9th Grade Matters – Experts' Suggestions For College-Bound Students

As Snoqualmie Valley considers altering the grade configurations in our school district, some readers suggested it would be interesting to look at a few things before separating the 9th graders from Mount Si High School.  If a Freshman Learning Center is created, it seems Snoqualmie Valley parents would expect these things for their student(s) on a 9th grade campus:

  • To retain the courses and course levels currently available to all Snoqualmie Valley freshman today, especially those considered “core” by local universities.
  • To match the level and courses provided to all 9th graders in surrounding school districts – including what was made available at Issaquah’s Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus (PCFC) and what’s made available on the state’s only current 9th grade campus at Yakima’s West Valley High.
  • To align  our Freshman Learning Center’s course offerings, as well as course levels, with the core courses found on the UW and WSU admissions applications AND provide the level of rigor for those courses that enable students to be part of what universities call their “competitive applicant pool.”

    Snoqualmie Middle School could potentially become Mount Si's 9th grade campus in 2013

What Do Colleges Want to See?

The UW, WSU and the CollegeBoard list five courses as the “core.”  UW and WSU applications have blank fields under each high school grade level (9th-12th) where the applicant must fill in the core course, course level taken and the grade received for such course.  Links to these college applications are provided later this article.

Here are those “core” courses:

  1. Language Arts/English
  2. Math
  3. Lab Science
  4. World Languages
  5. Social Studies/Social Science

Arts, including fine, visual and performing, are also considered important courses.

Many Washington State colleges warn that their applicant pool goes well beyond all minimum requirements.  They state that meeting minimum requirements only makes high school students eligible to have their application reviewed – that meeting the minimum requirements is not the same as being a competitive applicant.  More selective schools, such as UC Berkeley, say that to gain admission applicants need to present an academic profile much stronger than that represented by the minimum admission requirements.

In addition to exceeding requirements, “Above average grades are needed in these classes. It isn’t just about enrolling in them, but also being successful in them.” says Kiersten Murphy, M. Ed, of Murphy College Consultants.  She also shares that “colleges often recalculate a student’s high school GPA by simply looking at the core classes and omitting the fluff.”

Other college counselors agree.  “It does no good to take a slew of AP courses and get a “C” or “D” in each,” says Mark Montgomery, PhD, College Counselor from Montgomery Educational Consulting of Colorado, former Associate Dean at the University of Denver and admissions counselor for Fort Lewis College. He goes onto say, “Therefore, to calculate a student’s core GPA, we have to remove the fluff.”  He adds, “We have to calculate the GPA based solely on the five academic solids that constitute a high school student’s performance.  The core GPA is your “real” GPA.”

CollegeBoard says, “The academic rigor of your child’s high school courses is an important factor in the college admission process.  To create that foundation, your child should take at least five solid academic classes EVERY semester — starting with the basics and then moving on to advanced courses.”  CollegeBoard also identifies the same five core classes listed above as their “five solid academic classes” and considers them “standard fare” whether your child plans to attend a “four-year or two-year college.”

How Do School Districts Align Their Curriculum With What Colleges Want To See?

Advanced Placement (AP): Snoqualmie Valley currently offers 10th-12th grade students many AP classes.  The course description guide says these are the most rigorous academic courses taught, with a challenging regiment of reading, writing and/or mathematical components.  Our school district provides these courses to all and suggests that students who are motivated, disciplined and pointed towards college preparatory should consider enrolling in AP courses.

Social Studies: Districts such as Lake Washington, Kent, Bellevue, Federal Way and Issaquah currently have a social studies requirement for 9th graders that align with the core.  Snoqualmie Valley does not currently have a 9th grade social studies requirement.  It does offer a 9th grade half-year geography elective course, but most students begin social studies in 10th grade as World History or AP World History.

Math:  In the above mentioned school districts, the majority of students complete Algebra 1 or Geometry by the end of 8th grade.  In fact, at Yakima’s 9th grade campus 10% of students take Algebra 2, a sometimes high level sophomore course taken once geometry is completed.  Because so many students are now taking Algebra 1 and Geometry in middle school, the University of Washington’s application now includes a column for indicating which math courses an applicant took in 7th and 8th grade.

Some universities like USC, Florida State and Michigan State provide college prep websites that provide high school course recommendations for students pursuing a future 4-year college degree.  They all suggest taking Algebra or Geometry in 7th and 8th grade.  The links to those websites can be found below.  The US Department of Education also says 8th graders should “continue taking advanced courses such as Algebra and an intermediate foreign language class.”

World Language:   The Kent School District offers Spanish, French, Japanese, German , Mandarin and

Issaquah's Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus, constructed and opened in 2005

American Sign Language (ASL).  Mount Si High offers Spanish, French, Japanese and German to all students and will introduce American Sign Language next year.  Whereas many colleges require 2 years of foreign language, some moderately selective ones advise typical competitive applicants take 4 or 5 years.

