Decisions about who gets admitted to college, especially to selective institutions, are the result of a complex mix of policy and practice, and math expectations are part of that mix. A new Just Equations report notes that, regardless of whether calculus is necessary for a student’s college major, entrenched beliefs about calculus as a sign of rigor can play a significant role in admissions.
A New Calculus for College Admissions: How Policy, Practice, and Perceptions of High School Math Education Limit Equitable Access to College—published in partnership with National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)—explores evolving views of the role that math plays in education and college admission. Through a national survey and a series of interviews, the report examines four-year college and university admission policies on high school math course-taking, the often unwritten practices that determine how those policies operate, and the perceptions that influence evaluations of students’ high school records.
Calculus is rarely required for university admission outside of specific majors, such as engineering, physical science, and math. The report mentions how some selective institutions, most prominently the University of California, have made clear that non-traditional courses such as data science are not only accepted for admission but are considered advanced math courses. AP Statistics has the same weight as AP Calculus. However, Anderson and Burdman highlight the mixed messages high school students often receive about math classes, leading many to pursue calculus to err on the safe side.
“For new math pathways to take hold, outdated notions about rigor must be reconsidered, so that high schools and colleges can ensure that students can acquire the quantitative skills they most need,” the authors write. “It’s time to think differently about math readiness.”