By Janet Eggenberger
The question I get asked most is about how rigorous of a schedule a student should be taking. In other words, should my student be taking AP (Advanced Placement)/Honors classes and if so, how many and which ones? I know I have touched upon this topic in the past but I think it might be time to revisit. The basic rule of thumb is your child should be taking a challenging course load for THEM. Don’t worry what others are doing but do what is right for your student. As a parent you know their strengths and challenges, their study habits, and other time commitments so use this in your decision. Just because your child qualifies for all honors/AP does not mean he or she should be taking them all.
Recognize that high schools want their students to be taking AP classes and tests (helps promote the reputation of the school among other things) and they definitely serve a purpose but don’t make your student take them all just because they qualified. Perhaps start off with one or two that your child shows the most interest or ability in, and see how things go with managing coursework and grades before committing to others. Colleges want to know that a student challenged themselves but you don’t need to go completely overboard with 4 or 5 honors/AP classes a semester. The very highly selective schools will pay more attention to the rigorous curriculum and assess the student’s schedule to ensure that a student has challenged themselves. You don’t want to see a student score a 34-36 ACT score who has not taken any AP classes – that would be a red flag. Also, know that just taking an AP class does not guarantee college credit. Students taking AP classes in school can take AP exams in April/May to earn college credit. Scores vary with every college but typically a score of a 4 or 5 will earn college credit (sometimes a 3). That means if a student takes AP Calculus, for example, and earns an A in the class but takes the AP exam and scores a 2 they will not receive any college credit. But on the other side, I know students though who ended their high school career with 30 hours of AP credit to take with them to college (saving both money and time at college).
Realize, there is nothing wrong with just taking regular classes so don’t force you child to take classes that they shouldn’t be in just to keep up with others.
I still think back to my oldest daughter who was told to take Spanish II when she started at Neuqua. She was taking a challenging course load so I suggested she take Spanish I instead (not a popular decision by daughter or the school), well it turned out to be the best thing for her. She started in Spanish I and got an excellent foundation and was able to continue on with Spanish II, III, and IV. Friends that tried the other route (started with II and finished with AP Spanish IV) didn’t have quite the same success. Ironically, my daughter is now bi-lingual, double-majoring in Spanish and will be studying abroad next semester. It just goes to show, you need to do what is right for your own kid.
Finally, taking a challenging course load is important but it is only one piece of the puzzle for admission. It is more important that your student can show that they are well-rounded. They must be involved in activities, clubs, or organizations. They should show leadership skills and service hours as well as maturity and responsibility. Let’s face it there is a college out there for every student who wants it but not every school is right for every kid. I think sometimes in our overly competitive Naperville world it is easy to get caught up in the race to push our kids to the top. Not every kid is bound for Stanford. We need steer our kids but don’t forget that they are still kids and there should be some time built in to their high school years to have some fun. Not taking Honors English and Honors History freshman year will probably not change the outcome of their college selection much. Let your student have some choice in the matter and help drive the decisions. Listen to them and make an informed decision together.
Just a quick shout-out to freshmen college parents…. Hang in there! It’s tough letting them go but it gets easier every year. You worked hard raising them for the past 18 years to be independent so let them go and explore and have fun. They’ll be back home soon for the holidays and you’ll be shocked at how they have matured. Enjoy the journey!
Janet Eggenberger is the mother of three - 2 college girls and a high school boy. Janet is a member of the admissions team at a private college in Illinois. She is a contributing blogger for EleMental Learning Tutoring.