My son just finished his freshman year. He placed into the middle advanced level track for math in 6th grade which has him on a track in high school to take AB calculus by senior year. Another mother told me that depending on his college major that might cause a problem. We have no idea what his major will be. Do you know what she is talking about?


Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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Believe it or not, I do think I know. I hope this mother did not cause you any undue anxiety. It's a bit early to be thinking about college majors. However, I think what she was referring to is that for some college majors - at some universities - say in engineering or in math - being able to take AB calculus or BC calculus (one math track up) by senior year, is pretty important for admission into a specific or type of program.

But there are many variables here. All of this depends on whether your son chooses one of those majors, and if the college he has targeted requires he be admitted to a particular school with that major as an incoming freshman. At some colleges, students don't declare a major until their junior year - they simply indicate an interest. At others, an applicant must be admitted into a specific program - engineering, communication, or lets say the school of art and sciences - as well as win an admit from general admissions. Cornell and Syracuse are two universities that operates this way.

At the most competitive schools and majors, BC calculus would be a huge plus - the best and highest level he could reach. But if he is only tracked to AB, that's fine as well. There are many other criteria that will shape his candidacy - his GPA, the rigor of his courses, if he is on an honors and AP track, his ACT or SAT scores, and also his subject test scores.

I know of many school districts that test kids on their math competencies in middle school and place them on one of three tracks. To be honest, my preference is for the middle track your son is on. With this track the pace is just fast enough to move advanced kids along, but still normative enough so that students actually learn something. And they really do need to comprehend what they're learning, because it's necessary to understand the material to succeed at those higher levels. It's not uncommon for the BC calculus track kids to need to dial things down a level or two.

All of this is to say, thumbs up - no worries - your son is on the right track!

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