Students can achieve 5 years foreign language study if they take a year during middle school.  Students havethis option at Yakima’s West Valley High.  The school district promotes 4 to 5 years of world language to its students.  Therefore all  8th-12th graders have access to it.  They say “it takes 4 or 5 years to become conversant and proficient in a language.”  Closer to home, Issaquah 9th graders only get one elective course.  According to the district counseling office, nearly all freshmen take foreign language as that one elective.  The US Department of Education also says, “Enroll in algebra or geometry classes [in 9th grade] and a foreign language for both semesters.”

Kiersten Murphy also adds, “Highly selective colleges expect to see a student take at least five core academic subjects each year including foreign language.  A student should take the most challenging courses available at their high school and excel in them.  This means that a student should do advanced coursework, such as AP or IB classes when available.  Even if you do not plan to apply to the most selective colleges, you will still want to impress your future college by taking the most challenging coursework to demonstrate that you have passion and an interest in learning.”

High Tech Electives, Fine Arts and Music:  Snoqualmie Valley offers many high school high-tech electives.  Beginning fall 2012, Mount Si 9th graders can choose from newly expanded courses, such as Introduction to Computer Science which teaches algorithm development and programming.  Sophomores can take AP Computer Science where they will prepare for the CollegeBoard AP computer science exam.  Other popular freshman high-tech courses include:  Video Foundations, Animation Foundations, Digital Imaging Foundations and Web Design.  Additionally, a variety of fine arts and music courses are offered to all students.

Issaquah's Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus Extensive Course List - Will Ours Be Similar?

Some parents feel there should be answers to these key questions before separating 9thgraders from our high school:

  • Will all 9th graders retain the courses and course levels that current freshmen have access to today at MSHS?
  • Will all 9th graders have access to the core courses that match those of other 9th graders in neighboring school districts – including the arts and music?
  • From the list of courses made available from Issaquah’s 9th grade campus, which of those will SVSD provide on campus for its 9th graders so that students are similarly aligned to be competitive college applicants? See list of PCFC courses.
  • How will this be done?


College-Prep Info and Recommendation Links:

UW Admission Application

WSU Admission Application

CollegeBoard’s Recommendations for High School

Florida State University

University of Iowa

University of Southern California

Michigan State University

Washington Post: 8 Subtle Ways to Prepare Middle Schoolers for College (see #3 and #6)

What’s a Good Academic Record for College Admissions?

Washington State GEAR UP See page 23. GEAR UP is a link off of UW’s Get Ready for College page, and co-written with office of the Governor of Washington State.

US Department of Education FSA (Federal Student Aid)

Kiersten Murphy, M.Ed., Murphy College Consultants LLC   kiersten@schoolconsultant.com / 425-396-5618 / Member: IECA, NACAC

The Snoqualmie Valley School Board will be voting this Thursday, March 8th, regarding whether to proceed with plans to convert Snoqualmie Middle School to Mount Si’s 9th grade campus.  The move would shift current SMS students to either Twin Falls Middle School or Chief Kanim Middle School in 2013.  If you would like to share your thoughts with school board members you can find their email addresses here.


**  Special thanks to Stephanie Hager and Kiersten Murphy for collaborating and researching to help make this story possible.  **

Comments are closed.


  • Cheers to the parents who have taken an active interest in how their children are being prepared for acceptance to college.

  • Great information in this article! I would hope that the school board not only has this information, but also takes this information very seriously when making their decisions. I support the 9th grade campus, but only if education were improved to the point that are kids are prepared for college. I would also hope that as seniors at Mt Si High, our kids wouldn’t have to be worried that their college applications are “missing something”.

  • Kudos to Dana, Stephanie & Kiersten for this great article. Lots of good information for parents & students alike.
    The two new tech classes mentioned are part of TEALS program taught by local Microsoft/other tech companies programmers. http://tealsk12.org/ It’s a great program to have in our school district.

  • Danna,
    Thanks for writing this story. But the truth is that our 9th Graders would not have access to upper level courses if they are isolated at a separate campus which has no safe access to the main high school. Nor will they have access to courses that were offered at the Issaquah 9th Grade Campus (because it was twice as large as the proposed SVSD 9th Grade Campus). The failure to offer our 9th Graders the kind of learning opportunities they would get at Mount Si High School will greatly reduce their chances of getting in to the best colleges. This is one more reason parents should oppose annexation of Snoqualmie Middle School.
    Regards, David Spring M. Ed.
    Parent North Bend

    1. This is what frustrates me about the whole process. When someone makes a blanket statement that the 9th graders would not have access to upper level courses in a separate campus. WHY? If the 9th graders are in their own campus why would the planners of this campus not put the proper academics into it? Why would they not cater to having the 9th graders get everything possible out of it that would benefit them in their following years in high school? The future is NOW…why not make positive statements that would positively benefit our kids. What is a viable alternative to the 9th grade campus? Building a new high school? Would a bond EVER pass to do this?

