Written by Lisa Bleich
“I’m so stressed out about what classes to take next year!” moaned my youngest daughter when she was a sophomore in high school.
“What do you mean? I thought we figured out your classes already.” I replied.
“Yeah, but I have to take at least 12 AP or Honors classes in high school and I don’t know which ones to take.”
“What do you mean? Why do you have to take 12?”
“Because that’s what Rebecca took.”
Rebecca is her oldest sister. It’s not easy following in the footsteps of two high-achieving siblings.
Whether the pressure comes from siblings, peers, parents, teachers, or society, high school students feel it from all sides. So as you begin planning your schedules for the coming year, the goal is to create a schedule that will challenge, but not overwhelm you. This advice is mirrored in the Washington Post article that analyzes the Harvard School of Education study entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions
It is not necessary to take honors or AP classes in every subject but you can challenge yourself in your areas of strength. And yes, take the honors or AP level if you can get a B or better without throwing the rest of your schedule off kilter. Also keep in mind that as you get into junior and senior year of high school you will be spending more time on activities as well as prepping for the ACTs or SATs.
So how do you do this? Below are some tips to help manage the process.
Selecting Classes for the Coming Year
- Identify your goals for college. If you know that you would like to be competitive for a highly select college (those schools accepting fewer than 50% of their applicants), then your schedule should be the most challenging for you. However, if you are aiming for an Ivy League or Elite College such as UVA or Duke, you should be taking four out of five academic subjects at the honors or AP level. However, if you do not have aspirations to attend a highly select college, then you have more leeway in selecting your classes. In fact, several large state schools care more about the grade than the rigor of the curriculum.
- Push yourself beyond your comfort zone in areas of strength. Go through your current classes and identify which subjects come most easily to you. For those areas that come easily for you, it is important to push yourself further. If you are very strong in English and foreign languages, then you should be taking the highest level in those areas. If you spend all of your time studying for an Honors Math class and are still barely getting a B, then you should drop down to a lower level. If, however, you are taking Honors Math, Spanish, and English and working hard, but not killing yourself, and getting a B or better, then that is the correct level.
- Go for your interests. Once you have fulfilled all of your graduation requirements, it is time to take classes that interest you. So if you have a passion for science and no interest in foreign languages, it may be okay to double up on science senior year and not take another year of foreign language. The key is to substitute equally rigorous classes in your area of interest.
- Know your limitations. Some kids over shoot what they can handle and that can end up being problematic. Most college students take between four to five classes per semester. So if you have four AP classes along with all your other classes and activities, that may be too much. Determine if you do better under pressure with a lot going on or if you get overwhelmed. The most successful students understand their strengths and weaknesses and work with them.
We are happy to meet with you if you have questions about planning classes or activities for the coming year.