Every year, usually around college admission season, I get a question or two from parents regarding the competitive nature of the college search. The question usually goes like this:

“Why would we want to send our child to a school like Marshall, where they will face more academic competition and harder classes? If they stay in public school, they will get all As. At Marshall, won’t they be disadvantaged when it comes to college acceptance?”

I often start my answer with the practical: Colleges understand that not all high school’s are created equal. They know Marshall, and they know that a B+ at our school means something different than a B+ at another school. Or an A, for that matter. Colleges like to accept students who have taken the most challenging academic course load possible. They know that not all GPAs are created equal.

From my perspective, however, it is more important to ask: How can my child be prepared to SUCCEED once they are in college? 

A new article from the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talent Youth sounds a warning about the preparation of our so-called “A students.”

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Elaine Tuttle Hansen says that many schools today are doing a huge disservice by not challenging these smart, talented kids. The underlying calculus at many schools is: These kids are doing fine. They don’t make any trouble. We’ve got other worries.

“The truth is that not all of the smartest kids who have jumped through the hoops required for selective college admissions are ready for the demands of college-level work,” says Tuttle Hansen.

The research shows that when we don’t challenge students throughout middle school and high school, they lose ground. According to a Fordham Institute study, up to half of students who scored in the 90th percentile in elementary school fell backwards when they moved from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school.

“And the focus on low­-achieving students in public schools has disproportionately left more smart minority and low-income kids behind, creating a well-documented ‘excellence gap.'” writes Tuttle Hansen.

Perhaps the most compelling answer to the question about college preparation comes from David, a college student quoted the Chronicle article:

“By the time I found academic work that challenged me, … I realized my work ethic and study skills were atrocious, in large part, I believe, because I had never been forced to use them.

“I would like to know the person I would have become had I been engaged as a young learner.”