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Wentworth Institute of Technology to Drop Pre-Calculus Admissions Requirement for STEM Programs

The Wentworth Institute of Technology is dropping its pre-Calculus admissions requirement, opening its doors to a wider range of students looking to pursue STEM degrees there.Dr. Deirdre DonovanDr. Deirdre Donovan

“We're just recognizing that that Pre-Calculus requirement was just another bar to entry for a whole lot of students,” said Dr. Deirdre Donovan, the inaugural director of first-year math in Wentworth's School of Computing and Data Science. She joined the Boston school in 2022.

Those looking to apply to Wentworth are required to have four years of English, a mathematics course on the level of Algebra II, and one laboratory science course under their belt. And before this most recent change, students aiming to get into the school’s applied mathematics, applied sciences, computer science, cybersecurity, data science, or engineering programs, had to have completed pre-Calculus as well.

But for a number of reasons – including late changes in career/academic plans and lack of high school course offerings – there was a subset of students that just didn’t have pre-Calculus done by the time they graduated.

Per Wentworth’s previous admissions policy, these high school graduates either would not have been eligible to apply to a number of the school’s STEM programs or would have been “conditionally admitted.” Approximately 10% of Wentworth’s students fell into that latter category, said Sue Sontgerath, associate vice president and dean of undergraduate admissions at Wentworth, adding that these students had shown potential.

As of the current admissions cycle, Wentworth has removed its pre-Calculus requirement across the board for all majors, instead only requiring the completion of Algebra II to apply.

"These are students that have great potential and that really want to move into a STEM career,” Donovan said. “So we tried to meet that need while keeping our academic standards the same. We haven't changed our calculus curriculum at all. We have not changed our physics curriculum at all. We have not changed our outcomes or the skills that our students will be meeting Wentworth with.”

Come this fall semester, Wentworth will bring pre-Calculus instruction in-house by offering a new “Foundations of Calculus” to cover the subject. It's a “rigorous” course with a particular focus on preparing students for more advanced Calculus courses down the line, Donovan said.

Research has shown that students pursuing degrees in STEM often bottleneck and struggle during their journey at Calculus and Physics, she said. This new course seeks to address that issue and diverges from traditional high school pre-Calculus classes by working on students’ skills to tackle these later courses.

This extra fall-semester math course – it will meet twice a week in addition to a weekly “lab” session for solving problem sets – will be worth college credit and will count as an elective for certain majors, Donovan said. It will not be mandatory for all students, just the ones applying to Wentworth programs that formerly required prior pre-Calculus completion.

“Instead of relying on our high schools to do the preparation, we're just trying to meet kids where they're at,” Donovan said. “We're not saying that you're just going to waltz right into calculus without having pre-calculus. We're saying: 'Come to us, and we'll get you ready for the calculus and physics sequence here at Wentworth.'"

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, less than half of U.S. high school graduates in 2019 (40%) had completed precalculus/mathematical analysis. And only 16% of graduates had completed calculus that year.

The number of high school students taking AP Statistics has also risen significantly in the past decade or so. But that course may not be the best way to prepare for those looking to pursue careers in engineering or computer science, Donovan said.

“We're trying to meet the need of engineering, computer science, and data science,” she said. “And that's going to require that our students have the right base before they start a Calculus and a Physics sequence."

In addition to this new course, Wentworth continues to provide tutoring and assistance for students struggling with their work, and this course will be no exception, Sontgerath said. Much like for the school’s other classes, “Foundations of Calculus” classes will have upperclassmen – “peer tutors” – sit in during sessions so that they can better aid students who need help.

This requirement change-up is a move towards increasing accessibility at Wentworth, Sontgerath said. According to her, this change – given that it was still being processed at the time – wasn’t publicized much this admissions cycle, contributing to a lack of change in applicant numbers. But she anticipates that the number of students applying to Wentworth will increase next year.

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