Transparency is a key element of the mission statement our office adopted last year. It is in that spirit I write today about how TCU evaluates transcripts in the file review process.
There is ample evidence that students today feel more pressure than in previous generations. In a landmark 2015 study of students in private schools, researchers at NYU’s College of Nursing uncovered alarming levels of distress among high school students. 49% of all students report feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis. Grades, homework, and college preparation were cited as the primary sources. Over a quarter of participants reported symptoms of depression at a clinically high level. There is no reason to believe that public school students do not experience high school in a similarly stressful way.
Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions was released in January 2016. The report outlined ways in which the admission process ought to be reshaped. The final of three pillars is: Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure. The extent to which admission policies have shifted or behaviors have changed are unclear. At the very least, incidents like Operation Varsity Blues suggest the stakes remain high and the pressures endure.
A recent study conducted largely by College Board researchers confirms what we know intuitively, that taking difficult courses in high school prepares students to succeed in college. The evidence suggests, however, that there is diminishing returns on taking AP exams (proxy for difficult course load). “…we find that the biggest predicted boost in first‐year grades and on‐time bachelor's degree attainment are associated with AP participation changing from zero to one AP exam and from one to two AP exams. Taking and performing well on more than four to six AP exams does not markedly alter predicted first‐year college grades and on‐time bachelor's degree attainment rates.”
We agree with this (and similar evidence) and want to change the narrative that deprives too many students of a positive high school experience. To that end, students who demonstrate a record of success in four-to-six advanced courses will receive a maximum score in our assessment. We believe taking appropriately rigorous courses allows for balance in students’ lives.
Just as we always have, TCU will honor those schools where AP courses are limited or not offered, or where alternative paths to achievement are preferred, preserving the contextual nature of our review whereby schools are affirmed in making curricular choices consistent with their communities’ values.
I hope this information will prove useful as you advise students in their course selection. Thank you for supporting students in their transition to college.
Dean of Admission