By: Caroline Koppelman
This is one of the most common questions we get asked at TKG and one of the most pervasive false dichotomies in the college process. The frustrating answer is that if you want to go to a top tier school, you need to have the best grades in the hardest courses. Simply put, you want an A in an Honors or AP course. As acceptance rates plummet and applicants become ever more qualified and impressive, the need to take the most rigorous course available has become more important.
This is understandably concerning to both students and their parents. Stress management is integral to success in Junior and Senior year and the increased workload of an Honors, AP, or IB course can be daunting. It’s important to remember that while they necessitate more time and effort, the workload of these classes is never double that of a regular course. They’re usually taught at an accelerated pace, have harder tests, and cover a greater breadth of material. To get an A in these courses you must be disciplined in your time and stress management.
You don’t need us to tell you that Junior and Senior year will be some of the most stressful periods of your child’s life thus far. On top of homework from the honors courses, they will have extracurricular activities to participate in, standardized tests to study for, and college applications to write. It can sometimes feel like trying to juggle chainsaws while hopping through a ring of fire.
The key to balancing is organization and planning. Having a detailed and organized calendar works wonders for our students. We suggest planning out entire weeks, or sometimes spans of a few weeks, and sticking to a schedule. This is the best way to avoid all-nighters or entire weekends spent hunched over a computer. As simple as it may be organization is the best reducer of stress and the primary tool that allows our students to take on the heaviest workloads.
Another way to alleviate stress is what we call “mental health homework.” These are planned breaks in studying or work to help students clear their heads. Like regular homework they have goals, time constraints, and even deadlines. Insert into your weekend schedule some TV time, a few hours to hang out with friends, or a mind clearing walk while you listen to music. We often assign taking breaks to listen to Podcasts or audiobooks. These are both relaxing and mentally stimulating and can help students work harder and longer with less stress. These required breaks allow you to relax and refocus. The chance of getting better grades will go up because the students won’t be so stifled by their stress.
So back to our initial question and the frustrating answer. It is best to get great grades in hard courses. Don’t be overwhelmed. It is 100% achievable as long as you follow a smart strategy. Only you can gauge your preparedness for the more difficult course, but when given the choice between honors and regular, we always suggest you chose honors. It will be more difficult, but with the right stress management, it is infinitely more rewarding.