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Tim Myers: The great college admission scam revealed - part II

Posted: August 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

So in the last column I exploded several myths concerning college admission including false selectivity and shortage, inflated but not actually paid tuition rates, and the "value" of extracurricular activities on college applications.

But now we must pay special attention to the issue of (it turns out) the many and complex GPAs that the CSU and UC systems (and others) evaluate to make admission decisions.

Because one may not know it but your child in high school possesses not one, not two, but perhaps three and maybe even four GPAs the university systems will evaluate for admission purposes.

The William S. Hart Union High School District provides unofficial transcripts with online parent access, and this document reveals two GPAs for one’s child, the weighted and unweighted GPA.

Now everyone should understand the unweighted GPA. An A counts for four, a B for 3 etc., etc. Therefore, a perfect GPA stands at 4.0, with a student receiving half A’s and B’s at 3.5. One gets the idea.

But in the case of the "weighted" GPA, students receive extra points for taking advanced placement ("AP") and honors classes. In these an A receives five points, a B 4 etc., etc. Now in this situation a perfect GPA cannot reach 5, because students still must complete non-AP/Honors classes, including Physical Education and Health, in order to graduate. Therefore, in reality a perfect GPA approaches 4.6.

Due to the AP and honors grade "inflation," nearly 20 percent of the graduates of Valencia High School in 2013 received GPAs above 4.0. Now this seems a bit much and it turns out the University of California and CSU systems agree.

Now meet your child’s third GPA: The A-G calculation.

Now to actually enter a UC or CSU, an applicant must complete at least 15 year-long courses, to wit:

1. Four years of English;

2. Three years of Math;

3. Two years of History/Social Science;

4. Two years of Laboratory Science;

5. Two years of language;

6. One year of visual or performing arts; and

7. One year of College Prep elective.

Now this translates into 30 semesters of minimum work to enter a UC or CSU school, but now let me introduce you to the complexities of the A-G calculation.

For UC and CSU GPA calculation they only look at A-G courses taken during the sophomore and junior years for the application process, which completes in the fall of the senior year before the issuance of fall semester grades. Yes, one can completely blow out their freshman year and still achieve admission to a top UC.

And what about honors and AP points? Remember how I stated that these systems felt the usage of these courses gets out of hand? Well, they implemented their displeasure by allowing applicants to only count two semesters of honors work in the sophomore year and six in the junior year. Thus, no additional weighting for any more of the putatively difficult courses taken.

Another twist: Counselors advise students to take more than the minimum; usually four years of math and perhaps three or even four years of science. The UC and CSU systems include all A-G courses taken; not just the minimum, in the evaluative GPA.

Now this methodology develops some perverse incentives to maximize the evaluative GPA, to wit:

1. Delay A-G and honors courses when possible past the freshman year since these do not count in the GPA calculation;

2. Take no more than four years of honors courses; and

3. Complete the bare minimum of 30 semesters of A-G prep work.

Perversely, a student stands a much better chance of maximizing their chances for admission by making themselves less prepared for college. Thus, the only benefit of extra AP courses relates to college credit if the student passes the placement exams. No "benefit" accrues for Honors courses, other then the student might actually possess more knowledge.

And now let me introduce one to their child’s fourth GPA, the final transcript review after admission when UC’s and CSU’s perfect the matriculation process.

Remember how colleges base admission decisions on grades before the senior year? The UC’s and CSU’s will check final transcripts to make certain that students maintained their A-G GPA through their senior year, so students do get penalized for "senioritis" and institutions do confirm that they revoke offers of admission based on a precipitous decline in the senior year.

So start charting and tracking the one GPA that matters!

Timothy Myers Sr. is a Valencia resident. "Myers’ Musings" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

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