name. The name came about by a list and the numbers on the list were given Roman numerals so the number IV (9) was where the Ivy (IV get it) comes from.

Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2008 at 11:47 pm

There are 8 Ivy Leagues, and IV stands for 4 because "V" stands for 5 and you subtract 1 since it is before the "V". Nine in Roman would be IX. The history is that 4 (IV in Roman) football teams, Rutgers, Princeton, Yale, Columbia (no Harvard), all competed against each other.

Posted by Ivy vines, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Parent, I always thought their name referred to the ivy that grew on their old buildings. BTW, V is Roman numeral 5, and X is Roman numeral 10. Therefore IV is 4, not 10.

Posted by PA Raised, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 5, 2008 at 1:02 am

I went to Paly and went to an Ivy, and I must say -- seriously? Come on.

Does it really matter if your kid gets into an Ivy? Maybe a little bit -- but not really. If your kid works hard, he/she will succeed. That's what's important.

There was a study done that tracked college applicants in the 1970s through their adult life into the new millenium. It found that success wasn't determined by the school you went to -- it's much more tied to the schools you APPLY to. Meaning that if you are a hard-working, successful student who applies to top schools, chances are you'll be just as successful as your classmate in the same boat. It doesn't matter who gets in.

So chill the hell out and focus on what you should be doing -- inspiring your kid to learn for the sake of learning. Because that will carry them much farther in life than forcing them to take an extra AP because you think it will get them into a better school.

As a sidenote, Paly is tougher (or at least as tough) than most Ivy academic environments (though that can vary by courseload, major, etc. of course).

Posted by Mama, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 5, 2008 at 3:56 am

I worked at Stanford Law School in the 90s and most of the students attended undergrad at Ivy Leagues or small, private schools. But mostly Ivy. The stamp of an Ivy helps a lot even if another university is better, more difficult than the Ivy. I'll bet Ivy and powerful schools (Stanford, UCB, etc.) help get the interviews too. Then, of course, it is up to the applicant to perform well on the interview, so personality counts then. Let me know when a Sacramento State grad or the like is the first choice of an employer.

Posted by jason, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2008 at 5:17 am

What percentage of Paly or Guun graduates are admitted to Ivys or other top universities (stanford, MIT, UCB, top 20)? Is it higher or lower than that of the neighour school districts and private schools like Harker?

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2008 at 5:34 am

it is indeed from the Ivy in their walls.

As to those who scream Ivy or top 20 let me point out that Sergey Brin one of google's founders graduated from the University of Maryland, a very respectable school #54 on the list, which has an excellent computer science department (#16) .
It produced Larry Brin , Carly Fiorina, award winning alumni including three Nobel prizes.
I can assure Mama that any employer looking for a computer science graduate would rather have somebody from #54 than from #2...
Just relax and don't listen to those whose knowledge is secondhand.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2008 at 6:10 am


If you know what you want to do you go for the institution that has a top undergraduate DEPARTMENT in your field, whether the institution itself is on the top ten or not. So, the percentage of students going to top ten schools in the PAUSD or a top independent school means not a lot, but it's high in the cases you mention. Maybe you also need to consider money?
Not everybody can afford a private institution. One of my children graduated from a high school that counts 2 Nobel prizes in Science amongst its K-12 alumni (besides many other honors and awards) and they don't rank their schools. A very high percentage of them ends up in the top 10 schools, but not all. Two students at about the same level and curriculum applied to the same Ivy- the legacy was admitted the other one was too but her financial award wasn't enough. Her family couldn't pay for the incidental expenses (travel, clothing for a very cold climate...). She opted for working and saving for a while
as not to burden the family. Maybe the hypothetical person Mama mentioned, going to sacramento state opted for staying near family who need her or for some other reason. Not everybody who could have gone to a top 10 school chooses to do so. Sergey Brin for example, didn't. He attended school near family...
What I see here is that those without first hand knowledge of higher education matters (sorry mama, you were only a stanford staffer....) show a lot a prejudice and ignorance.
Concerned mom,
Please don't make your child into an anxiety basket, by pushing Ivy league on him in Middle School. It's enough to be a teenager, does he have to cope with a stage mother as well? B's are FINE.

jason, relax. Both Paly high and Gunn are top schools and their graduates seeking admission to prestigious schools are given a lot of consideration. And please don't be prejudiced. I bet those university of maryland graduates wouldn't hire you if you sneer at their alma matter...

Don't be silly, enjoy life, have a passion. That will take you to contentment and who knows what more?

