Course Selection: Just the Right Amount of Challenge

Campus Bound counselors get a lot of questions from students this time of year around course selection. We have answered common questions about course selection in other blog posts (read here), but this will focus on “challenge” and what is the right amount of it.

These seem to be common questions from students and parents: “How much should I/ my child be challenged in their courses in high school? What do colleges want? How many Honors/ AP courses are enough?” If you’ve had these questions, you’ve come to the right place. Unfortunately, though, the answer is NOT a simple one.

There is no hard-fast line on this. There is no perfect number. That means that different students will take a different amount, and that’s okay! Some students don’t take any and still get into great colleges. Some students take quite a few and that works for them.

Generally speaking, colleges want students to challenge themselves. But that’s different for every student, so how will you know what’s right? The most important thing is that you do not compare yourself to others. I’ll repeat it because it’s important: do not compare yourself to others. “Challenge” is whatever that means to YOU. Are you working hard to earn A’s and B’s? Are you doing a few hours of homework most nights? Are you learning material that will prepare you for college-level work? If so, you are likely challenging yourself correctly.

If you are not challenging yourself appropriately, colleges will likely notice. Here are some common indicators.

Signs that your schedule is too challenging:

  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Doing more than four hours of homework each night
  • Personal relationships are suffering (friends, family)
  • You’re stressed, anxious or getting sick
  • You’re getting lower grades than you would normally get

Signs your schedule isn’t challenging enough:

  • Taking many elective courses
  • Earning straight A’s with minimal effort
  • Doing no homework, or less than an hour most nights

The most important thing students can do is have honest discussions with several adults before choosing courses. Gain information from teachers, school counselors, and your college counselor before making class decisions. What you take during high school is by far the most important factor in the college admissions process, so choose wisely.

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