The Ivy Coach Daily

September 26, 2022

The Importance of Calculus in Admissions

A piece up on Inside Higher Ed correctly points out the importance of Calculus in elite college admissions.

Is your child who intends to apply to America’s elite universities, including Ivy League institutions, not exactly a math student? Maybe your child’s strength is literature, history, foreign language, or anything other than advanced mathematics? If so, know that you’re not alone. Lots of strong students at high schools across America and around the world are not exactly math students. So here’s where you’re hopking we’ll say that your child doesn’t have to take math at the BC Calculus level or maybe they don’t have to take math altogether after 11th grade? Maybe they can take AP Statistics as a senior instead, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

America’s elite colleges want to admit students who excel in all five key disciplines — English, history, math, science, and foreign language. While, yes, elite colleges want to see singularly talented students in their extracurricular pursuits — not to be confused with well-rounded students — with respect to their coursework, all five disciplines matter big time. As such, to not take the most rigorous math course at a student’s own high school demonstrates to elite colleges that they don’t wish to challenge themselves. Yes, that’s you, the parent of a student who intends to take AP Calculus AB next year when the school offers AP Calculus BC. And, yes, that’s you, the paret of a student who took AP Calculus BC as a junior…even if your child’s high school runs out of math beyond BC Calc, they can take Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, and more online. And, yes, that’s you, the parent of a student who intends to take AP Statistics as a senior thinking that’s math. AP Stats is not math nor is it considered to be math by elite college admissions officers. It’s a great class to take in addition to math — but not in lieu of it.

As Pamela Burdman and Veronica Anderson write for Inside Higher Ed in a piece entitled “Calculus Acts as a Gatekeeper,” “Outside of STEM majors, few colleges treat calculus as a hard requirement, but when students seek to attend selective colleges, high school counselors typically advise them that colleges expect to see calculus on their transcripts. That is one of the conclusions of our new report, ’Calculating the Odds: Counselor Views on Math Coursetaking and College Admission,’ based on surveys of hundreds of counselors. Counselors told us that opaque admissions guidelines have sent secondary students racing to achieve a transcript that displays mastery of the highest-level courses available. That means counselors feel obligated to encourage their students to take calculus, or even more advanced math, to remain competitive in admissions, even if other rigorous courses such as statistics may be far more relevant to their interests and aspirations.”

These counselors are, in this case, precisely right. Think about it this way. If your child isn’t taking the most rigorous courses at their own little high school — including in math — then why would admissions officers at one of our nation’s top colleges think they’ll challenge themselves among a much more curated group of students? If p, then q. If not p, then not q. If they’re not taking the most advanced math classes, they’re unlikely to challenge themselves at our nation’s elite universities.

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