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2008 at 6:12 am

sorry about the typo, you all know he is sergey brin , not larry brin.

Posted by Ivy Schmivy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2008 at 8:31 am

"Is it higher or lower than that of the neighour school districts and private schools like Harker?"

Certainly much lower than Daewon prep school and Minjok Leadership Academy in South Korea. Check the NY Times article (Elite Korean Schools, Forging Ivy League Skills, Apr. 27) for hints on turning your little ones into high-scoring, personality-free slaves to school. I'm just saying....

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2008 at 8:56 am


Of course IV is 4 not 9. Still, it shows that a little knowledge applied incorrectly gets you nowhere.

Still, it made a good story. I prefer the Roman numerals to the ivy on the walls because there must be many more with ivy on the walls. If only I was right.

Posted by Phi Beta Kappa, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 5, 2008 at 10:17 am

Honey, you cannot live your kids life for them.

If their GPA is low there is always living at home an attending UC Santa Cruz. Their expectations are low in all areas and you get what you get.

Check-it-out here: Web Link

Also remember McDonalds and Burger King do make a uniform in your child size.

Phi Beta Kappa

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 5, 2008 at 11:01 am

Regarding UC Santa Cruz - I don't think most people would consider a 3.66 GPA low

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2008 at 11:10 am

"If their GPA is low there is always living at home an attending UC Santa Cruz"

Actually, should the child be so lucky as to attend UC Santa Cruz that if his/her interest is in research impact in physics. They are ranked #1 . Many of other departments are very well ranked.

"Their expectations are low in all areas and you get what you get."
I can see that your Phi Beat Kappa didn't do much for your analytic prowess... No, wait a minute didn't even teach you to research your subject... Sorry, Phi beta Kappa didn't do much for you in the way of thinking and researching before you speak. Apparently, "academic excellence and scholarly achievement" taught you nothing at all but arrogance ?

Expectations are fine-the kid knows that study is very important and how knowing and understanding are the keys to a good life. Plastering anxiety and appending to it other peoples' expectations is a receipt for anxiety and depression, should the goals the parent set for their own children be in the parental interest not the child's.
How would you like your child to end up disappointed in himself because he is unable to accomplish YOUR goals?
Web Link

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2008 at 11:24 am

We have a troll.

Posted by Concerned Mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2008 at 11:30 am

Hey All,

Thank you to all your input! I can count on Palo Altans to have a voice! I will watch for further posts.

FYI, I am not pushing any specific schools on my child and never have because I know the consequences of having expectations that children may not be able to meet. It is damaging to the child's soul because children always want to please their parents (no matter how harsh their parents have been to them). Kids care about what their parents think even if they deny it.

Funny post about "turning your children into high-scoring, personality-free slaves to school." That is what I do NOT want to do. I believe that personality accounts for a lot. How many times have you seen the less qualified, popular person chosen? Lots. It's often popularity and who-you-know. I have seen a lot of children who are slaves to school, due to parental pressure, and the kids are reserved with absolutely NO personality. Not people who can communicate and be effective managers. Sure, they may get that job due to their college and grades, but how far do they rise in the company?

That said, I wanted to know what it takes to be admitted to the top schools because I want to know if my child even has a chance. I realize that they grow in middle school and things may change at high school. I am guessing that most top college students have guidance along the way and I want to be prepared. Children need guidance so they can see all the different routes they can take. What a shame if a child has the potential to do better but does not, due to lack of knowledge.

As far as Sohill's comments about Sergey Brin and other famous people who didn't attend top schools or didn't even graduate...Ted Turner attended Brown but did not graduate. Sergey went to Stanford grad school. And Yahoo's Jerry Yang & David Filo met at Stanford and some of the people who worked with them in the beginning were also at Stanford. There are, of course, many PA multimillionaires who did not attend top tier schools but took a risk instead. Lest I open up a can of worms, success if measured by income in this world.

As posted above, transfering from a college to the school of choice may be a good option since Paly grads are well-prepared for college workloads.

Posted by Ha!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2008 at 11:50 am

Parent, very funny comment!

Troll definition...deliberately crafted to provoke others with the intention of wasting their time and energy. They do not believe what they say but merely say it for effect.

The person is everywhere and even if it changes its name, it will be quite apparent that it is that same person.

