Calculating your GPA

I was listening to one of my favorite college admissions podcasts yesterday as the hosts talked about calculating your GPA. (I’ll post the link to the podcast page at the end of this post so you can listen too.)

Their advice was sound and so rather than do the same thing, I’ll just add to what they did. file7791271797864

After your done calculating your GPA based on how your high school figures it out (things like “weighting” grades for honors, AP and IB classes), then look to see how one or two of the colleges you’re interested in calculate your GPA.

This second part is important. As you’re looking at colleges to apply to, they will often talk about an average GPA, or more often, the GPA of “the middle 50%” of admitted students. This means that 50% of admitted students had their GPAs in the given range, with 25% of students having a higher GPA and 25% having a lower GPA. You’ll want to know how your GPA fits in their range.

Here’s what I would add to what the hosts of The College Prep Podcast said: calculate your GPA with only your academic classes, that is, the classes that the colleges are going to use to figure out your GPA. Though this is by no means standard across colleges, it generally means taking out your PE grades (sad for some; a relief for others!), your religion class grades (required at some religiously affiliated high schools), and sometimes elective classes that don’t fit into one of the Big Five academic class areas – English/Language Arts, Math, Social Studies/History, Foreign/World Language, Science. Some schools will look at art and music classes in your GPA, others may not.

Just to make things even more interesting, you might ask what grades they look at from what years. Emory University in Atlanta doesn’t use your freshmen year grades when they compute your GPA. The University of Washington, and many other schools with December of earlier deadlines, are not going to have your senior year grades to add to your GPA calculation.

The only way to know how the college is calculating your GPA is to ask! Ask admissions counselors and that will help you to see exactly what they’ll be looking at when they review your application.

Please go ahead and listen to Megan and Gretchen as they talk about how to calculate your high school GPA. It’s a quick 10-minute listen and well worth your time.

Thanks for reading! Please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment or email me at



Which One? AP, IB or Community College

AP, IB or Community College? I get asked the following question often: “Should I take AP or IB* classes offered at the high school or should I take classes at the community college while I’m still in high school?”  In Washington state, these community college classes are called “running start.” High school students can take them for free and they receive both college credit and high school credit. Many other states have this option under different names.

*AP = Advanced Placement. IB = International Baccalaureate

My answer….

…Where you take the class is less important than WHAT class you take.

You can attend a community college and choose classes like PE, business math, and automotive tech. If you plan to go to a technical college and want to study auto mechanics, then these classes are okay. (Personally I feel every student benefits with math at least through Algebra II and learning another language before PE and business math – you could read those auto manuals in their original Japanese or German languages, right? :).

However, if your goal is to get into a 4-year college, then you’ll want to stick to English, math, history, foreign/world language, and science at the community college – especially math, science and foreign language.

All colleges value students who go above and beyond the minimum high school requirements. So if you’re taking an AP or IB Calculus class or Calculus in the community college, that’s excellent; you’re taking Calculus! Same thing if you are taking a fourth or fifth year of Spanish (or any language) at the AP/IB level or at a community college – the level of the class is the same.

AP/IB are “regulated” classes, that is, they have a set curriculum that is standard for all schools who offer it. Community College classes can teach a variety of topics in their English 101 classes, for example. Because of how classes may vary at community colleges, some 4-year colleges prefer those top level high school classes.

Regardless of what the colleges prefer, taking community college classes in high school will give you credits to bring into college. All colleges review transfer credits to see what classes transfer in and which course requirements they might fulfill. Sometimes, the transfer is straightforward – you take Calculus at the community college and the college you attend gives you credit for taking Calculus. Sometimes, a college may want you to take their class, so you would still get college credit, but that credit would count for an elective requirement instead of a core or major requirement. Each college is different.

If the community college classes are free, and the college accepts the credits, this could shorten your time in college and save you a good amount of money. I have seen students come into college with as many as 45 credits and almost junior status. The trick with that is you have less time to choose a major as many colleges want juniors to have their major already selected. Not a bad trade-off for free college credit, especially if you’re almost certain about your major!

Credit for AP tests is similar. Some colleges may give you college credit for only scores above a 4. Some colleges may let the academic departments decide. The engineering department may only give credit for a 5, and the Spanish for anything above a 3.

Don’t hesitate to ask the admissions counselor at the colleges you’re interested in how community college, AP or IB classes are reviewed. One thing I know for sure, by challenging yourself and taking the hardest classes you can in high school, colleges will consider that a real positive in your admissions review!

Make the right decision for you – consider what classes will challenge you the most as you prepare for college. Then consider the environment where you will thrive. Do you like the structure of high school and the consistency of continuing your education there in the best classes? Does your high school offer AP or IB classes?

Or do you chafe a bit under the rules of high school? (Colleges have rules, too!) But maybe a little more freedom in your schedule, classes that teach more information and sometimes much faster (if you go from the semester system in high school to a quarter system at a community college, you’ll move much faster through your studies) would really help you blossom.

You don’t have to choose which classes to take all on your own. Ask your guidance counselors for advice. Talk with your parents. Ask students who are taking community college classes about their experiences. Ask the students in the AP/IB classes what their experiences have been like. And don’t hesitate to ask college admissions counselors how they look at transcripts and what classes they like to see on prospective students’ transcripts. Gather information, reflect on what’s best for you, and then you’ll make a well-informed decision.

Choose well, challenge yourself in class, and enjoy learning!

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment with your thoughts or email me at




Failure is Really Learning

“Are you afraid of failure? Well, how do you feel about learning? Think of failure as learning, as a tool, as results you can improve.” – Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins is a masterful motivator, working with celebrities, speaking to thousands, doing his best to help bring out the absolute best in people.

