Sam’s (Mostly) Low Stress Junior Year

Ahh…..the end of the school year.  Sam is completing his junior year of high school and Ellie is finishing 8th grade. It’s hard to believe that it was this time three years ago that I learned about the possibilities for college in Europe.  Man, I can only imagine how different the last three years of our lives would have been (as well as the next four) if we didn’t know about these alternatives.

Many of you know that I believe that the benefits provided by the transparent admissions processes in Europe have as much of an impact on our lives as the incredible amounts of money we will save.  I’ve been hearing all sorts of stories about students who are “perfect applicants” not getting into their top choice schools, which also creates stress among the kids in Sam’s grade. Our year has been pretty relaxed (at least as it pertains to college admissions).

Before Sam knew exactly where in Europe he wanted to study, we knew that in order to keep his options totally open he would need four AP scores of 3+.  It would not help him any if he had ten AP scores of five, he just needed the three or four scores to make his US high school diploma the equivalent of the diploma needed to attend universities in Italy, Norway, Denmark, and the research universities in the Netherlands  Though the vast majority or schools in Europe do not require AP courses, our game plan was to plan his high school courses to keep as many options open as possible.  Sam took one AP course last year, he is taking two this year, and he is registered for two his senior year.  He has found this workload to be reasonable, and he has registered for the fifth AP course next year in case he does not get a 3 or higher on one of the tests he will take this month.

By the summer before junior year, Sam had zeroed in on what he wanted to study, so we came up with a list of programs that would be a good fit for him (a service we also offer to members). Of the possibilities, one stood out far ahead of the others. Sam has a huge interest in the Middle East and Arabic.  Because he hasn’t had to spend his high school years playing the US admissions game, he has been able to cultivate this interest on his own. Leiden University, in the Netherlands, has an International Studies program that allows students to choose a region and related language to specialize in their second year. Given that the Middle East/Arabic was an option (of eight regions and 22 languages), Sam preferred this program over the other more general International Relations programs we were looking at.

Sam has traveled with me a good bit in Europe and has been to the Netherlands before.  Since he has had this exposure and knew he liked enjoyed the country, he didn’t feel the need to visit more than one school. We signed up for the Experience Day at Leiden (which conveniently fell over Thanksgiving break) and decided that if he felt differently afterwards we could plan another trip to visit more schools. I’ll tell you, that is a trip I would have been on board for since another school he was considering is in the South of France!  Sam was incredibly excited after the Experience Day-about what he would learn, the types of kids who would be his classmates, where he would live, and more! No French Riviera for me this year…

Most of the programs at Leiden-and in the Netherlands as a whole, have a completely transparent and non-competitive admissions policy.  If you have the qualifications that are defined, then you are in. Period.  Leiden requires a 3.5 GPA and 3 AP scores of 3+.  Sam’s GPA is in good shape and he’s on track for the AP scores. They open their rolling admissions period in October.  Sam will apply then and have his admissions decision before Thanksgiving.  If he has his AP scores, there is no question as to whether or not he will get in, so he doesn’t need to apply to  a number of universities.  His first choice school is also his safety school!  I’d like to caution you against thinking that this admissions process is indicative of a lower educational quality.  It is not.  Universities in the Netherlands are extremely reputable worldwide.  They have a different philosophy to access to higher education and students have to prove that they have what it takes to succeed the first year of study, passing a preset number of courses or they are not allowed to return the second year.

Later this month, I will share  a few examples of choices we have been able to make to opt out of the problems with the US path to college admissions.  Spoiler alert-opting out feels great!!

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