It matters: Help your kids plan challenging courses next semester

Parents know when Spring time is coming. The days get longer, the allergies flare up, and students start stressing out over registering for next year’s classes.

The stress may come from a number of factors: Will my friends and I get the same teacher? How many advanced classes, if any, should I sign up for? Is this schedule too challenging or too easy?

Since 2006, the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes has nearly doubled to over a million. With universities steadily becoming more competitive by the year, students must be aware of  what a course load tells college admissions reviewers. Hopefully his/her guidance counselors have emphasized this already. But just in case, here’s how to have the conversation at dinner.

Don’t make assumptions/accusations about free time

A student’s course load, over time, tells a story. Ideally, the student will choose classes that progressively become more challenging — showing that they are open to growth. However, that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Students may opt for less strenuous classes if they feel their GPA would suffer otherwise, or they’re taking on more extracurricular activities, or even a part-time job.

While we of course want our students to push the boundaries of knowledge and growth, we must be careful to not shut down communication by attacking their lifestyles. If a student wants to take it easy on certain courses next semester, try not to reply with something cutting like,

Maybe if you played less video games, you’d have time to study for Calculus.

Instead, think of ways (s)he can make more time to study for a more difficult (and rewarding!) course. It’s an opportunity to discuss restructuring their time management, and how you can help them succeed in with more challenging classes.

Speaking of stress…

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These are tough decisions.

Figure out which courses specifically add to their stress

Students who have had poor experiences with a class tend to develop long-term aversions toward the subject in general. It’s no wonder why a student who struggled with Geometry might decide their brains can’t process math well, and coast by on the lowest-level math courses the rest of high school.

Pinpoint what subjects bring up the mental barriers first. Address them, and then weigh the cost-benefit analysis of whether the student can surpass the challenge. There are plenty of digital resources to provide online tutoring whenever they need it.

Establish positive expectations

Remember that students can be their own harshest critics. It’s up to us to let them know they have support and confidence behind them.

However, it’s equally important that students know that they have complete control over their future. Encourage them to ask themselves questions about what they want. Perhaps the most important question when deciding courses is not just, what do you want to show college admissions?

In fact, the more important question is, how would YOU judge yourself looking at this course load? In the end, students need to step back and look objectively at how their classes look on paper. Does it show that they pursued their interest? If it shows they took a less rigorous schedule, can they show that they made it up elsewhere?

 

If it looks like they took the foot off the pedal, let them know that college admissions won’t be able to see their greatness unless they let it show on paper.

Good luck navigating the testy waters of class registration — it’s just one leg of the journey towards graduation and beyond!

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