How can a kid with a 4.0 GPA take ONE WRONG CLASS – and start getting her first C or D? How did this happen? Because parents are trying to consider what is BEST for their children. The only problem is – they got it WRONG. Once upon a time, you thought, yes, my child should take Chemistry Honors (Or AP US History)! It will be a great thing because I want my child to take the hardest classes available, and everyone knows that it is a tough class – and that will look good to colleges. Oh, dear parents, BEWARE!
Do not gamble with classes.
There are times I have counseled families to avoid particular classes because they were not a good fit for the student. For example, your child might have an AP US History teacher assign insanely large reading assignments that can seriously interfere with his entire homework load. Or you might think that the AP Environmental Science course is “easy” – then, surprise! The teacher decides to make it a much more rigorous experience, and now it represents much more work than you ever anticipated. Sometimes it’s just that one advanced class that eats up 90 minutes one too many evenings.
Because the course is so demanding, it starts taking time away from other classes, thus jeopardizing classes that would normally be smooth sailing, or at least quite manageable. While your student is struggling with a B, or a C teetering on a D for that one course, he cannot give quality attention to other courses – so the grades in those can sink too. This affects the student’s confidence – and as a result, the one class can really impact the student’s entire attitude about school.
Myth#1: “My student has a 4.0 GPA, of course he/she can handle it”
See above. Not true. I have seen many accomplished students take the wrong class – and suffer the entire year long. Even if your child manages to get an A-, remember that there are consequences on the child’s attitude towards school and responsibilities for the other classes.
Myth #2: “It was OK with the high school counselor, so, it must be fine.”
The reality is that the high school counselor is only responsible for making sure that students meet the minimal prerequisites for a class. Anything beyond that is gravy. Their responsibility is to give permission, which is a clear matter of yes/no. Whether the class is a good fit is something you must figure out on your own (or with your ThinkTank Learning counselor of course!).
Myth#3: “Everyone else is taking that class. My student will look bad if he/she doesn’t.”
It might seem like “everyone” is taking that class. But not everyone takes the exactly the same advanced classes. Also remember, that there are pros and cons to any decision. What if your student takes that class – and does not do well? Will you then get the benefit of “fitting in”? The answer is of course, “NO!” Instead, your student will be carrying the negative consequences on his/her own.
Things to think about (and discuss with your ThinkTank Learning counselor) BEFORE taking these advanced classes:
1) What will be the red flags that will warn me that my child is in way over his/her head? When my child tells me that his/her grades are dropping, what will my response be? Be mindful if your child starts hiding report cards. What is the school’s policy about letting kids drop?
2) What is the latest my student can drop the class? WATCH THAT DEADLINE LIKE A HAWK. Do not wait until your student is teetering towards a C-. At Talk to the high school counselor and consider different options.
3) Do you have a plan for what you will do once the student’s grade starts dropping?
Will I be able to secure a tutor soon enough so that he/she can help my child recover? For example, I cannot tell you the kind of intensive tutoring sessions students undergo once they realize they are barely surviving their AP class, trying to catch up. If he gets a C, he will most likely be unable to retake the class through the school district. Most require a D or an F before allowing a student to retake a course. Will your student even be able to retake the class over the summertime? This is rarely an option for advanced classes; school districts tend to hold regular classes over the summer – not advanced courses. So what will your student do then?
4) How can I tell that this AP/Honors class is a great fit for my student?
On an upbeat note, remember that these advanced classes can be the right fit sometimes. AP classes usually mean extra stress, extra time, and extra tests, which means that your student should really enjoy the subject AND be very committed to spend time working hard on the subject before considering taking it – otherwise, he may come to resent the extra burdens the class represents (even if he earns a good grade in the class). If it’s the right class, it can be a great experience for the student. Good luck out there!
By Meilin Obinata , ThinkTank Learning Admissions Consultant and Academic Counselor