Posted by Ada, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2008 at 1:04 pm

I highly recommend all interested in this topic to watch a British documentary series called Seven Up (7 Up, 14 Up, 21 Up, 28 up, etcetera). The Up Series is a series of documentary films that have followed the lives of 14 British children since 1964, when they were seven years old with the most recent release when they turned 49. The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds. There were two or three kids from high class parents of Oxford/Cambridge pedigree, there was one from middle class whose whole life was ruined because he (or his parents) had very expectations of himself and he did not get into Oxbridge. It is an absolutely facinating amd eye-opening documentary on parenting, nature vs nurture, expectations, and life in general. You see 14 people grow from kids into middle aged people, every 7 years they are interviewed and their real life is unfolding in front of you.You can read about it on wikipedia, but do watch it if you can. Try to get each film for each age separately ( 7 Up, 7 plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 up, etcetera) but last time I searched for it only a summary version was available
Web Link!

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Concerned Mom,

there is no formula for attending any of the top schools or any school whose admissions process is not dependent grade ranking (like in the california state's systems). Every year is different. After the " class core " is chosen all others will get in as necessary to achieve balance. Each school is different -all demand intellectual energy. Someone not admitted to Penn could very well be a good fit for Brown and one not admitted to stanford can be a student for MIT. There are more students with the necessary grade points and extramural combinations than places in the top schools. Reasons for non- admission may have nothing to do with academic performance. It may simply be that the orchestra needs a viola and there are already too many saxophonists. Or that there are fewer students who declare an interest in Computer science and too many express interest in biology. As simple as that. No student should feel they have been admitted because he/she is that good and no student should feel a personal defeat because of a rejection. Much of it varies year by year from school to school and there are no guaranties at all. Class cores in many of the top schools are comprised by students coming from well known to-deliver students-who-know-how-to-study high schools. Those set the tone of the class. In many of the Ivy L institutions that core has great numbers of independent schools kids (feeders for a long time), legacies and the academic stand outs. Many institutions will not take more than one in rare cases two students from the same high school (princeton, for example) with the exception of the independent schools* But still there is no formula. Let the student have a passion and follow it. Being a PAUSD student is a good start.
I have a young family friend who was once late in getting a summer job - the only available was at a morgue in a local hospital (transportation of dead bodies). He took it and from then on his resume' stand out. They wanted to know about his experience. He is now a young lawyer (u michigan) and jokes that he has to find something that excites prospective employers as much body transportation. ("yes we have seen the cv. What about this morgue thing?....)

*Going to an Ivy your child has a good chance of meeting more than one student coming from one of the following schools (to name a few): Phillips exeter, andover, deerfield, Choate, delbarton, brearley, spence, lawrenceville, peddie, pingry, friends' central, germantown friends, hill, Baldwin, sidwell friends, shadyside ...etc

Posted by Tania, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Great story about the "morgue" summer internship! Yes, indeed you need something besides good grades that stands out and college admissions have seen too many of "club presidents" or "katrina rescue fundraisers", and they are savvy enough to read the parents' hand between the lines.
However, my concern is how do you get a kid really passionate about anything these days. I am looking at my son and his friends (all in PA middle schools) and none of them exhibits any passionate interests. A few play guitar and drums, but lazily so, a few play sports, but without "gusto", they all like computer games, but in a consuming (not creative) kind of way... They just seem to be so "overfed" with everything. This was not the way when I was growing up.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2008 at 2:26 pm


I am with you on your son and his friends. I think boys in particular are very hard to get involved in a passion. My daughter in college has done this well for herself, but her younger brothers are just as you describe. One is motivated by sports, but not well enough to make a profession out of it. The other seems motivated about nothing but food.

The one that play guitar and drums are the ones that you may be able to start off with. Try and get them to find a gig. This may be nothing more than playing at the Drop in Mitchell Park, but it may be a motivator in itself which could lead elsewhere. Even their non-muscial friends may be able to get involved either in vocals or in helping to lug stuff around. There used to be band competitions held in Mitchell Park rec. and they may be able to do something there. It is not necessary for them to be really good, just really enthusiastic and the experience could lead them further.

Posted by Old Paly Alum, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 5, 2008 at 2:30 pm

The morgue story makes sense and is helpful.

Re, going to the top tier schools, parents should consider the student body when selecting universities. I didn't study much at Paly due to family issues. Had I applied myself, I know I could have gone to a top school, but just didn't care at the time. I attended to San Jose State in the 80s and slept through that too. I'd show up for tests after opening the book for the first time the night before. Somehow, I graduated because the classes weren't difficult. I didn't enjoy San Jose State because I felt they were not as intellectual as Paly students (things may have changed nowadays). But part of selecting a college is a good fit, as people here have mentioned (and lets face it, one might meet a spouse). College is supposed to be a fun time so selecting a school which has students similar to yours would be helpful for the great experience.

