Classy Choices

By Kristen Castillo

May 29, 2019 5 min read

The ideal course loads in high school should help students prepare for college. Then college courses should help students prepare for their career. That's the goal, but it can be challenging for students to make sure they're taking the right classes at the right time that will get them ready for their next steps in education and the working world.

*Finding Balance

Many high school students want to enroll in Advanced Placement classes, which are higher level and can earn them college credit. AP classes are rigorous, helping students develop their collegiate study habits. And the workload can be tough, especially if the student is involved in outside activities such as sports or theater.

As a high school student, it's important for you to find balance with AP classes and extracurricular activities by focusing on what's most interesting and important to you. Next, have strong time management.

"Take the APs you are most interested in -- not every single AP that is offered," says Jennifer Turano of Collegewise, a college counseling company in California. "That way studying won't feel as onerous."

She says the same rule applies to activities. Only do activities you love and ask yourself if you would participate even if the extracurriculars couldn't be listed on your application.

"And use time between activities wisely," says Turano. "I've seen students quite successfully studying for AP exams while on the way to softball games -- with apps like Quizlet."

*College Courses

College students want to take courses that will help them in the rapidly progressive job market. Still a lot of class work is foundational and builds over time.

Turano advises freshmen to take a good mix of classes that satisfy pre-recs for their major or potential major with other with classes they're interested in that are unrelated to their major.

She urges students to take pre-recs during freshmen year so they're not stuck taking an entry-level class as an upperclassman. Besides, those pre-recs can help alert you right away if your major isn't a fit.

Be open to trying new things, too. Consider enrolling in classes that aren't in your major to fully experience what your college has to offer.

One of Turano's former students, a public policy major, took a psychology class where she volunteered at a prison. The student said it changed her life and she's now interning at the Public Defender's office to see if it's the right career for her.

*Opportunities to Learn

College students have lot of freedom when it comes to choosing coursework.

"With online course selection, the possibilities are endless," says education and college admissions expert Frances Kweller, founder of Kweller Prep, a New York City test prep school specializing in advanced test preparation and college admissions and applications. "You can browse and search by requirements, keywords and more to choose your classes.

"But, how do you know what courses you should choose? Frankly, there is no right answer. Each college, school, major and minor has different requirements and different amounts of leeway, but it is always wise to take a base number of courses to fulfill requirements."

Matthew Holsapple, dean of student success at Husson University, agrees. He says there's no one-size-fits-all approach to signing up for college coursework because "every student represents different hopes, dreams and challenges."

The dean recommends students meet with an adviser to identify and develop long- and short-term goals and to contextualize the value general courses can provide. That adviser can then help the student maximize other learning opportunities, including internships and individual classes to further goals.

Holsapple says electives and general education courses allow students to explore interests and to earn additional credentials, such as a minor, in a specific field. He sees them as ways for students to develop an important advantage in a competitive job market.

He encourages students to approach elective and general education courses, not as a burden. Instead, see them as opportunities to learn skills, such as communication, critical thinking and human understanding, all of which will give students increased value after graduation.

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