Is Your Son a Middling Student? Colleges Will Still Welcome Him
To maintain gender balance, schools go easier on young men
Is your beloved son letting college resume-building opportunities slip away, and not quite seeming to care? Join the club.
“The boys start off slowly, for sure,” says Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Counselors and author of the upcoming “To University and Beyond: Launch Your Career in High Gear.” “They often don’t see the big picture in the same way that girls do. A lot of times parents will call me and say, ‘My son, he’s just not that motivated. He just doesn’t get it.’ To which I reply, ‘You have a boy.’”
Many boys are like this, and when it comes to college admissions, it’s a boon for you: Numerous middling young men get into college just fine. Under the gaze of an admissions officer, male applicants compete against each other, not against girls who, on average, have higher GPAs, take more advanced classes, and have better work habits.
“Schools are trying to create some kind of gender parity, so we definitely do see some differential rates of admission,” says Jed Applerouth, founder and president of Applerouth Tutoring. Here’s how your son can further slant the gender gap in his favor.
Pursue disciplines and interests typically popular with girls — or at least not utterly common among boys. “The big thing I see is boys liking math, computers and science, and girls liking English and history. I see that all the time,” Adler says. College admissions officers see it too.
Use those trends to differentiate a student. If a boy is legitimately interested in a typically male field, Adler suggests finding an atypical interest within that field. For example, rather than a boy building science projects about sports, perhaps he might focus on cooking. Probing what interests him can also help tease out underlying interests. Perhaps he loves engineering, but is actually captivated by perfect design. “I had a student who came to me because he wanted to go to Penn, and he was interested in medicine, but no one had asked him if he ever wanted to be a nurse. And Penn has a nursing school,” Adler says.
Steer clear of departments and schools that are majority-male. “There’s a much smaller female population on campus at top STEM schools, and the boys are actually at a pretty big disadvantage,” says Dave Bergman, director of content at College Transitions, and author of “The Enlightened College Applicant.” Think California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Harvey Mudd College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Look up not just gender ratios for the whole school, but also gender, SAT scores and GPAs by department, which can differ significantly from the school average.
You’ll find sweeter odds at some of the better liberal arts schools, like Vassar College, Bates College and Swarthmore College. You want programs that receive far fewer male applications, and grant acceptance to men at a higher rate. “When you start to see, say, 60:40 female-to-male ratios, you know that it’s definitely on the minds of admissions offers to accept some late bloomer male students that wouldn’t get in if they were female,” Bergman says.
Know that these gender gaps tend to disappear at elite liberal arts schools, where the top 2% of males and females look very similar.
Consider community colleges. Want to get into U.C. Berkeley? That’s a tall order out of high school. But after two years of a California community college? Quite doable. “There are a lot of really selective institutions that are pretty easy to transfer into from a community college with really strong grades. People are surprised,” Bergman says. This can be an efficient and cost-effective strategy.
Stop obsessing over top schools. Contrary to what you’ve heard, you are not on a mission for your son to gain admission to the best possible school. “I’ve seen kids get into schools that they didn’t really fit academically, and things didn’t always work out — they have to drop classes, transfer or take a year off, and that’s not serving their long-term interests,” Applerouth says. He calls college a “bridge to adulthood,” where kids undergo growth and evolution, and hopefully thrive academically and socially. Tossing an unmotivated 18-year-old into a student body of Type A overachievers will not go well.
Prep ’em. If you cohabitate with a middling high school boy, then you know that organization skills, long-term planning abilities and academic motivation are not present in abundance. Bergman says that those skills will not magically blossom during the September of freshman year. Help build those cognitive schools now by stepping back and letting your son remember his own bags and schedules. (Spoiler alert: He will forget things. So many things. Let him.)
He will, by the way, eventually grow up — likely with a late-stage surge of thoughtfulness around age 18. “By senior year, as far as maturity level and understanding college and setting goals, I find that boys have pretty much caught up to the girls,” Adler says. Phew.