moral: don’t go to good schools. go to bad schools, take it easy, and be valedictorian, and get into a better college than your loser friends who are going to arcadia.
Does the low level predictive effect reported in the study mean that only high HSGPA students who come from high SES schools with rich academic offerings follow that up with collegiate success? Or does it mean that a kid from a poor school district who has the ambition to get straight A’s, and the work ethic to achieve that goal, can also succeed in college despite not having taken calculus in high school? I don’t know the answer to that; I suspect it might be a little bit of both. UC will offer admission to the kid from the poor school district (there’s a specific added admissions “boost” for students from the lowest-performing high schools at the UC campuses with specific admissions formulas; I believe that much the same happens at Berkeley and UCLA, if less formally.) So the opposite of what you surmise is actually true: All else being equal, UC will extend an offer of admission to a student with a high grade point average from a low-performing school over a student from a top public high school with the same GPA.
Deeper thought provocation.
I think that you are operating on the assumption that college achievement is influenced by the quality of academic preparation the student has previously — i.e., those kids arrive with a better education, with a more comprehensive store of knowledge and more experience thinking and interacting in a demanding academic environment.
I personally feel that the individual’s level of motivation and work ethic is more significant — since UC’s draw from the top 10% of California high schools, and strongly favor the ELC (top 4%) — they are by definition getting the students who are the most serious about their studies and focused. This is especially true of students who manage to get top GPA’s and complete the required UC courses in a poorer, inner city high school — because it is much more difficult to focus on studies when the peer environment is not supportive. That is, it is one thing to be working hard for A’s when the parents are constantly pushing, there is an older high-achieving sibling to emulate, and the friends and acquaintances are all competing to get into the AP courses. It may be hard work, but it is hardly remarkable to see a kid coming out with a good record and top grades from that setting.
But the kid who manages to keep afloat with almost all A’s when being raised by a grandparent because one parent is in jail and the other is a drug addict, when no two siblings have the same father, when all the other kids in the neighborhood are running in gangs, when most of the teachers at the high school seem inept and the best ones don’t seem to last very long…. that’s an accomplishment. It is a kid who has succeeded in an environment where everything seems designed to make the kid fail.
Of course the contrast is not always so stark, but my experience sending an ambitious, focused kid from a public high school with so-so academic standards off to an elite college is that the attitude is key. Given that success in college is as much about avoiding the temptations of newfound freedom and budgeting time — I think that the high GPA from the high school of many distractions has turned out to be great preparation.
Again — GPA tells a lot because it represents the result of sustained effort over time. Mid-range GPA’s at mediocre high schools might not mean much more than that the kid regularly showed up for class, but no one gets all A’s anywhere — even at the crummiest high school — unless the kid is at least a serious and conscientious student. And serious and conscientious combined with reasonably bright is really all it takes to succeed at just about any college.
Do extracurriculars and leadership and “well-roundedness” really necessarily correlate with a successful career?
I have been sitting in a lot of “info sessions” this summer with son #2 and frankly sit there wondering how many potential Einsteins and Madame Curies are being kept out of the elite schools for lack of ECs or because they exhibit a “reclusive” personality at l6 (they are not leaders of a club or team captains!). I also wonder – where we are going to get our brilliant but dedicated and content workforce from in the future? Some fields require brilliance and tenacity over “well-roundedness”, congeniality and leadership skills. I sure hope our future cancer researchers, for example, can sit there and get excited about looking through a microscope fpr 12 hours/day and reading esoteric journal articles. Having worked in healthcare for many years I know we really need these people too! I think it would be great to hear some great schools say……give me your brilliant, shy kids, we’d love to see what they can do and what we can do for them. And, I think it would be great if admissions didn’t see kids as finalized at l6 – some of them still haven’t finished growing physically – why do they think their potential is determined already?
i’m so busy and yet… how the hell do I have time for crap like this.