With the sheets for picking classes coming within the next couple of weeks, students are feeling the pinch in deciding what classes they need to take. Everything from late arrivals to early dismissals, from AP classes to electives. Katie Carper, guidance counselor and schedule making extraordinaire, gives her advice for when you fill out that class choice list.
Q: When it comes to knowing how many you should take to knowing which classes you’re prepared for, how should students go about picking AP classes?
A: You should pick AP classes that you’re strong in and that you enjoy that way you’ll be motivated to do the work because it is extra work and you’ll find it interesting and exciting, rather than spending all your time just because you think it’s going to look good on your transcript.The rule of thumb is to take the most challenging courses you can and that you have a chance at being successful in that fits your own interests. I feel like four and five AP classes should not be the norm. If you want to work your tail off at things that don’t come easy to you, go ahead and sign up, but I think we have many classes of upperclassmen that that’s definitely not right for the number of kids that take it on. My recommendation for students who I think are biting off more than they can chew is to always talk to the teacher. Our AP teachers are not easy graders, so if it’s something that you already struggle with I would not recommend it. If you’re struggling through your sophomore year, you should probably think about how many AP classes you want to take, juniors too. There’s no shame in that, not everyone can be extremely strong and passionate about everything. You can decide to over “enroll” yourself all you want, but we think you should have time to play sports and have hobbies and go to fun events and be an executive officer. Those are all important to colleges too.
Q: Sometimes students work to their limits in hope that their senior year will have less work for them. They want to end their high school career on an easier note. What would you say about students that want that easy year?
A: Let’s put some myths to rest. You can’t have a free period. You can’t have more than one peer tutor period in the day. Really, at most, obviously this is not ideal, one of those, one of the two. And you should chose. I would never tell a student to take a late arrival or early release or peer tutor a period unless that was the only thing they had the ability to take. We try to avoid students having late arrival and peer tutor because it doesn’t look great, unless you balance it out with things like Science Olympiad, Robotics, some things outside the day. But if you want to take an “easy senior year,” your next year will reflect that. If your goal doesn’t require you to take six challenging courses, okay. As much as we don’t want students to overload themselves, in a way that’s unhealthy, we don’t want people not taking academic courses because they’re finished with their credits.
Q: What about the myths that AP classes are necessary to get into my college of choice? Should I make the time commitment? Will AP classes be a for sure way to get into my top choice?
A: Schedules are important, and they’re a personal decision, and if you have a well-rounded list of goals and colleges for the future, you’re schedule should not prevent you from achieving them in the future. If we’re talking about tier one colleges and academies, that’s one thing, they’re important and they’re great goals, but you want to make sure that you’re not sacrificing two years of your life for something that has an 8% acceptance rate. If you’re someone that will have to, you want to make sure you’re okay with paying that price. I can see why there is pressure, but it’s totally pressure that you’re putting on each other. If you’re in over your head (it’s not my favorite thing in the world), but you do have two weeks to drop classes. If you want to drop after that (hopefully you all know this) it’s teacher discretion to how that goes, and for some students that makes sense, keep that in mind. Make changes early. We don’t want you in a position where you think you’re going to fail in the very end.
Q: What about the teachers that almost “guilt-trip” us into taking their classes? How do we tell teachers that we’re not ready for their AP class?
A: It’s unfortunate if people are getting blanketed advice that everyone should take their class, but hopefully students are able to make the right decision for them in spite of that. It’s really difficult when it’s a teacher that you really respect. I think it’s great and a good experience to be able to go to a teacher and say “I love to, but I do all these other things, and it’s not right for me right now.” Hopefully, your teachers aren’t bullying you after saying that. A lot of it is, teachers will say something and not realize that students are hearing as a directive.
Q: Do you have any general advice about balancing everything between academic and social life, and overloading yourself?
A: If you’re working and playing two sports, have an internship and a million other things, you have to look at your whole life. Obviously we think that school should be an important part of that, but sometimes you need to evaluate your life and see if it’s working for you. Again, not in the context “I wish I could sleep two hours a night, look perfect on paper, and go to Yale,” that’s a great goal, but you want to accept that you’re human. You can always work harder and get smarter, but it’s not magical. We hope that students are making the right decision for them and getting good advice. I know parents, teachers, and me have heavily advised against it and students have gone and done it anyway. I don’t think that imposing a limit would address that issue. Plus, you guys are getting older you need to know what happens when you do that and that it’s real and you need to be able to make those choices on your own.