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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 83, Number 1 (Nov. 1981)

Murphy, Tom
Getting them ready to get them in,   pp. 12-13

Page 13

     These days, anyone who wants to be a Badger
had better start the project as a high school freshman.
                             By Tom Murphy
erhaps now more than ever, "higher
        education" really begins in high
        school. In the fierce competition of
 the modem university-for grades, for ac-
 ceptance in a major, for the attention of job
 recruiters-the race is increasingly to the
 swift. And today's swiftest got off the
 blocks in high school, where they got the
 yetch requirements out of the way, grabbed
 another elective instead of a two-hour
 lunch period, probed the college catalogs
 and discovered exciting fields they'd never
    These facts aren't always easy to sell to
 the young, nor sometimes to their parents.
 On our campus, that selling job falls to the
 people in Admissions. They're the ones
 who travel the state each year to talk to high
 school audiences and who offer the annual
 SOAR (Summer Orientation and Advising
 for Registration) Program. Now, we've
 asked them to bring the message to our
 readers, particularly to you with young peo-
 ple in the crucial planning years-middle
 school through the junior year in high
 school. (When you've read it and made the
 kids read it, pass it along to the nearest prin-
 cipal or counselor.) The people who sat
 around our tape recorder are: Director of
 Admissions David Vinson '59, '61, '76; his
 associate director, Al Crist '71, '79; his as-
 sistant director Keith White '70; Jack Kel-
 lesvig '60, director of the Office of New-
 Student Services; and his assistant director,
 Lewis Bosworth '64.
    Wisconsin Alumnus: What basic advice
 would you give to the parents and young
 people who are reading this?
   Mr. Vinson: I think it's vital that parents
 and teachers impress on the kids the impor-
 tance of those early years of schooling.
 That's easier said than done, of course, but
 try to convince them not to take the easy
 way through high school. Get them to bite
 off as much as they can possibly chew. Even
 though a lot of colleges and universities are
 scrambling for students, you can't walk into
 a good school with a shoddy background.
 We see an awful lot of young people who
 have something to work with, but who
 don't work with it until-sometimes-it's
 too late.
   Wisconsin Alumnus: Kids aren't usu-
ally very willing to take that kind of advice
from parents or even from teachers. Is it cor-
rect to assume, then, that the high school
counselor is the most logical person to en-
courage better scholarship?
    Mr. White: I agree that counselors can
 and should play an important informative
 role, but the first thing they will tell you is
 that they can't devote their time to the col-
 lege-bound alone. The second thing they'll
 tell you is that even the best of them don't
 have as much influence on grades as they
 would like to. There are good reasons for
 this: they have to overcome peer-pressure
 on the student; sheer numbers can preclude
 one-to-one time; they have a variety of
 other administrative duties. I think they do
 far less counseling than the public believes.
   Mr. Crist: My experience has been that
 counselors want to make sure the student
 gets the minimum for what he or she wants
 to accomplish after high school. But much
 more than the minimum is necessary to do
 better-than-C work at this university. You
 have to come in with more than three years
 of English; more than two years of math.
 You probably should have four years of for-
 eign language to avoid the overcrowded,
 underfunded first-semester sections here.
 Counselors try to get that information
 across, but only if there's time for more do
 many of them go beyond that. So it's real]
 up to the parents.
   Mr. White: This university simply isn't a
school for "minimum-requirement" kids.
Our average was in the top 15 or 20 percent
of the high school class. It's the high school
student's responsibility to weigh all the op-
tions: whether to take an extra-curricular
activity at the expense of, say, fourth-year
Spanish which could put him or her ahead
of the game here. A student who settles for
the high school minimum might go through
here with marvelous grades but still lose out
on the job market to someone who is
equally well prepared in the same major
but who did enough in high school to enable
him to get the equivalent of a minor here.
   Mr. Kellesvig: You can look at it from
the dollars-and-cents standpoint, too. If
you come here with just the minimum and
have to take all those requirements to grad-
uate, you're spending the same bucks as the
kid who came in with those subjects already
complete. He's starting at about where
you're going to graduate!
   Wisconsin Alumnus: There are a lot of
high school students who really know the di-
rection they want to take, but who find them-
selves bogged down by some of the college-
entrance requirements quite apart from their
interests. Take the person who's exceptional
in the humanities, for instance, who finds his
or her high school GPA pulled down by lab
science or math. Once we've bowed to the
bromide that one can never get enough edu-
cation, what's wrong with letting young peo-
ple prepare more exclusively for a major?
    Mr. White:Well, later in life you may
 want to change direction. And if you've
 limited yourself dramatically in the begin-
 ning, you may not be able to.
    Mr. Crist: People make major career
 changes-what is it?--on an average of
 three to five times in their lives. And that's
 not just going from one job to another in a
 related field.
    Mr. Bosworth: In fact, I think colleges
 and universities have to be a little self-
 critical for having lowered some of their en-
 trance requirements. A few years back
 there was all this demand for "relevancy"
 and breadth, so curricula were changed. So
 now, if we say, "This freshman class is a
 mess," the high schools can say, "Yes, but
 you're the ones who said they didn't need
 any more than two years of this or that," or
 "Let's drop the test scores." And they're
   Mr. Kellesvig: That can't say that to us.
 Wisconsin is still very attractive to a large
 number of both in- and out-of-state stu-
 dents because we did hang on to our aca-
 demic integrity. We still have rather stiff
 and straightforward requirements for de-
 grees in most of our majors, granted that
 we let up on the foreign language require-
 ments. The reason we let go on the test
 scores was because we thought they were
 educationally unsound for a lot of the peo-
 ple they were supposed to measure.
   The pattern we have on admission re-
quirements has been in effect since 1964.
The threshold is there. But counselors have
been saying, "Don't give us just the mini-
mum, or that's what the kids will shoot for.
Tell us more about what they'll need for a
degree." So now we have a book, "Prepa-
ration for College," that's in high school
offices all over the state. It says that if
you're going for this or that major you'd
better have three or four years of English;
you'd better have four years of math-or
whatever-so that students can plan realis-
   About one-third of our freshmen were
in the upper 10 percent of their high school
graduating class. Two-thirds were in the up-
per quarter, and well over 90 percent were
in the upper half. So young people are com-
ing here into very competitive surround-
ings. A lot of them survive, of course. But a
                          Continued on page 20

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