LCHS Course Registration and Best Fit Colleges

By LCHS Associate Principal, Mr. James Cartnal

LCUSD Winter Newsletter Logo - Snowman made from LCUSD logos

In my last contribution to our LCUSD quarterly newsletter, I wrote about my desire to see our LCHS community challenge our present definition of success. In that article, I shared my growing concern with student and parent groups regarding student wellness, how they define success, the relative degree to which students feel connected to school, and whether they are able to engage in thriving behaviors that allow them to live balanced lives that give them a sense of confidence, belonging, and purpose. 

In this contribution to our winter newsletter, I would like to share further insights that my work in the administration at LCHS has afforded me regarding how we define success at LCHS. I would also like to offer two invitations and hope that we see one another at these upcoming events. 

The very best part of my position as Associate Principal is my interactions with students, parents, and staff. Working in support of families across all grades in high school has left a deep impression on me, particularly in two primary areas: the drive our students show to succeed at high school and the energy and focus with which our students work to realize their post high school college and career plans. Yet, if we are ever going to challenge how we define success at LCHS, reflecting on high school course selection and how those choices shape what individuals wish to do after high school is critical. 

Over the years as both a teacher and administrator, I have heard students share insights into why they select the courses they take. Many students are guided by a love of the subject and a desire to learn content concepts and improve skills they know will be needed to continue to achieve both short and long term goals. This is all to the good. Some, however, say they are motivated to take this honors or that Advanced Placement class, because they say that colleges want this. To be sure, university admissions committees want to know the degree to which applicants took the most rigorous course of study at their home high school and how well students performed under the challenges of this rigor. This does not mean, to hear university admissions officers themselves speak to the topic, that students need to burden themselves with advanced and honors level courses in topics that they show little to no interest in. With our registration season for 2017-18 beginning early in the new year, I want students to challenge themselves academically, but to do so in a manner that still provides them the chance to grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially. To this end, I ask that students select a balanced course load, advancing in subject areas about which students are genuinely interested, but also being able to continue to pursue their extracurricular interests in sports, the arts, and scouting, to name only a few. Perhaps even more important for many of our grades 7-12 Spartans, is selecting a course load that affords them the opportunity to get 8-9 hours of sleep per night and to ensure that they have daily family time. 

In no way is this a call to lessen academic standards nor the achievement of our students. It is more a call to challenge some of the attributes of how our Spartan community - educators, parents, and students - defines success. A student’s middle and high school years are critical in forming their approach to so many endeavors in life, and I want our students to enjoy their journey in these years with lessened stress, anxiety about the future, and with building the habits of mind and heart that will allow them to engage efficaciously in school, career, and family.  This is the work that LCUSD school leaders are committed to and why we are engaging in the Challenge Success program. To hear more information and the research behind our Challenge Success initiatives, please join us on January 17, 2017 at 6:30 pm in the LCHS auditorium to hear Challenge Success co-founder Denise Pope speak about her research that regards the unique challenges that high performing schools face. I hope to see you there. Since we are expecting a full house, we are asking attendees to RSVP by clicking on the link that follows. RSVP here.  

Selecting appropriate courses in high school, while needed to achieve a high school diploma, also create opportunities to continue one’s education at college and university. At a university going school like LCHS, where 80% of our graduates attend a four year university or college and another 18 to 20 % attend two year colleges, finding the right fit college is critical. 

The right fit school is really unique to the individual. The search for that school is not. While students, parents, and educators struggle with frequently heard news reports regarding the difficulty of being admitted to highly selective universities and colleges, it is important to approach the college search process armed with critical information. 

Chief among a list of important topics concerning college and university admission regards understanding the unique realities of applying to college today versus what the application process looked like during the time when many of our students’ parents applied to university or college. To be sure, admissions rates at top selective universities have declined over the past ten or more years. The ability to submit applications electronically has increased the number of applications selective universities receive without the correspondent increase in admissions rates. Globalization has also influenced this process, as La Canada students are no longer simply competing with other California students to gain admissions to elite private and public institutions of higher learning, but from students in countries across the globe. With all of this information out there, students and their parents must contend with myriad forces to realize the dreams and ambitions of leaving high school, and for some, home, to enter college and the “real world.”

Working in the administration at LCHS has given me a different perspective on these challenges our students face. To be sure, I want students to get into the college and university of their dreams, just like I want students to pursue technical and job training that affords them entry into a career or trade of their choice. Yet, all too often, I see students casting a smaller net than I wish they would, applying with trepidation to the same 40-80 schools that all other students in their grade cohort beyond LCHS apply to. Given that there are over 2,000 colleges and universities in the United States, our students would be openly surprised that once one looks beyond the list of highly selective schools, totalling just a bit over 100 colleges and universities, most of these 2000 colleges and universities admit most of the students that apply. Worse yet is that they are applying to many of the same schools, when admissions officers at selective schools acknowledge that almost 75% of their applicants would be excellent candidates for admission, but only a fraction receive actual admission letters. To me, this is a call to learn about colleges beyond the top 40 to 80 that most students apply to and craft an application list that is balanced among reach, target, and safety schools. Beyond the names of those highly selective public and private universities are a much larger group of private and public, big and small, in state and out of state schools that offer excellent opportunities, with top rate faculty and facilities. This means that all of the attributes of one’s dream school, perhaps save the recognized name, are available at these other possible best fit schools: excellent teaching, robust intellectual discourse, well-established and active professional networks, to name only a few. 

To hear more detail about finding the right fit school, please join me and our 9-12 counseling staff at an evening presentation titled “College Admissions Today: Fact vs. Fiction.” This evening presentation will feature Paul Kanarek, the CEO of Collegewise. Mr. Kanarek is one of the foremost experts on testing and university admissions. This talk will be held on March 9, 2017 at 6 pm in the LCHS auditorium. I hope to see you there. 

As a campus community, we will continue to reflect upon how we define success here at LCHS. The course choices and the feeling of success with these choices will clearly continue to contribute to our definition of success, as will the way that high school course selection links to post high school opportunities. Please join me at both of our evening presentations, so we can dialogue, reflect, and converse together as we expand our definition of success so that our students feel confident, well balanced, resilient, and able to engage in thriving behaviors as they continue to work hard to realize their future aspirations and dreams. 

On a personal note, I would like to wish all those that make up our Spartan Nation my very best wishes for a happy holiday season and a joyous New Year.