Did BSM prepare you well for college?

For BSM graduates entering college, the pressing question is Are we ready?
For BSM graduates entering college, the pressing question is “Are we ready?”
Courtesy of Peter Giertsen

BSM prides itself on being a college prep school, but does it truly live up to this standard? Do students feel ready to move on to the next steps in their education? These are common questions many students and parents ask themselves when choosing to come to BSM and throughout their time here.

A student’s years in high school are some of the busiest of their life. They have a strict weekly schedule, going from classes to their sport or club, day after day, week after week. However, when students get to college, this isn’t the same for many. “I have been doing a good job getting all my work in on time because there is a heavy penalty for missing class and late work. There is much less of a schedule, so it is very important to be on your game. I wish I learned more time management when I was in high school so I knew how to manage my time without a harsh schedule,” University of Wisconsin-Madison student Peter Giertsen (‘23) said.

Although time management is something people need to work on themselves schools can still encourage this, starting with teachers. Many graduates look back at their years at BSM wishing for a very surprising thing: teachers being more strict. To most high schoolers this sounds crazy, however, it is a common request. “I wish that the teachers were harder on me [in high school]… while I really appreciated how easy it was when I was in high school, that part didn’t prepare me too well [for college]. The kindness and the way teachers ‘take it easy’ on you made college kind of a wake-up call,” Giertsen said.

The positive side of this kindness, however, is that many BSM students do feel supported by their teachers. There was recently a survey set out to all students regarding BSM’s class rigor and how well academics are going.“I thought [what was] great was that students felt supported by their teachers and that they felt that BSM was supporting them for college,” Principal Stephanie Nitchals said.

Hence, this can then lead to a divide among students: the ones who were successful because of their independence in high school, and the ones who were dependent on their high school resources. “I was fortunate enough to instill my own individual habits at BSM that prepared me for college, but obviously no one at BSM did exactly what I did throughout high school to get ready for college…I did certain things through my four years at BSM that got me ready, but it wasn’t BSM as an institution that really instilled in me these habits, it was more of an individual choice,” Lily Butner (‘23), a freshman at Boston College said.

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If BSM students feel that teachers didn’t build these habits with them and were too kind, how well did BSM prepare its students? That’s where the “college prep” title gets complicated. Certain classes, teachers, and expectations are truly college-level, such as the many AP classes and honors courses. “I think coming from junior and senior year at BSM, especially if you’re taking rigorous core classes, you’re having to really figure out how to use your time well and how to study efficiently. I think this has prepared our students to face some college challenges, especially when they only have to take a max of two to three classes per day at college,” guidance counselor Kate Berry said.

However, the “rigorous” track represents only a small part of the school. BSM as a whole is considered college prep and students can say they went to a college prep school–even if they never took an honors or AP class–when in reality they may not be sent off not fully prepared.

“At BSM, I had nearly perfect grades in every class because that was the norm. Everyone was used to getting straight As and when you didn’t, you corrected a test or a parent emailed and all was smoothed over. In college, this is the complete opposite. Getting perfect grades is a rarity, as it should be, so I’m working on erasing my four-year-long mindset that an A should be expected… I think teachers should start grading papers more like how they’re graded in college. This is evident in AP English classes, but for students who don’t take those, they aren’t going to be used to the rigorous grading system that lies behind a simple paper. I didn’t understand the fact that receiving a B+ on my first college paper was considered a good grade, because I was used to perfect grades being the expectation,” Butner said.

At BSM, I had nearly perfect grades in every class because that was the norm. Everyone was used to getting straight As and when you didn’t, you corrected a test or a parent emailed and all was smoothed over. In college, this is the complete opposite. Getting perfect grades is a rarity, as it should be, so I’m working on erasing my four-year-long mindset that an A should be expected.”

— Lily Butner

BSM cannot expect all of its students to take these advanced track classes, and not everyone is ready or willing to make that commitment. Many students and teachers feel there shouldn’t be a big divide between expectations of an AP or honors course.

“BSM should have been stricter with deadlines and testing [for all classes]. In college, your professors will rarely accept things that are late if you didn’t ask for an extension way ahead of time. A lot of my assignments are automated online and won’t even let me submit them if I’m past the deadline. Also, you have to take your tests in class on the day they are offered and you don’t get to retake them. You don’t get to go to another place or take it in a few weeks when you feel more prepared,” Gabby Nyquist (‘23), a freshman at Arizona State University, said.

BSM is taking steps to address the gap that occurs in the transition between high school and college by supporting and preparing their students as much as possible, making changes little by little. “I have spoken to the science department for example to teach and assign more formal lab reports to be sure that students are prepared to write those in college,” Nitchals said.

The classroom isn’t the only place where college prep occurs. “I think the majority of the skills I learned from BSM I developed through my extracurricular activities, such as efficiently allocating my time and energy to complete my most pressing responsibilities first. Honestly, I don’t think that what I learned in the classroom made a huge difference in my transition from high school to college. The structure of college classes is much different than high school,” Monica Beutz (‘23), a freshman at Texas Christian University, said.

BSM, similarly to many other high schools, is a very structured and contained environment, unlike most college campuses. This can often raise the question of whether high schools can be considered “college prep” if they aren’t at the college level.

“I don’t think that BSM is truly a college prep school… In college, it’s fully up to you what you want to do with your free time, so by forcing super structured blocks of time into the day at BSM, like mandatory study halls with lots of rules, students are failing to learn the habits that they will inevitably use very soon in college. There’s no such thing as phone cubbies here, or only being allowed to eat during a specific period of the day, so by creating a restricted environment in high school, students will ultimately be thrown into a world of independence without fully formed habits. If students are dependent on someone holding their hand to get through high school, college is going to unfortunately be a really rude awakening,” Butner said.

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