  • Does anyone know if the committee (HSPESC) identified a list of classes that our freshman campus would need? Or does the school district have this list? Curious what classes our kids will have compared to Issaquah’s listed on this blog.

  • As a school board member, I formally asked a week ago for sample prospective schedules for freshmen who would attend the freshman campus. I also asked for a summary report of the current freshman class and their schedules so that we could see what types of courses our freshmen currently take. And I asked for the logistics of how 9th grade students would be able to continue to access advanced and elective class offerings. I know this was an important consideration of the HSEPSC’s recommendation, but I’ve yet to see how this will be accomplished in a separate freshman building. If anything, I want our freshmen (and our middle school students) to have more access to and more encouragement for taking advanced classwork (including world languages and advanced math,science, music, etc.), not less. Increasing access to this coursework will help align us with many other school districts in the area and will help our students prepare for post-high school success. I have yet to receive the information I requested.

  • Determining a typical semester schedule (for majority of 9th graders) at the Freshman Learning Center should be easy. There are 6 periods. Here is a sample schedule for a 9th grader today in Snoqualmie Valley:

    1. Language Arts 9 (or Honors LA 9)
    2. Math (AlgA, AlgB, Alg1, Geo, Honors Geometry, Alg2 [if necessary])
    3. Science 9
    4. PE 9
    5. Elective – world language goes here if student takes it (there are 4 to choose from)
    6. Elective – a .5 credit social studies credit can go here, or a variety of other classes such as music, fine arts, cooking, high tech, computer programming, and many more

    I’m wondering how parents find out what a typical sample schedule would look like at FLC. Not all the elective options, just a bare-bones sample schedule. It’s hard to support big change when this hasn’t been conveyed to parents yet.

  • I just found something that might help parents figure out what makes sense for their own children. Here’s Issaquah’s recommendations for 9th graders, found on their counseling website.

    Two are listed. The other schedule they provide is “Music and Academic” which is @ link below. All 4 years of high school can be found @ link.

    Average Academic 9th Grade Schedule for college entrance
    1. English
    2. World Studies
    3. Math
    4. Science
    5. World Language
    6. PE 9

    Intensive Academic Schedule (AP focus) in 9th
    1. Honors English
    2. Honors World Studies
    3. Geometry
    4. Science
    5. World Language
    6. PE 9

    The only AP world lang is listed under 12th grade.

    Here’s the slideshow off their counseling website: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bw9NpYAUA_Z9dWY4VElsWFBST0MxZUNidEduakg5QQ/edit?pli=1 . This was taken from slides 18 and 19

  • Applause to the parents who contributed to this article and effort! The rest of the communities parents are in your debt.

    My feelings; the annexation of the SMS campus is a mistake. I’m not a fan of the idea of segregating 9th graders from upper classmen *unless* the curriculum and offerings are actually significantly better and allows the 9th grade population more opportunity to flourish. From what I’ve read and heard the 9th grade campus is actually the *opposite* of that and therefore I simply can’t support it. There are so many questions left unanswered that I simply can’t believe the Board would put this to a vote without all the facts laid bare. I read above in this thread that a proposed schedule of classes has yet to materialize and we also are lacking in historical knowledge of what the existing and past freshman have taken. How in heavens can we make such drastic uninformed decisions that will affect our children’s futures and their ability to complete in a global marketplace with such poor planning and available research? If the research is there then lay it bare for all to see and engage the parents of Snoqualmie Valley so we can buy in and get on board. If the info isn’t there then I strongly suggest the Board delay their decisions until these questions and concerns are fully vetted and answered.

    My family and I moved to the Snoqualmie Valley in 2005 from Las Vegas and we absolutely love it here. I grew up around gambling, I don’t want to gamble with the future of our children or the children of Snoqualmie. We could be potentially affecting a generation of Snoqualmie residents and I for one want our youth positioned for the greatest success possible.

  • Armand–
    Thanks for your passionate response. There are many questions left unanswered. I think it is incumbent upon the District to ensure that the public is informed as to the benefits this will have our students and the long term implications of moving forward with this decision (both the good and the bad). I also am concerned about the impact this decision will have on our middle schooler students. There seems to be little discussion regarding this group. Returning to two middle schools in order to support this concept needs to be further examined.

    I hope all the responders to this blog attend the school board meeting tomorrow night at 6:15 to express your views. The meeting will be held in the District Office. Public comment will be taken from 6:15-7:15. Typically, each person who wants to comment is provided 2 minutes. I believe it is important for EVERYONE to be heard–regardless of your position!

  • Living Snoqualmie