School counselors are the driving force behind students’ course selection. Once a year, students meet with their counselors to work out a tentative outline of the courses they may take during their time in high school. Then, at the end of the academic year, students finalize their schedule, which requires a lot of review and consideration.
Counselors shouldn’t discourage students from taking challenging courses, especially when students have done further research into the construct of the class. But, more importantly, students should work to create strong relationships with their counselors to ensure individualized attention. With a strong relationship between the two, counselors will be most fit to help students find the right classes.
When applying to college, students have to worry about many things, including the strength of their high school transcript. Fearing a difficult workload shouldn’t deter students from attempting to take AP classes and honors classes while in high school. And, while good grades are important, a transcript that demonstrates rigor actually matters more.
Math teacher Carol Evans suggests that students should challenge themselves if it’s in a subject they enjoy studying.
“If [choosing a hard course] is just for the transcript, don’t do it,” Evans said. “If it’s something you love to do, then take the harder class.”
Evans said that students shouldn’t jump into a class just for the challenge, and that before taking a class, students should inform themselves of the typical work schedule and course rigor implied in the AP or honors offering they are pursuing.
“Students should be encouraged to talk to teachers… and to make informed decisions,” Evans said.
But, when a student goes the extra mile to investigate a class and consider the effects of taking an AP or honors course and the counselor advises against it, it can quickly become a tedious endeavor.
“I’ve heard from my friends that a lot of them were discouraged from taking more than one or two honors classes which is kind of ridiculous,” junior Katherine Liu said.
When a counselor cautions a student, the student must not forget something very important: there are only six counselors for the entire school body, and it is challenging for the counselors to personally know each of the students without any extra student initiative.
However, even as students should strive to have rigor in their schedules, they must be mindful that the counseling department has a reason for its tendency to caution students away from taking all the AP’s and honors available to them at once.
“A lot of [course selection] centers around balance,” school counselor Dafna Adler said. “It’s a huge, huge thing in all of our counseling work, actually. There’s no set answer for ‘What’s a hard schedule?’ or ‘What’s a hard class?’, ‘What should or shouldn’t you take?’, ‘How many AP’s are too many?’ There’s no set answer for that for every single student and what everyone needs to think about is what’s reasonable for them in the context of their life, at that time.”
That doesn’t mean that students should have no time for anything else, according to Adler, and should seek to strike a balance.
“You should have time for classes and you should have time for whatever activities you want to do,” Adler said. “You should have time for your family, time for sleeping and taking care of your body, and just relaxing and hanging out with friends: things you’d like to do in your free time.”
The only way for students to get schedules that best fit their strengths and weaknesses is for students to establish strong relationships with their counselors. When counselors try to assert strong opinions over the choices of students, knowing very little of the student’s academic successes before and during high school, some students take this message as a personal reflection on their own abilities, when really it is just because the counselors are trying to promote schedule balance and diversity.
In the end, the problem of students being discouraged from taking challenging courses stems from an undeveloped relationship between the students and the counselors that are responsible for choosing the schedule. Students should make an effort to become well acquainted with their counselors, so that they can ensure personalized attention. Especially for class choice, there is not a “one size fits all” approach to selecting courses.