Another story is a Paly grad who went to MIT and dropped out after one quarter because he felt the students were too geeky. He later became a true rocket scientist.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Besides the grades there are two high school activities helpful in admissions:
play an unusual instrument and do crew.

Viola and harp come to mind. School orchestras have a hard time finding students who play some instruments. Xylophone is a good one too. There are too many violins and pianists.

For the Ivy league and MIT if you doing crew (sculling, rowing) you have an enormous advantage and if you are the coxswain (in charge of the boat) the advantage skyrockets.

any unusual long duration hobby is a great asset.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 5, 2008 at 4:09 pm

I graduated from Paly in 2006 with a pretty poor GPA (~2.75), and went on to San Jose State for two years. Now I'm transfering to UC Berkeley with a much better GPA and much more confidence.

College isn't set in stone; it's really easy to transfer if you're not happy, so if there are any problems in high school, there's no need to worry or feel as though one has failed.

Posted by NG, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 5, 2008 at 4:53 pm

I heard from many that transfers from Foothill and De Anza to UC Berkeley are not that hard, but why is admission into 1st year at Berkeley seems so disproportionally difficult. Are there many drops outs after first year at UCB that space becomes available for transfers?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 5, 2008 at 5:12 pm

The community college system is designed to feed into the UC's and give priority to Community College students at the Junior level

From the UC Site

"The University works in partnership with California's community colleges to make admission attainable for transfer students. Specifically, California community college students receive:

Priority consideration The University gives junior-level community college students first priority over other transfer applicants, including those from four-year institutions and UC's own intercampus transfer students."

Posted by High school student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 6, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Stop worrying! Life will be okay!

Posted by Former athlete, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 6, 2008 at 9:08 pm

"For the Ivy league and MIT if you doing crew (sculling, rowing) you have an enormous advantage and if you are the coxswain (in charge of the boat) the advantage skyrockets."

Not really. There are very few high school crew programs and most of the top rowers in college only start then. Now, if you are an exceptional rower, sure, that will help. But just participating is no different than participating in any other activity.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2008 at 5:47 am

former athlete,

I said Ivies and MIT*. Almost every independent school in New England and vicinity has a crew competing team. Many school districts in rowing Mecca cities in NE have one or more too. So if you come from the west coast where fewer schools have crew you combine your geographical advantage with a sports one. Like any sport if you are not reasonably good you don't make varsity but you really don't need to be a star to be competitive in admissions if crew is your thing. Even if you just do crew or any other not so hot sport recreationally it's an advantage because it's considered a social and a "tailgate" prospect...
The Ivies and MIT (there are other tops schools too) are of course, located on the water where traditional water sports are big.
Any sport or any other activity just by itself doesn't do much (unless you are a star) but combined with good grades and other factors such as geography even high school participation adds to an admission. If you do something few do it's a good thing. It pulls that student from the crowd.

* purdue, buffalo, Boston U , georgia tech and others also recruit from crew teams

Posted by Former athlete, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 7, 2008 at 8:13 am

"you really don't need to be a star to be competitive in admissions if crew is your thing"

I find that hard to believe. The crew teams at the Ivies have more than enough people trying out, most of whom have never rowed crew before. It's just like any other sport, you have to be exceptional in order for it to help you in admissions.

"If you do something few do it's a good thing."

But that's only if you do it well.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2008 at 9:27 am

Former athlete,

"The crew teams at the Ivies have more than enough people trying out, most of whom have never rowed crew before".

yes, but that is AFTER you have been admitted.

"The crew teams at the Ivies have more than enough people trying out, most of whom have never rowed crew before."

You are right. That's because there aren't enough students with experience, so
if you do crew in high school you already are in a "special" category.

We are talking of ways to stand out from the mass of applicants. Give the top 10 a " club president" and a crew practitioner with other roughly equal attributes and tell me that the crew student doesn't stand out. It does help to have a passion (preferably unusual) and be committed to it.
For example, when there is a varsity skiing (downhill or cross country) team you don't need to be that good. Just committed and reasonable good (no great skier came out of the higher education institutions) I didn't mention this because it's very hard for West coast students to stand out in this matters (unless they are stars) and compete with students whose high school curriculum includes a day off school for practice (as is the case of many Maine and N hampshire schools).

