As military families, we know PCSing doesn’t get put on hold when kids are in high school (to some, it seems to pick up). Naturally, this change creates a lot of stress in terms of its effect on a milkid’s college admission chances. In the Facebook group Grown & Flown Military Style, this topic is posted about fairly regularly.
(By the way, Grown & Flown Military Style — run by a military spouse for military families — is a great page to share tips, concerns, stories, etcetera about navigating your milkid through the college admissions labyrinth.)
To help allay concerns and learn how to deal with high school transfers, let’s first look at it from a 30,000-foot view:
First, stay calm, and keep in mind what Sally Rubenstone at College Confidential says: “Most admission officials will be very sympathetic to the disruption in your life. They realize that being the ‘new kid’ over and over can be tough, and they’ll be even more sympathetic if your relocation was due to family problems, military, illness, death, etcetera.”
Second, look at the positive impact on the college admission package. Students can use moving between states (or countries) to their advantage because the diverse experiences, adapting to new surroundings (schools, friends, culture, etcetera), and resulting resiliency make for excellent, unique essay topics that will stand out.
Keep in mind, too, the Common Application’s “additional information” section is a place to highlight how military moves have affected your milkid’s character.
Additionally, milkids should make these moves known to the writers of their letters of recommendation so the authors can comment on the moves.
Now that you have the reassurance PCS moves won’t hurt — and actually can help the college application — let’s look at some proactive actions you or your milkid can take:
Participate in extracurricular activities. These can be familiar activities or something adventurous and new, like speech, debate, or drama. (Fun fact: Per a researcher at Yale University, speech and debate have a 30-percent higher impact on college admissions than other activities.) Also, joining extracurricular activities is a great way to meet new people at a new school.
Talk to the school’s counselor. This will help you learn and understand the new school’s curriculum, their advanced course offerings, and how the different curriculum matches up. If possible, contact the counselor as early as possible to make any adjustments to the workload at the current school.
Look at AP or IB course offerings. If the new school is AP and the current school is IB, don’t worry — both look good to colleges. Per Jay Matthews, Washington Post education columnist: “For [selective] colleges, they demand to see AP or IB ... But the selective colleges don't care much which you choose. An AP kid who takes 6 courses will be in a tie with an IB kid who takes 6 courses.”
If the new school doesn’t have the array of AP offerings, your milkid still will be fine. As Matthews writes: “Three APs or IBs is a good minimum, and you don't need more than 5. For those [selective] colleges, they demand to see AP or IB but it (along with SAT scores and GPA) only gets you in the ‘maybe’ pile, where there are three or four times as many kids as the school has places. The yesses are separated from the no’s mostly by extracurricular activities (do two or three very deeply, avoided doing a lot shallowly), recommendations (the teacher has to say something like ‘this is the best kid I have seen in 5 years’), essays, and his standing in his high school class compared to other kids there applying to the same college.”
In the end, changing high schools is tough on milkids. However, in terms of college admissions, your milkid will be fine. In fact, he or she might be better off given the essay topics they now have to write about.