Thursday, October 14, 2010

Good Grades vs. Hard Classes: What's Better on a Transcript?

Good Grades vs. Hard Classes: What's Better on a Transcript? Plus: how to approach teachers about bringing up your grades.

By: John A. Williams

I heard that colleges want to see honors and AP classes, but I'm afraid that I won't be able to get good grades in those classes.  Is it better to get a B in an honors class or an A in the normal class?

The transcript-versus-GPA question is a tough one. But from a pragmatic college-application standpoint (and looking at many transcripts and college-application decisions firsthand), it's clear that taking harder classes and getting a few B's is better than taking easier classes and getting A's.

Harder classes look really good on a transcript. It shows that you're trying to push yourself and get as much out of your high-school curriculum as you can.  And, yes, there is a risk to taking harder classes.  While B's are OK—though not great—you really, really want to avoid C's.

If you're faced with a report card with two or more C's, it's better to take easier classes and get all A's (and a B or two).  It's the reality of the college-application acceptance rates for both elite private schools and large state schools.

Go for the harder classes and make the adjustments you need to get an A or a B.  If you find yourself struggling in a class and getting a C, talk to your teacher.  Teachers are really on your side: they want you to learn the material and do well, and will work with you to bring up your scores.

OK, fine. I'll talk to my teacher. What do I say?
Here's what not to do.

1. Don't try to talk to teachers right before class.  Teachers are usually working through the lessons in their head and pulling together their material.
2. Don't grade-grub. The first words out of your mouth should not be "I want to find out how I can get a better grade" or "I want to know if there's any extra credit I can do."
3. Don't expect to retake a quiz or a test simply because you weren't aware of it and didn't study.

Instead, try these three strategies:
1. Write your teacher an e-mail asking him when a good time to talk would be.  You can also try to catch a teacher before or after school, during breaks, or during the first part of lunch, but be mindful that he may be busy or have a lot on his mind.  It's best to set an appointment and be prompt when that appointment time arrives.

2. Make sure you're doing your part .Teachers want you to learn the material, but also expect that in doing so, you turn in your homework and are prepared for quizzes and tests. If you're doing those things, talk to your teacher about the best way to study for tests and strategies for learning the material better. Ask what he thinks your weak spots are and the skills you need to focus on. Asking about how to learn better is a lot different from asking about how to get a better grade.  If you learn the material, then better grades will follow.

3. For one week, fully apply yourself and keep track of your efforts.  When you meet with your teacher, show him what you've been doing and how you've been preparing. Doing so shows the teacher you're serious, and often a teacher can offer real and helpful advice on what you can do to learn the material and get the grade you want.

Have a question for the admissions coach? Send an e-mail to John Andrew Williams.

John Andrew Williams is a certified life coach and college consultant, is the founder of Top Ten Skills, a coaching firm dedicated to helping students navigate high school, the college application, and beyond. He's the author of Future-Proof: A Students' Guide to Acing the College Application.

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