- I was a university academic advisor for six years.
- Students with sports scholarships might have to skip in-person classes and other activities.
- Sports or grades do not necessarily determine a college student’s success.
When I meet other parents, their first question is usually: “Where do your kids go to school?” There are more “advantaged” schools in our town where attendance supposedly equates to higher test scores, better opportunities, and — as the thinking goes — college success.
But I was a university academic advisor for six years. Every year, I heard things like “I’m burned out from high school,” or, “I failed my first test. What should I do?”
These are students who did everything right when it came to preparing for college. Here’s what I’ve come to understand from my years working with students about our markers for success.
AP classes may be overrated
AP classes give students college credit if they get certain scores on expensive AP tests. AP credits usually replace a university’s general-education — also known as gen-ed — requirements. If a student comes in with AP English, US History, Economics, Art, and Calculus credits, most of their gen-ed courses are covered.
Parents see this as an advantage: fewer classes to pay for. But it’s not always the advantage we imagine.
Students with gen-ed courses covered go to higher-level major-specific classes — regardless of whether they’re prepared. Higher-level courses require rigorous study between classes and may have only three or four big assignments in the final grade. Students with AP credits miss gen-ed classes designed to teach first-year students how to study between classes and build up to big assignments.
It’s common for students to change majors after the first year. Without gen-ed classes, it may take extra time to explore other options. One benefit of gen-ed courses is the variety of classes — sometimes including subjects like ecology, anthropology, and design — that aren’t taught in high school. Without gen-ed courses, students may miss out on finding new interests.
Also, AP classes, while demanding, may not cover the material like college classes. A 2017 Forbes article suggested that some APs emphasize memorization for the AP test rather than subject comprehension.
Straight A’s don’t prepare students for failure
Every semester, students cried in my office over failed test grades.
I helped students discern how they could change study habits, talk to instructors, and improve their grades. We discussed growth mindset and persistence after failure. “What kind of person would you rather work with?” I asked. “Someone who knows what it’s like to fail and keep trying? Or someone who’s never had to struggle?”
All of them recognized the value of the first. Yet many had never practiced failure. They had chosen to quit instead of to work to improve, or they continued to fail instead of trying to change habits and bounce back.
Sports are students’ jobs during college
There’s a lot of hype about athletic scholarships, but according to the National Collegiate Scouting Association, only 1% of high-school athletes get full-ride scholarships, and only 2% get any athletic scholarship. Those are low odds, but we’re still attached to competitive sports as a pathway to college.
Students who do get athletic scholarships are tied to the sports schedule. Their limited time means fewer extracurricular activities and internships. Some take online instead of on-campus classes to accommodate travel and practices. This makes majors with strict prerequisite paths, like pre-med, engineering, and computer programming, difficult. Students may have to choose which to prioritize, their majors or their sports.
Academic advising has changed my parenting. Instead of pushing sports, I let my kids choose one activity they like. I don’t ask about grades, but about what they learned. After years in higher education, I believe character, not accomplishments, determines college success.
Sarah Wernsing is currently an instructor at Colorado State University Online. She was an academic advisor for 6 years. She has poetry and creative nonfiction published in Grama, Pilgrimage Magazine, CALYX, and elsewhere. The opinions and views expressed here are her own.