Nobody’s perfect. Not every teenager is bound for the Ivy League. But if your teenager happens to be in the broad range of "B" students, I assure you there are many opportunities out there to satisfy his or her aspirations. With 2,500 accredited four-year higher educational institutions in the United States, there is an appropriate place for just about everyone who wants to go to college.
"B" students can have any number of individual stories. Some might be late bloomers, distracted from academics early in high school, but catching up junior or senior year as they mature and find their feet. Some may be solid students with an Achilles’ heel in one academic area, such as mathematics or foreign language, that drags down the GPA. There may be a learning disability, attentional disorder, or psychological condition that needs to be diagnosed and addressed. It is also possible that the student’s passion is focused on a less academic field, such as culinary arts, photography, fashion design, or graphic arts; he or she is therefore simply not engaged by abstract courses such as Latin or Calculus. His or her true talents are not measured in the high school GPA. This student may be better directed toward an art school, technical institute, or career college, rather than a traditional college or university.
In this post, I would like to focus on "B" students who are late bloomers, inconsistent performers, learning challenged, or emotionally fragile. They have special individual needs that need be considered in the college application process. It is not enough to simply find colleges with accessible admissions criteria. In my college consulting practice, I suggest that families of "B" students consider small-to-medium colleges, if affordable, with a favorable faculty-student ratio, academic support, a close-knit student body, focus on the undergraduate, and a nurturing environment. "B" students are not entering college as finished products, ready to grab the brass ring; they are, in fact, underprepared, and need a transformational environment to help them mature and gain skills for success.
Where are these colleges? Pick up Loren Pope’s "Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges." Pope described these small, intimate colleges as having “a familial sense of communal enterprise … a faculty of scholars devoted to helping young people develop their powers, mentors who often become their valued friends.” Of Pope’s 40 transformational schools, the most accessible for "B" students include: Beloit (Wisc.), Knox (Ill.), Ohio Wesleyan, Hiram, College of Wooster (Ohio), Kalamazoo (Mich.), Earlham (Ind.), Juniata (Pa.), Marlboro (Vt.), Goucher and McDaniel (Md.), Lynchburg (Va.), and Guilford (N.C.). Visit the ctcl.org website for a full list of these schools.
I also recommend the chapter on “Hidden Gems” from Steven Antonoff’s "The College Finder: Choose the School That’s Right for You." Of Antonoff’s hidden gems, the most accessible for "B" students include: Hobart & Smith (N.Y.), Champlain (Vt.), Endicott (Mass.), Bryant (R.I.), Fairfield (Conn.), Drew (N.J.), High Point (N.C.), and College of Charleston (S.C.). For Antonoff’s complete hidden gem lists, visit his website, InsideCollege.com
If your "B" student is challenged by standardized testing, take a look at the SAT/ACT test optional schools listed at Fairtest.org. Many are also listed by Pope or Antonoff. Test optional schools most accessible for "B" students include: Hobart & Smith (N.Y.), Marlboro (Vt.), Hampshire (Mass.), Providence and Bryant (R.I.), Goucher and Loyola Maryland (Md.), U of Scranton (Pa.), Gilford (N.C.), and Knox (Ill.).
I hesitate to recommend large universities for students who have struggled academically in high school. The mission of state universities is to serve the public; therefore, many of these schools are accessible, even for applicants with less competitive credentials. After matriculation, however, these institutions gradually separate the wheat from the chaff. For "B" students unprepared for a sink-or-swim situation, I am inclined to suggest a more intimate college atmosphere, in which somebody notices if a freshman cuts class.
Such an environment could be public; Penn State‘s satellite campuses, for example, offer a small-scale “junior college” experience, which offer associates and bachelor degrees but can also prepare late bloomers to transfer to, and eventually succeed at, the flagship campus in University Park. The student will eventually get to enjoy the “rah-rah” Division I sports and Greek life college experience that many middle class families seem to consider a rite of passage. By approaching the college experience in "steps," the student is able to perform academically in a rigorous, respected institution, building the confidence and foundation for a successful career.
And that's what it is all about, really, for "B" students and all students. Finding a good fit in college, growing and developing, and eventually SUCCEEDING.