Oct 7, 2005
Lies, damn lies, and statistics
Posted in: Prepare for MIT
I read Ben's entry about the thread on College Confidential (in the parents' forum) where parents were discussing the pressure to load up on AP classes. It was a good entry, and this was going to be a comment on it, but I decided that the comment would be too long. Because in addition to Ben's entry, I read the thread. I did not know about College Confidential when I was applying to colleges, and this is probably a good thing because on the rare occasions I visit it, so much of what's on it makes me angry or sad.
A bunch of the parents were very skeptical that you don't need to pack your schedule with APs to get into a good school. You know, the reason APs help your application, as far as I can tell, is because they demonstrate your desire to challenge yourself and take risks (and also, I guess, because they can help explain a slightly lower GPA in some cases, not because they have magical properties. If you can otherwise demonstrate your desire to challenge yourself and take risks, you don't "need" a bunch of APs. Which doesn't mean that you shouldn't take them, just that you shouldn't feel compelled.
Some of the parents in the thread said that APs are important because of weighted grades and class rank. Um, assuming things haven't changed that much since I did this, most college applications ask for your unweighted GPA, so the fact that your GPA is 26.2 on a 4.0 scale or whatever is utterly irrelevant. I'm opposed to class rank, and my school was too and didn't do it, but if you have an otherwise great application I think being ranked 20th instead of 5th in your graduating class is not going to hurt you.
Ben's entry made me smile because it reminded me of one of my stories (Ben, I think I told you this story). I took a lot of AP classes in high school. In fact, I took 14 of them, including 8 in one year. This was because, in general, the AP classes were better and more fun than the non-AP classes in non-artsy subjects (my school had performing and visual arts magnet programs) at my school. This allowed me to win a National AP Scholar award, win the AP State Scholar Award two years in a row, and get profiled in the city newspaper. It was also an all-time record for my school.
Now comes the funny part...
Honestly, I didn't think much of this. I took these classes because they were good classes. But not everyone shared my opinion. In particular, the younger Asian and Indian kids (I hate to specify race/ethnicity, but it was mostly the Asian and Indian kids). They thought I was some sort of god. They literally used to follow me around asking me odd questions. "How do you take so many AP classes?" "Do you ever have free time?" "Are you trying to finish high school a year early?" "How do you do it?" "Are you going to take every AP class?" This was kind of entertaining.
And they would make odd comments. "My parents want me to take as many AP classes as you." "My parents say I won't get into a good school if I don't take more AP classes." "My parents [blah blah blah] APs [blah blah blah] be like you." I found this very creepy, that I was apparently idolized by half the Asian parents of duPont Manual High.
Seriously, everyone chill out. I think the biggest benefit of my APs in terms of getting into college was that, combined with a few other things in my application, demonstrated that I was willing to take risks.
I see posts on CC and comments on the blogs, and so many people are obsessed with statistics. My statistics were pretty good, but I'm sure a lot of you have/had better:
Class rank: N/A
College classes: Creative Writing (an intro class), Medieval French Literature (a grad-level class)
APs: seven 5s, five 4s, one 3, one 2 (in Calc BC, with a 4 on the AB subsection...yeah, that's right, I got a 2 on AP Calc and I still got into MIT! Hah!). Of those, four of them were math & science (Calc BC, Physics, Statistics, Computer Science AB)
PSAT: 80 verbal, 71 math, 80 writing, Nat'l Merit Finalist
SAT: 770 verbal, 800 math
SAT II: 760 writing, 700 molecular biology, 800 math IIC
Research: Intel ISEF regional 2nd (Health & Medicine), regional 3rd (Computer Science)
Extracurriculars: Varsity cross-country four years (captain senior year), junior varsity quiz bowl two years, varsity quiz bowl two years, science bowl three years (captain senior year), Science Olympiad two years (3 medals at state, two top 30 placings at nationals), summer league swimming age 6-18, summer league diving age 12-18, certified springboard diving judge age 15-18, ACLU Education Committee volunteer work senior year.
See, you really don't have to have godlike stats to get in somewhere good. You don't have to be valedictorian, be in the National Honor Society, and have a 4.0, 5s on all your APs, 1600 (or 2400 now, I guess) SAT, 800s on all your SAT IIs, attend a summer program at a university, and win at the ISEF international level. Notice how I had none of those qualifications. I had a lot of APs, but I could have had more - I didn't take AP Bio because I didn't like the way the class was taught at my school, I didn't take AP Human Geography because it seemed pointless, I didn't take AP Chem because it conflicted with another class that I really wanted to take.
And where, you might ask, did I get in with these qualifications?
Vanderbilt (with large scholarship offer)
University of Chicago
New York University
somewhere else I forget
Take APs if you think they will be good classes, not to pad your resume. And try to get good stats - have as few glaring negatives on your application as you can. But don't decide that your life is over if your stats aren't perfect. You can and will still get into good schools.
Incidentally, when I Googled my name the first page of results produced a thread on College Confidential, and I nearly had a heart attack. But it turned out to just be Mollie quoting me about housing.