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Friday, March 07, 2014

The Balance Between Course Selection and Grades

It's course selection time in some districts, which is probably why my post about overspecialization generated some good conversation in the comments. Since juniors are obviously starting to read the blog, I thought I'd bring up the important topic of balance. Seniors, I think it would be great if you could chime in with some thoughts to help the juniors (and maybe the one or two sophomores who are reading) as they are thinking about picking next year's courses.

First, I want to tell a story. Read this while remembering that the number of advanced courses students are allowed to take varies from school to school. The high school profile that comes with every transcript explains the curriculum at the school and the limitations placed on students.

Several years ago, I started to chat with a family at the water cooler in our reception area. They were from Fairfax County, which is part of my region, and the prospective student attended a school with an AP curriculum (as opposed to IB, AICE, etc.). I love hearing about the rumors about the admission process that float around every year, so I asked what they were hearing. They said "we heard that you have to have 10 APs to get admitted." I remember the number because it seemed absurd. At the time, I didn't even know how you could schedule 10 APs in a high school program. Of course, times have changed and students do pack that many APs into their schedule at some schools (this might not be the case at your school, of course). These days, there are students taking 10, 11, even 12 AP courses. I also saw a stunning case where someone at an IB school was taking 5 HLs. I counted three times to be sure.

Some people obsess about the number of top courses they can get in their schedule, but may be forgetting about balance. The balance is different for every student (and as I mentioned before,scheduling works different at every school), which is why that 10 AP "requirement" that visiting family heard is ridiculous. How do you find the balance? You need to have a frank conversation with yourself, your counselor, and a trusted adviser or two about this. How many top courses can you take while still maintaining great grades?

Finding balance

You need to challenge yourself with a fabulous program, but the transcript has two sides. You don't want to do work that prompts this tweet that I wrote last week after being frustrated by some bad mid-year grade reports:

Seniors, it's your turn to impart some knowledge on the juniors. Who helped you find the balance? Were there times when you struggled? What did you do to make things work better for you?