Last fall, the average freshman admitted to the University of California (Berkeley) and the University of California (Los Angeles) had a weighted high school grade-point average higher than a 4.0—that's higher than straight A's. The average freshman didn't just get good grades: she got good grades in honors and advanced placement courses.
Nationwide, admissions officers at selective colleges look for students who have challenged themselves academically. But not all students get the chance to build a stellar transcript. Black, Hispanic, and Native American students are less likely to attend high schools that offer advanced courses, such as physics and calculus, and they're less likely to participate in those courses when they are offered.
"We are not sending a message to those students that we expect them to succeed, that we are ready to educate them, that we will prepare them for their futures," Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the Education Department, said at an October National Journal event in Des Moines.
The racial disparities persist despite years of efforts at the federal, state, and local levels to get more college prep courses into high schools.
About 69 percent of public high schools offer Advanced Placement classes or the International Baccalaureate program, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And 82 percent of schools offer a dual credit program—often a partnership with a local college—that allows students to earn college and high school credit at the same time. It's also now possible to take a wide range of advanced courses online.