The student has to be judged to be an asset to the school to be admitted. A class is a little village of it's own. You need diversity for that. Part of it is "interesting people" doing "interesting and unusual something".

Posted by Former athlete, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 7, 2008 at 11:15 am

"We are talking of ways to stand out from the mass of applicants."

I completely agree here. But just participating in high school crew doesn't make you stand out any more than participating in any unique activity. If you are good enough to be recruited, it will absolutely help your chances, but short of that the effect is minimal.

As for skiing, most NCAA teams are filled with foreigners and US stars. Due to the various NCAA restrictions, there are very few non-recruited walk-ons anymore so just being "committed and reasonably good" won't do you much good either in admissions or making the team.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm

Former athlete,

I think that you and are talking about different criteria .

General admissions, contrary to athletic based admissions do not require great sports prowess.. Of course, I agree that if you are a great sportsmen/woman of any sort you are going to be recruited on your sports merits, pursued by the sports coaches and pledge to enter collegiate sports. If you are not sufficiently good sports coaches are not going to look at your application.
Sports admissions is not what I am talking about.

Applying for regular admission, be it to a specific school or general admission (whatever the particular college does) gets you different admissions offices with different criteria. In many Ivies (not all) there is no such thing as an admissions office dealing with all applicants. Every school has theirs. For example, if you want to study business and administration and the college requires an application to the business school ( not a general application to the arts and sciences school for example that will take you to their specific admissions office), an it does help to practice a not so usual sport ( or any other not so usual thing*) because they want a diverse and interesting class- it has nothing to do with being in collegiate sports. General admissions is the same- it helps being of a "different mold" in some way and engaged. You stand out.

* near extinct languages scholars in the making would be good too, but I fear most high schoolers are not going to be able to pursue this extreme path for admissions success. Try something more pedestrian that shows independence, commitment and intellectual excitement and is not the run of the mill.

enjoy your life as a high schooler- that's a great and unique time.

Posted by Jon, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 11, 2008 at 1:47 am

Biggest regret I had in high school was not working a bit harder to pull my GPA up so I could get into the top private schools.

If your gearing towards the UC's, you must get above 2000 on your SAT, get decent SATII scores, and write an essay that leaves an impression upon the admission reader.

But Mr. Cohen is right, it is a balance. My high school life tilted towards the extra curricular side (sports, band, student govt, journalism-campanile)

Posted by Non US educated parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 11, 2008 at 9:32 am


You have hit the nail on the head. I think it is one of the biggest differences between US education and non-US education that you have pointed out. For someone educated outside the US ask them about their high school experience. They will list the classes, the teachers, the homework, the grades. That is all the memories they have. Ask a US educated person about their high school experience and they will list the sport/club/dances/social aspects. I am not knocking the need for some of these to make life eventful, but the American idea is that all this comes from school whereas these things are done outside school elsewhere.

Even the school day and the school year are tied up with the social aspects of life. School must finish by 3.00 for sports reasons.

A balance between academia and the rest is necessary, but there is so much of an emphasis on the that often (though not necessarily in PA) the academia is put in second place. To say that colleges want well rounded students and choose someone not for grades alone is sad. Granted in choosing between two people with exactly the same grades you then look at the personality is fine (it is what happens when looking for employees also), but the emphasis must be more important to choose the right subjects and get the right grades, rather than doing the right sport or joining the right club.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 11, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Non US,

You're missing a critical difference regarding higher education in the U.S. and most other countries.

Yes, traditionally, high school isn't as demanding here as it is in several other countries. However, traditionally, the U.S. has compensated for this by having a four-year instead of a three-year bachelor's track at the university level. Also, unlike several other countries, we don't split our kids into academic and trade school tracks.

End result? Less prestigious high schools, but a high percentage of the top universities in the world and a high percentage of college graduates.

Interestingly, I just heard from a young friend (21) who hadn't done well in high school (B average, mediocre SATs). Didn't get into the four-year college of her choice. Did, however, find a passion at the college she did attend and did some interesting work in that field as well. She decided to transfer and got into 9 out of 11 of the schools she applied to, including UCLA, NYU and four of the seven sisters.

I'm glad we have a system that still allows for a later intellectual maturity instead of trying to slot kids permanently into fixed categories in their teens. Among other things, it balances out a little the extreme difference in advantages that some kids have over others.

