Without fail every school year, students come home totally stressed out because they don’t know what high school courses to choose next year. They feel the pressure of keeping up with their classmates or meeting the expectations of their teachers. They aren’t sure how their choices will impact their future. It can be a lot.
We wanted to share some thoughts with families to help turn down the stress level.
When making course selections, be sure to consider not only what classes they are considering (the whole collective list), but also their life outside the classroom. You’ll want to maintain a nice balance. What is right for each child is a family call based on the child’s motivation level, desire for academic challenge, what they do outside of school, etc.
Choosing rigorous coursework
Despite what students hear from their friends, it is entirely possible to be successful in college without taking a single Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), dual enrollment (College Credit Plus in Ohio), or honors class in high school. One reason for kids to consider those courses is because college is harder than high school. Taking a harder class in high school helps you prepare for the rigors of college. If that first harder class is senior year, that’s cool too. Colleges want to see a student “appropriately challenging” themselves. However, taking one of those courses is not a requirement. Remember that “appropriately” word?!
Don’t compare and despair
In high school, it’s easy to get caught up in what choices others are making. It’s important to shut a lot of that out when it comes to supporting your child’s academic path. We all know high school is not the pinnacle of life, but our kids don’t. And these discussions are hard and stressful and can seem more important than they need to be. Your school counselor can be a good resource for talking through these options, and At The Core is here to help as well.
Frame the discussion properly
Families can get stuck focusing on “what are colleges looking for.” The truth is we can only make an educated guess at what that is based on what the colleges publish. And no one can predict what the quality of the applicant pool is for a college during the season your child applies. “Elite” colleges with their single digit acceptance rates turn away thousands of valedictorians every year.
We urge families to instead focus less on what a college might think and think more about a student’s day-to-day learning and experiences during high school. Instead of asking “how many AP courses should my child take?”, ask “what is the complete list of classes for next year that can challenge my child appropriately and stoke their interests?”
Even the elite colleges want to see students who pursued their interests, were genuine, and can tell their own story—not the same story as thousands of others.
Exploration is key
We urge everyone to understand what all the options are. Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books from our childhoods? Your student can (and should) create their own adventure in high school. They can engage with things they find interesting or want to learn about. That single elective course could be the key that unlocks the door to a joyful career for your kiddo. High school is about exploring stuff, trying it out, and then EVALUATING the experience. Do I want to do more of that or not? If not, how can I redirect toward stuff I might enjoy more?
Creating a game plan
Today’s kids have so many options! In our high school planning programming and 1-on-1 Private Consultation appointments, we like to stress the idea of “planning out all four years” to see what those options are. What you GET to take! Not just what you HAVE to take. This pencil-and-paper “plan” isn’t carved in stone. We like to say that it is written in pencil so we can erase! Your future plans can certainly change over the years of high school.
After that initial plan is written out, you can review it every year to incorporate the experiences your student had and their changing interests. Hear out the options and work together to build a plan that appropriately challenges your child, lets them engage with things they find interesting, and supports the balanced life that all our teens need to thrive in the long term.
We know all this can be tricky. Remember (and tell your child), whatever you decide to do is a great decision!
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