“But I did so well in high school. I never got lower than a [insert high grade here].”
High school is barely back in session and already the admissions frenzy for a select group of Juniors and Seniors has begun. I say select group because the statistics show that most students who attend college are at open admissions, non-selective colleges, not the highly-selective ones written about constantly.
For these select students, college admission counselors are offering advice, tutors are helping prep for the SAT/ACT, and parents are paying a personal admissions advisor direct their child through every step of the process: from extra-curricular activities to international volunteer work to the right number of AP courses. The goal, of course, is admission to the “perfect” school … But then what?
I look at this from the perspective of a college instructor completely removed from the process. I look at what lessons students learn from the admissions process, and how these shape their behavior in and approach to my Freshman Writing course.
Students seem to be concerned with two things: their grades and their test scores. If the sheer number of available test prep services are any indication, getting high grades in school do not necessarily translate into high test scores. Moreover, and from my experience, neither seem to predict student success in a basic writing course at the college level. Students learn to write one way for high school classes, another way for admissions essay, and yet another way to do well on their SAT/ACT. They learn each way of writing independently from the others, and are never shown how to transfer their skills from one style of writing to another.
Students seem to learn a small number of rote formulae and stock phrases to pad their essays, leading to high (enough) scores and grades, but few skills to write (and think) beyond those taught to them. And why should they? They do well on tests and get good grades. When students are first faced with an essay that doesn’t fall into one of the three categories mentioned above, however, they have no idea how to adapt. A student who has learned to master the five-paragraph essay (but little to nothing else) is ill-prepared to write anything longer than five paragraphs, let alone the five, ten, or twenty page essays required in college.
While I understand parents’ and students’ desire to get into a “good” school, I want to remind them that getting in is only the first step. The student still has to take the classes once they get there. And more often than not, high school and standardized tests have left the student ill-prepared for the rigors of college. The process to get into college may be stressful, demanding, and challenging, but it is completely different than the one facing you once you get in and want to continue getting high grades (or just simply passing).
I might not have been the one who decided if you should get into college, but I do evaluate your writing to see if it is at an appropriate college level once you’re here. I just wish there wasn’t such a disconnect.