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Balancing Your High School Course Load

As we get deeper into February, many students are thinking about their class selections for next year. These are important decisions that deserve careful consideration as you look ahead, and plan for success.


Some students feel that the best approach is to accumulate as many AP courses at one time as possible. After all, colleges want to see the most rigorous courseload imaginable on your transcript, right? Other students take the alternate route and aim for a much lighter schedule to maximize the number of As they might earn, even if that means ignoring opportunities to take honors courses altogether. The reality for most students is that the “right” approach lands somewhere in the middle.


It’s important to seek challenges, but also to understand your limitations. For example, If you are barely earning a B in Pre-Calculus Honors, then it may not make sense to jump right into AP Calculus BC, which covers more material and moves at a faster clip than AP Calculus AB. Earning a higher grade and actually retaining the material taught in one class is more valuable in the long run than struggling for nine months in a class you aren’t fully prepared for. 


Your school grade will also impact which classes make the most sense to take, and when. This leads to more questions: Should I satisfy my Arts requirement now, or focus on core academic classes and try 3D Design or Photography later? Do I need to take four years of Spanish even if I don’t want to continue my studies in college? Should I take APUSH if I’m not much of a reader? How do I show colleges I’m serious about pursuing business if I haven’t taken economics yet? And what do you mean the UCs want me to take geometry? I’m already in AP Stats!


If you’ve asked yourself any of the above questions (and even if you are just thinking about them now for the first time), a good next step is to discuss this process with your Insight or school counselor. 


Think about how much time you have now, and how much time you “want” to have. Are you someone who thrives staying up until 1:00am doing your homework and studying for exams, or do you need to turn your brain off at 9:30pm to be fresh the next morning? Are you leaving yourself time to engage in your favorite extracurricular activities? What value do you place on spending time with your peers after school and on weekends? If you take only AP and honors classes, when will you have time to volunteer? What about preparing for standardized tests? 


Collegeboard does NOT have a track record of telling juniors, “Sure, I understand that you had three exams on Friday, and thus overslept for your SAT on Saturday morning. We’ll open up for you on Sunday, just this time.”


In the end, the key is balance. Parents can make a HUGE difference here. Even if the long term goal is to select a particular major, or to gain entry to a particular college, or to one day become the world’s most accomplished engineer, kids need time to breathe, and time to think. They need the freedom to study at the pace that works for them and not the pace that works for their friends. They need the time to seek their teacher’s help, the time to interview for a job, the time for tennis practice, the time for band, and yes, the time to eat dinner. 



When your children move away from home and get settled in college, you’ll want them to have the confidence to be ambitious, while understanding how much they can actually handle. They will have tremendous freedom to make choices, and your hope at that point will be that they are capable of being responsible, accomplishing their goals, and becoming independent.  You want them to be healthy, and you want them to happy.  A picture of your child smiling on a college campus with three friends will make you proud. That picture will reassure you not only that they selected the right school, but that you helped them to make the choices in high school to make that possible.


All the best,

Team Insight 


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