Math Problems

“I’m just bad a math.”
“I’m not going into a STEM major, why do I need all of this math?
“I’m not going to use Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus etc….in real life.”

My high school counselor sat me down my junior year for selecting my senior year classes and informed me that even though I had taken the mandatory three years of college prep math (Algebra, Geometry, and Advanced Algebra- actually I took Algebra 1 twice, but that’s a story for another time) it was in my best interest to take Pre-Calculus my senior year. As you can imagine, I was likely giving him the look your math challenged students give you that reads: “Seriously?”  He went on to say things that, in hindsight, rang very true:

  1. Math is harder in college. Take as much as you can in high school to avoid as much math as you can in college. (Pretty sure he only gave this advice to people like me, not to the STEM majors.)
  2. Math Placement Exam: The more math you take in high school the better you will do on the math placement exam.
  3. Lesson for Life: If you don’t take Math your senior year, you will be out of practice. It’s like training for a sport, you can’t just take a year off and expect to walk onto the field and perform like you’ve been training for that year.
  4. Math teaches you to think differently. It took until senior year of college for me to realize this was true. Solving real world problems, when “adulting”, requires us to use all the tools in our toolbox and forces us to look at problems from different angles. At UW-Green Bay we call this interdisciplinary learning. Math give us skills to better understand cause and effect, equations are common when you are diagraming a project, problem or potential solutions and we don’t even realize how often we use math logic in our daily lives to get us where we need to go, when we need to get there.

What I’ve learned while working in Admissions:

  • Students who take the 4th year of college prep math before attending UWGB are more likely to graduate.
  • When we review applications for admission and a student is on the bubble for admission, having taken the 4th year of college prep math is a plus factor.
  • People who don’t take the math seriously their senior year or don’t take the Wisconsin Math Placement Test seriously are disappointed in that choice when it comes to freshmen registration. I’ve seen this first-hand countless times.
  • The Early Math Placement Tool, which is free for schools, is a good idea to get students ready to take math seriously their senior year. https://exams.wisc.edu/empt/home.php

I didn’t get the chance to let my school counselor know that he was right about math. You are right to have this conversation with your students. Thank you for having these conversations. We might not get kids like me to embrace math, but I’m hoping we can help them understand its value.

About the author: Jennifer Jones is the Director of Admissions at UW-Green Bay. Jen has 17 years of experience in higher education. She resides in Green Bay with her husband, two small children, and energetic dog.