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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Grade is Just a Letter

When I was researching schools to transfer to, my mom had some fairly standard questions each time a new school was brought up:

“What are the average test scores?  GPAs?  How many students go on to graduate school?  What do people do with degrees from that school?” 

I know that I’m not alone in the concerned parent department (it’s because they love you) so the next time your parents ask you about Prescott College fear not!  Arm yourself with this blog post and rest easy, knowing that this school is not only non-traditional, it’s also awesome and it will help you get to some sweet places.  Now let’s make like tired toddler and go straight to the breakdown!

ACT and SAT scores of Prescott College students seem low
Prescott College was founded on an idea: if there was no such thing as higher education, what would we want it to look like?  The professors envisioning Prescott College knew one thing for certain: in a traditional model of education, there are those who succeed, and those who fail.  Traditional schooling places emphasis on reading, writing, math, and science, in the form of memorization and regurgitation for tests and essays.  Students who don’t do well at this will fail, because they’re not meeting the standards set by the system.  Who says this has to be the case?  If you take away the tests and you take away the grades, you’re left with a pile of facts that have been committed to memory—only until the next test, that is.  So what happens when you do away with tests and make grades optional, focusing instead on small classes to support student participation, and an engaging teaching style rather than a lecture?  Suddenly, you have students whose learning is meaningful and relevant.  Why are you studying agroecology?  Because you love it, and learning about it is actually pleasant because it’s all based on your own interest, rather than trying to meet someone else’s standards.  It’s amazing how much more engaging classes are when you’re there for your own reasons. 

But, back to those test scores and GPAs: why do they seem low?  It’s all about the students who come here: if you’ve struggled in the midst of a traditional setting, why would you seek out that same setting for your post-secondary education?  When a student does well on a standardized test, it means that the student tests well—not that she’s more intelligent or capable than her peers.  Assigning a number to a person’s ability to learn is two-dimensional: there’s a whole person behind that number, and it’ll be the person—not a test score or GPA—who sits down on the first day of class.  Some of the students here have been successful in traditional settings, while others have not.  Those who come to Prescott College are looking to be viewed as whole people, rather than a name and a grade on a piece of paper. 

What about the dropout rate?
The dropout rate is a statistic that is frequently mentioned here in the admissions office; here are the cliffs notes on why it looks high.  For a long time, Prescott College was a big school for transfer students.  As a result, there weren’t many resources for first time freshpeople to use, and first time students often left because of the lack of structure (which seasoned students were able to weather more easily, having already learned the general ins and outs of another college).  On top of this, there’s Prescott College’s general attitude toward learning: if you’re passionate about something, pursue it.  The self-directed nature of being a PC student lends itself to independence, and sometimes students find that college isn’t where they need to be right now. 

While the independence of Prescott College students will likely remain the same as always, support for freshpeople is growing through the construction of our new housing (they look SO COOL, I’m mad jealous of the students who get to live there) and the restructuring of our freshperson seminar during their first semester here, that these new students will have the support they need in order to be successful.

And now for the upswing…
Approximately 43% of Prescott College students go on to enroll in graduate programs within five years of graduation.  Wanna see some of the stuff people are doing after graduation?  Stuff like starting their own sustainable farms, creating programs for at-risk youth, and working to create fair trade networks—sounds legit, right?  Check out the highlights page, here:  Prescott College’s emphasis on field experience translates into job experience for many graduates, and it’s not uncommon for a senior project to result in a job offer right after graduation.  You can get grades, if you so choose, in order to have a GPA for admissions to graduate school. 

Alrighty then, gentle ladies and men.  Go forth, armed as you now are with the knowledge that this is not only a place where you can earn a degree, but also a place that can prepare you for your fabulous life after graduation.  

-Claire Tuchel, May, 2012

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