And he has experienced failure, many times. And in the quote above, he describes how he looks at failure – not as a stopping point or as a crushing blow, but as a chance to learn and improve.

Hanging on the edge of the chair, suffering from a sickness Relaxing peacefully in a wooden chair

I don’t know about you, but I am afraid of failure. No one would say that risk-taking is my middle name! But I know that if I want to grow into the person I know I can become, it’s inevitable that I’m going to fail.

I can decide what to do when I fail. How I choose to react to failure. Right now, I’m writing this blog and have been for 4 months. No comments…yet. Is anyone reading what I write? Some might say that’s a failure. I say “I’m just getting started.”

I learned that I need to get the word out more that I’m writing and sharing my knowledge gleaned from 25 years in higher education. I learned that I have to tell people I’m here and that I have helpful and meaningful information to share about getting students ready for college admission and ready for college success! I am learning all the time about what I can do to take my experiences and learn from it.

And I have discovered that failure can open a lot of new doors! I have learned so much in these last few months. Things about blogging and WordPress and plugins and SEO that I did not know before. My brain is on fire and I want to know more.

If I had written the blog and had comments immediately, I would not have learned what I know now. I would not have asked the questions I did or met the cool people I know now who helped me with my website. I still have a long way to go for success, and I know I will get there.

I don’t believe in failure. I believe in experience and learning and always improving. You?


Ben Franklin’s Mindset: 2 Daily Questions

The story goes that Benjamin Franklin asked himself two questions every day:

  • In the morning: What good shall I do this day?
  • In the afternoon: What good have I done this day?


They seem like such simple questions, you wonder why he would even want to ask this of himself. After all, he was an inventor, a writer, a diplomat, a politician, an educator, postmaster, a founder (of the first fire department, police department, and library), a cartoonist and a cartographer. And that’s not even a full list!

Why would he need to ask himself those two questions every day?

Didn’t he see all of the good he was doing?

I think he did it as a way to set his mind to what he wanted to accomplish each day. He was creating his mindset. He chose to focus on doing good and began each day considering what he could do.

He asked in the morning to tell himself, “My goal today is to do good.” To make a difference in the world.

At the end of the day, he wanted to know if he reached his goal so he asked himself again.

We are all often running around trying to get things done, reach our goals, check things off our to-do list. We have school assignments, chores, family responsibilities. But have we done one thing that was good, that made a difference?

And if we asked ourselves that every morning, would we not see more opportunities to do something good as we went through the day. I think so.

What questions will you ask to make sure you don’t miss opportunities during the day? How will you determine what to focus on, your mindset, for the day?

Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to read your ideas!

Thanks for reading!



Pirate Talk & Sin: Beware Spell Check

Spell check is a wonderful thing… or is it? (Cue the scary music!)

I have read thousands of college and scholarship applications and I can always tell when the only human eyes that have read the essays are the students.

I can hear them saying, “Spell check would catch any spelling mistakes. No one else needs to see this. It’s ready to submit.”

And I’m afraid, very afraid, of what I might be reading in their personal statement.

There be pirates in them papers. And sin. And even bunnies.

Let me explain.

Spell check is fantastic. It’s not as dangerous as auto-correct, but in the wrong hands, it will wreak havoc on your essays. You see, spell check only catches spelling errors. It can’t tell you if the word is in the correct place or even makes sense in that sentence. It only knows if you spelled the word correctly.

So I read a sentence like this…

I’m going to me friend’s house! (and I hear, aarrgh, matey!) or

I’m packing me bags (and shiver me timbers!)

file0001718693091(2)Yes, I hear pirate talk in those essays. I know what the student is trying to say, but my imagination gets the better of me. And I know they didn’t ask another person to help them with their essay.

Or here’s another example. Once I read a sentence that said,

My mother put sin many hours at work.

I don’t know about you, but when I read “sin” in a sentence about someone’s mother, I worry. I know the student meant to write that his mother “puts in” many hours, but sin is a word and so spell check thinks that’s a fantastic sentence. Yikes!

Finally, there is the danger of hitting “correct all” when you spell something wrong. Then, thinking your essay is fine, you hit submit immediately after that. I know this happened when a high school student sent in an essay that she thought was all about her passion for majoring in international business. Unfortunately, after hitting correct all when she misspelled business, and relying too much on spell check to fix it correctly, and not leaving enough time to reread it, her essay really described her desire to major in………………….. international bunnies!


A major we did not offer. :)

Here are two ways to avoid these mistakes…

  1. Ask someone else to read your essays, papers, resumes, anything you write before you turn it in. It doesn’t have to be a teacher or an English major (though I am available!), just someone who will be able to spot when something doesn’t sound right. Better yet, ask a few people to read your work. Even the best authors, who make a ton of money by writing, have editors!
  2. Ask someone to read it out loud to you! This works because the other person will read what you wrote, not what they thought you wrote.


Let me explain. When you work on an essay or a paper and do it for a long time through a few revisions, you know what it’s supposed to say. It’s easy, when you’re reading it, to skip over an extra word or a spelling mistake because your brain will read what you thought you wrote. When another person reads it, they’ll read what is actually on the paper, not what was in your head.

Unless they are a mind reader. (Cue the scary music!)

Now you know that spell check can be a great help, but to let another pair (or two!) of eyes review your work. You have two great ways to get help with your writing. I know that you’ll submit a proofread and polished paper that won’t tell anyone about your hope to major in international bunnies!

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