When we look at the admission requirements of selective colleges and universities, we find a list of standard courses that constitute a modern “college prep” curriculum. Harvard University, for example, recommends the following:
The study of English for four years: close and extensive reading of the classics of the world’s literature; four years of a single foreign language; the study of history for at least two years, and preferably three years: American history, European history, and one additional advanced history course; the study of mathematics for four years; the study of science for four years: physics, chemistry, and biology, and preferably one of these at an advanced level; frequent practice in the writing of expository prose.https://college.harvard.edu/guides/preparing-college
This, of course, represents the highest level of selectivity in American colleges, and standards for lesser schools are less demanding. Many parents and schools, however, misread these admission recommendations and use them as curriculum guides for their children’s studies.
These are only college admission recommendations.
There are a number of challenges that students will face which are not provided for in a study program that aims at college admission recommendations.
1. Spiritual Life
As parent, we are to evangelize our children. We are to use the opportunity we have during their youth to teach them the Catholic faith and initiate them into the life of the Church. As long as they are minors, we have great control of their lives, and we have to make sure that this “apprenticeship in virtue” takes place. When our children reach the age of 18 years, they are legally free to leave their Catholic parents and seen independence. Once that time comes, the opportunity for education is likely over.
If we spend their childhood worried about college admission, and allow college admission recommendations to take over their education, we’re going to miss the opportunity we have to form them in the Catholic faith, and prepare them for the temptations they must face as young adults. The devil is a subtle deceiver–they need to know how to reason. The Catholic Church has many enemies–they must know the true teaching of the Church. There are many distractions–they must know how wise men and saints lived in the world.
It is normal for young adults to make bad decisions and go through times of confusion, questioning and curiosity, but a sound education in the Catholic faith will always remind them how to save themselves. We have to make sure they have that education, which consists of the study of Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church–which have no place in the list of college admission recommendations.
2. College Success
When I was in high school, one of my friends got straight As and a perfect score on his SAT. He was a student-athlete, an actor in the school’s theater program, graduated as valedictorian and was admitted to Duke University. After my first year of college, however, news got around town that our class valedictorian flunked out during his first year at Duke. He was prepared for college admission, but not for success in college.
It turned out that he was not the great student we imagined. His mother organized and managed his life, helped him with homework, participated in his activities, and kept him focused. Once he left home for the first time, he was forced to manage life on his own, study on his own, stay focused on his own–and he couldn’t handle it. He was not prepared for success in college.
Getting admitted to a selective college doesn’t earn a student a degree from that college. There’s a lot of work to do. Moreover, a student interested in advanced degrees will have to apply for admission to graduate and professional schools, and his high school achievement will be irrelevant. Success in college studies requires very different skills than success in high school studies–and few students are given the opportunity to learn these success skills.
Moreover, the studies completed in high school affect the quality and convenience with which a student will be able to work through college courses. Earning high grades in college depends heavily on the ability to read, write essays, manage multiple subjects, and so on. There are many studies and skills to be learned in high school for college success that are not included in the college admission recommendations. Most students don’t study these things.
There are also many opportunities to earn awards that will demand more than the completion of college admission recommendations provide. Students can gain admission into honor societies, earn honors degrees, win scholarships and more. This requires more than checking the boxes of college admission recommendations.
3. Overall Life Success
We live in a highly competitive, high-tech, free-market economy. The artificial world that children get used to in modern schools disappears as soon as they receive their high school diploma. The resources they enjoy access to, the activities they participate in, the help that’s available, the ordered environment–all of it disappears at graduation.
The skills young adults need to find a place to earn an honest living in the world are unlike anything they’ve ever been asked for in school. The knowledge that’s needed to make vocational decisions, file taxes, start a business, apply for a job, choose a spouse, raise a family, manage stress, maintain good health and fitness, develop a budget, manage a household, manage their careers, and so on, is not taught in the list of courses recommended for college admission.
Gaining admission to a selective college or university is a great achievement–let’s not deny that. College admission is an exciting achievement in a young person’s life and they should celebrate. However, college admission is only one piece of a much more complex puzzle and we need to make sure we have all the pieces together. We need to make sure that our children’s college prep program satisfies the admission recommendations of selective colleges, but they need more from us than that. We have to make sure we provide them with the opportunities to learn the Catholic faith, to learn the skills and knowledge necessary for excellence in college studies, and to gain the wisdom needed for life in general, which is full of challenges.
In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we make sure that many of these opportunities are available. Parents–and students–need to understand that success in college and life beyond college will demand knowledge and skills that can only be found in the classical Catholic curriculum. We cannot provide everything that’s needed for an excellent college prep education, but we can provide much more than most schools are designed to do.
Mr. William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy