It's time to dispel the myth that freshman grades don’t count. The narrative that “colleges don’t look at freshman grades” has circulated in high schools and parent circles for years. For some universities (e.g., the UC system), this may seem to be true as those universities focus on 10th and 11th grades combined. Recently, however, the University of Chicago released a study that indicates that freshman grades do matter. In short, the study found that grades in the 9th grade are strong predictors of high school success and college enrollment. Further, as Ashley Dobson in NACAC's Admitted blog states, "a successful freshman year smooths the way for future success in high school and after.” Students and parents should not discount the value of starting strong. If freshmen students can choose classes beyond what is required, parents and students should focus on maximizing strengths and balancing academics with interests outside of the classroom. While the UCs focus on 10th and 11th grades as one component of the application process, many colleges look closely at freshman year grades to see overall trends, the rigor of a students’ schedule, and student interest. For some students, the first year of high school may be a time of adjustment to new course demands and the time spent learning how to negotiate the various “hiccups” that may come with starting high school will be invaluable in the long-term. While this new study indicates that freshman grades may be strong predictors of college success, students and families should not feel disheartened that the “need to achieve” now starts even earlier. Whether a student smoothly transitions into high school or is just developing the skills to succeed in high school, the 9th-grade year provides valuable information to assess what is needed to support them both in and out of the classroom. Choosing courses that engage and support student strengths in high school may be part of the equation that leads to success. There will always be bumps along the road, and learning early-on how to respond to challenges can provide a valuable lesson for students moving forward.
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