High school course options

High School Course Options: How do we decide?

Parents, remember when we went to high school? For most of us, the course options were fairly limited. We were either college prep, or we weren’t. We might have been able to take an AP course or two. The highlight might have been choosing a foreign language—French, German, or Spanish. We could choose “vo-tech” if we were heading to work after graduation, but that was pretty much the extent of our choices. Today’s students have high school course options we never even imagined.

How can parents guide their children?

We get this question a lot. We see lots of parents asking each other this question on social media, too. Many families value a one-on-one discussion, it can be hard to get that with your school counselor. Our Private Consultation sessions include answering these questions and working with families to lay out a plan for their specific needs.

Because you need support and answers now, here are some of our thoughts and some next steps you can take.

What about advanced classes?

One dilemma families often face is whether to schedule an advanced class (like an AP or honors) or a “regular” class. Parents worry about overburdening their children, or conversely not keeping up with what they “should be” doing. Students strive to fit in with their peers—often loading up on tougher classes while thinking that if their teacher said they could take an honors class, then they should.

In much of our educational path programming including our Looking Ahead program for 8th grade parents, we stress the gas and brake pedal idea. Students can choose to press the gas pedal and challenge themselves in those subjects they have a talent for and/or an interest in. Use the brake for subjects causing struggle or those that are not of interest. Both pedals are important. Remember that each child is able to handle challenges differently. Consider your child’s ability to handle stress, manage their time with other activities, and stay organized when deciding.

What are colleges looking for?

There is no magic number of honors or AP classes that colleges are looking for. Colleges are looking for your child to challenge themselves appropriately. What is appropriate will vary by child and what high school course options are offered by your school. (Colleges know the course options at your high school.) Colleges want to see rigor, but no one wants a student to challenge themselves to the point that they fail or are miserable. It’s an exercise in balance.

What about electives and special programs like academies?

We love electives! Today’s students have a wide variety to choose from—forensic science, interior design, website design, digital media, global politics, etc. Sometimes we wish we could go back to school to take a few. Students can use electives to explore an interest or simply have a joyful diversion in their day with a sculpture, music, or creative writing class, for example.

Many high schools also now offer special academies like a STEM or Teacher Academy as well as academies focused on technology, medical, or business disciplines. Today’s career tech schools also provide “super-elective” options in hands-on, high tech fields for students headed to both college and career.

While the wide selection is a good thing, it can also be overwhelming. How do you decide? Each option has pros and cons. In our High School Scheduling webinar, we dig deep into these special offerings to help families understand all the choices. We’ll help you understand how to help your child make those choices to maintain a good balance between the gas and brake pedal.

But what ultimately drives the selection of courses each year?

Yes, we want our students to be prepared for success in college. We want to make sure they demonstrate appropriate rigor for their abilities and goals, and we don’t want to put them into a situation where they are overburdened and overwhelmed.

However, the real driving force behind high school course selection can be the exploration and stoking of a student’s interests. They can use the high school years to try out new things, learn what lights them up, and evaluate those experiences. They can consider career ideas and goals. These efforts can lead to more confident and clear decisions at the end of high school. College is just a step along the path to a career. It is not the final destination.

Encourage your child to read their whole course catalog when making their high school course selections. Take a wide variety of courses to open their eyes to all the options available and then evaluate whether or not they fit your child’s abilities, interests, strengths, etc. (That guided discussion and analysis is part of what we do in Guided Self Assessment to help students target specific careers to explore.) We hope to see you at one of our upcoming programs to help you understand all the choices.

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