Finding the Right Balance When Planning Your Classes

In an episode of Modern Family, Alex, the  over-achieving middle child, has a break down just as she blows out the candles on her birthday cake.  She is right in the middle of her junior year and can no longer take the pressure of her numerous AP classes and test prep.  Claire, her mom, totally unaware of the pressures on Alex until she attends back-to-school night,  finds herself completely at a loss amidst the hyper-vigilant parents of other-achieving students taking notes on what to expect for the upcoming AP exams.  While this was meant to be an over-exaggeration of the pressures faced by students, it rang all too true for many families facing the pressure of junior year.
So as students begin thinking about planning their schedules  for the coming year, the goal is to create a schedule that will challenge, but not overwhelm.  It is not necessary to take honors or AP classes in every subject but you can challenge yourself in your areas of strength.   And yes, take the honors or AP level if you can get a B or better without throwing the rest of your schedule off kilter.  So how do you do this?  Below are some tips to help manage the process.
Selecting Classes for the Coming Year

  1. Identify your goals for college.   If you know that you would like to be competitive for a highly select college (those schools accepting fewer than 50% of their applicants), then your schedule should be the most challenging for you.  If you do not care about attending a highly select college, then you have more leeway in selecting your classes.
  2. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone in areas of strength.  Go through your current classes and identify which subjects come most easily to you.  For those areas that come easily for you, it is important to push yourself further.  If you are very strong in English and foreign languages, then you should be taking the highest level in those areas.  If you spend all of your time studying an Honors Math class and are still barely getting a B, then you should drop down to a lower level.  If, however, you are taking Honors Math, Spanish, and English and working hard, but not killing yourself, and getting a B or better, then that is the correct level.
  3. Go for your interests. Once you have fulfilled all of your graduation requirements, it is time to take classes that interest you.  So if you have a passion for science and no interest in foreign languages, it may be okay to double up on science senior year and not take another year of foreign language.  The key is to substitute equally rigorous classes in your area of interest.
  4. Know your limitations.  Some kids over shoot what they can handle and that can end up just as problematic.  Most college students take between four to five classes per semester.  So if you have four AP classes along with all your other classes and activities, that may be too much.  Determine if you do better under pressure with a lot going or if you get overwhelmed.  The most successful students understand their strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

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