How to Help Your Teen Pick Classes for Next Year: Challenge, Don’t Overwhelm

Parents can use these 4 tips to help their teens pick classes.
When teens ask their parents to help them select classes, here’s how they can help.

“I’m so stressed out about what classes to take next year!” moaned my youngest daughter when she was a sophomore in high school.

“What do you mean? I thought we figured out your classes already.” I replied.

“Yeah, but I have to take at least 12 AP or Honors classes in high school and I don’t know which ones to take.”

“What do you mean? Why do you have to take 12?”

“Because that’s what Rebecca took.”

Rebecca is her oldest sister. It’s not easy following in the footsteps of two high-achieving siblings.

Whether the pressure comes from siblings, peers, parents, teachers, or society, high school students feel it from all sides. Pew Research Center just released a study examining the rise in teen anxiety and 61% of  teens surveyed feel pressure to do well academically.  As parents you can help them pick their classes for the coming year with the goal to challenge, but not overwhelm them.

This advice is mirrored in the Washington Post article that analyzes the Harvard School of Education study entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions

It is not necessary to take honors or AP classes in every subject but you can encourage your teens to challenge themselves in their areas of strength. And yes, take the honors or AP level if they can get a B or better without throwing the rest of their schedule off kilter.  Also keep in mind that as they get into junior and senior year of high school, they will be spending more time on activities as well as prepping for the ACTs or SATs.

So how do you do this?  Below are some tips to help manage the process.

4 Tips for Helping Your Teen Pick ClassesI

1. Identify their goals for college.

If you know that you child would like to be competitive for a highly select college (those schools accepting fewer than 50% of their applicants), then their schedule should be the most challenging for them. For example, if they  are aiming for an Ivy League or Elite College such as UVA or Duke, they should be taking four out of five academic subjects at the honors or AP level.

However, if they do not have aspirations to attend a highly select college, then they have more leeway in picking classes. In fact, several large state schools care more about the grade than the rigor of the curriculum.

2. Encourage them to push themselves beyond their comfort zone in areas of strength.

Suggest they go through their current classes and identify which subjects come most easily to them. For those areas that come easily, they can push themselves further. 

If they are very strong in English and foreign languages, then they should be taking the highest level in those areas.  If  they spend all of their time studying for an Honors Math class and are still barely getting a B, then they should drop down to a lower level.  If, however, they are taking Honors Math, Spanish, and English and working hard, but not killing themselves, and getting a B or better, then that is the correct level.

3. Go for their interests.

Once students have fulfilled all of their graduation requirements, it is time to pick classes that interest them.  So if they 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 their  area of interest.

4. Know their limitations.

Some kids overshoot what they can handle and that can end up being problematic.  Most college students take between four to five classes per semester.  So if your child has four AP classes along with all their other classes and activities, that may be too much.  Determine if they do better under pressure with a lot going on or if they get overwhelmed.  The most successful students understand their strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

Your teen and you will be much happier and less stressed out about high school and grades if they have a balanced schedule that plays to their strengths.

Related Posts:

Creating a Balanced College List: 6 Ways Parents Can Help Their TeensT

Dear Mom of High School Sophomore

Lisa Bleich is founder and president of College Bound Mentor, LLC and the author of Surviving the College Application Process: Case Studies to Help You Find Your Unique Angle for Success.She mentors students from all over the world on the college application process, helping them uncover their strengths and develop a personal plan for success.Lisa holds a BA in European cultural studies and French from Brandeis University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is a Professional Member of IECA, HECA, and NJACAC. She lives in New Jersey.  She has three daughters, all of whom have successfully survived the college application process!

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