Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finding Strength in Weakness

I have a question from a concerned dad: What is my son's school is tough, so his GPA is weak as a result?  Or, alternately, what if he has a great GPA at a school considered "weak"?

I have an answer for you, but I'm not sure you'll like it.  The answer to your question is Yes.

Yes, so what?

Yes, there are strong schools where good students earn imperfect GPAs.  Yes, there are easier schools where 4.0's are given out like candy.  And there are those in between.  And it doesn't really matter which you chose.

Admissions officers know all these things as well, and it their job - and our job as interviewers - to sift through the application to make sense of the entire candidate.  Think of the GPA as a qualifier.  One piece of the puzzle.  The mistake you should not make - and the mistake you should keep your child from making - is in thinking that there is a "correct" answer to this conundrum, a proper way to approach it, a "perfect" way to assemble the puzzle that will automatically get your son in.

I've talked to these candidates in interviews, and it is easy to see that behind the perfectly written essays and stellar AP scores and strong GPAs is a student who has gotten so caught up in the numbers that she has not truly explored herself.  And what the admissions office most wants to know is not just what you are capable of on paper, how you are measured quantitatively, but what you can potentially be capable of as a person.  Not today, not tomorrow, but a few years down the road.  And that doesn't come from your GPA.  It comes from being honest with yourself, and from having parents who encourage honestly.

Here are a few values that college counselors don't talk about enough:
Courage.  Humility.  Open-mindedness.

Students who cultivate these values will do better not just in the admissions process, but in life.

At this point, you are probably scowling a little bit at your screen, because you have asked me a serious question and I have instead given you a lecture about passion.  Let me come back down to earth and try again.  Lots of students go crazy trying to optimize their GPA.  Is a harder class with a lower grade better than an easier one?  Is a class at a community college more impressive than an AP class?  Should I transfer to a tougher high school even though I won't be valedictorian?

The answer to all these questions is you are asking the wrong question.  The grades do not matter.  What is important is which environment will help you grow.  Where will you learn more?  Where will you be surrounded by people who inspire you?  Where will you best shine?

Perhaps the easier school has a phenomenal drama department.  Perhaps the tougher school has an incredible teacher you've wanted to work with.  The answer to your questions should never be about the numbers - it should be about you.