Posted by Non US, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 11, 2008 at 9:35 pm


Yes, I was referring to the differences in secondary, high school, rather than third level education. Yes, it does take four years here to get a bachelor's degree rather than three years elsewhere. Yes, you can come out of a three year college with qualifications to get into a profession without having to go to graduate school elsewhere, and yes I agree that it may be because the US high schools are not so academic. I agree that the US system allows for the late bloomers much more so than elsewhere and that may or may not be a good thing, depending on whether you or yours are late bloomers or not. The other side of the coin is that in a university setting, there is no need for g.e. subjects as this will have been done beforehand and a student can start studying his chosen major straight away.

The other way of looking at this is that it means that for many high school students, they can focus on their study without the interruptions of whether their extra curricula activities are worthy enough of putting on college applications. Instead of being President of the debating club, they can just spend time hanging out with friends at the juggling club. Instead of being in the Spanish club, or the the Mandarin club, they can go where they feel they want to go to the Christian club, instead. Too many high schoolers won't get a job at the local supermarket stacking shelves because instead they need an internship at a local high tech company.

Yes, the system does work well for late bloomers and yes there are many things that can help get a student into college other than grades. But sometimes, what a student needs is time to study and actually learn what it is they want to do with the rest of their lives rather than just crossing off a list of do good/feel good activities, because it might be the way into a college where they may study something they haven't quite decided yet.

I am not knocking the kids who do the good stuff. But, if a junior wants to spend his summer earning money to buy himself/herself their first car which they have saved up for themselves, but can't do it because they need to do .... whatever for college, then it seems that the system no matter how geared up it is for well rounded students and a broad education at high school, those who don't fit into that mold get overlooked.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2008 at 12:49 pm

Non US,

I think you're referring to the somewhat extreme situation that happens here and in communities where kids are applying for the top schools. You can go to college without a single extracurricular activity.

Really, what we're seeing right now is partly the result of a demographic bubble--tons of students for a limited number of spaces. It just makes the competition extreme in a way it isn't always. In my less-competitive day, the need for specific extracurriculars just wasn't there. I went to good private college. I also played a weird instrument--I didn't even mention that iinstrument on my applications. Just wasn't an issue.

In other words, I don't think the endless extracurriculars issue is endemic to the system, but a symptom of the current extreme competition. In eight years, it won't be quite so extreme.

FWIW, my young friend had one extracurricular--a sport, not a star--she did, however, work at some meaningful jobs post-high school. I don't think jobs need to be a negative. I think colleges are still impressed by gumption and, really, any sign that the kid is self-motivated about something. (I have a friend who was on an Ivy-League admissions committee a few years back.) I think there's a real issue with authenticity with applications these days--from the admissions point-of-view, it's hard to get a read on a lot of these kids. Do they really care about French, or is the French Club just a resume builder. I think anything that makes a kid and his or her interests seem real helps. I think that was Sohill's point about long-term unusual interests.

I know of one case, for instance (this was some time back, so not as extremely competitive) of a girl who got into USC's film program, which has always been *very* competitive. Her grades were okay, not brilliant; same with her SATs. She didn't have a history of film-making. She was, however, someone who'd seriously studied ballet for years and danced in local companies as a soloist. When she got to USC she found she'd gotten into the department over kids with better grades and better connections. But her application clearly stood out--she could clearly focus and, frankly, she was going to be strong enough to haul around heavy equipment.

In both of the cases, the student really had one particular thing going for them--but that one thing was what did it. I also know of another case of a kid with perfect grades and perfect SATs and correct extracurriculars who didn't get into the schools he wanted. He was actually highly self-motivated, but that didn't come across in his essay, so he was shunted to the uninteresting reject pile. (Don't shed tears for him, Berkeley was his safety school.)

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 15, 2008 at 6:04 pm

We live in a Lake Woebegone community where all the children are above average. One thing that I really don't understand is the role of the person at the high school who writes up the recommendation for the students.

I think the person who did this for me when I was applying to get into business schools made a huge difference in my acceptance. That was some time ago, of course, but I do wonder how the people doing this for our high schoolers affect the admissions process. We as parents provided some information to the counselors at PALY that was part of what they used to write up our kids for the college applications, but we had no other interaction with those PALY folks around our kids college efforts.

I also do not know how the information provided by the school counselors is weighed by different admissions groups. But, it does seem like it could be something that cuts through the resume building type of stuff that looks good on paper but does not really describe the person genuinely.

The outsider commenting about a college applicant--what is that role these days in the scheme of things and how heavily is it weighed? Black or white smoke out of the Vatican chimney?

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