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September Student Advice: To Pick or Not to Pick Classes

By: Steele Parkerson

It’s complicated. We know. How are you supposed to know what classes to take as a freshman, when everyone tells you those classes will set your academic path for the next four years? What if, sophomore year, you find out you picked the wrong classes? We’ve been there, from the first test that squashes your confidence to the relief that comes when you sit down for the next test, ready to handle it. As you pick classes, you’ll wonder about all these moments, stressing over how to make the right decision. But, what driven students tend to push to the side are their unexplored interests. High school is the perfect time to find out what you like to do and, even if you already have, broaden your horizons.

A rule to thrive in high school is to find a balanced schedule that fits your interests and long-term academic goals. Here’s the secret: you have to take every class you enroll in. Does that piece of advice sound as ambiguous and inapplicable as the first conversation you and your parents had about Santa Claus? I’ll explain. High school is four years and college can range anywhere from two up to ten years (thanks to graduate school, medical school, or law school). As a freshman, choosing to take all honors classes sounds like the best way to prepare yourself for whatever your goals are after high school; if you can work really hard for only four years, the rest of your life might be significantly easier since you will have had such a strong baseline in math, history, and reading to work from. However, those four years are fundamental in shaping not only your academic future but also your personality, perspective on self-worth, and drive. This is where our secret becomes an elephant in the classroom. If English class has always been your least favorite class, don’t sign yourself up for the hardest English classes your school offers, unless you decide that your balanced schedule includes a daily grammar struggle. A daily struggle is not a bad thing as long as it’s in the balance that you want. So, if English makes you cringe, maybe take a class that pushes you to grow, rather than pushes down your spirit. For instance, take a harder math class. On the other hand, maybe you're not a grammar lover; yet, you still take the hardest English path your school offers, while also taking an elective pottery class. Why? Because you love making things and want to explore your artistic side. In this situation, you can tie your dreaded English homework to the fun, self-exploration that comes from shaping clay for a pottery project. In all these scenarios, your four years of high school become more than a stepping stone toward your future; they help you decide what you want your future to look like.

The image you see now, as you enter high school, of what you want your future to be will most likely transform, slowly but surely, just as you do throughout your four years. While you can’t know how you’re going to change, try to put yourself in the best possible position by noting what your interests are and the possible career plans that connect with those interests. For some students, college is the bridge between your ideal future in high school and your reality after college. Therefore, college is the ultimate representation of finding the right balance for you in high school. You might not think about it, but colleges have personalities just like the people that attend each institution. You might not have any idea what college you want to attend as you pick classes freshman year, but you can shape your classes to make sure that you meet any requirements of colleges that fit your general direction — small junior colleges, larger state universities, or small private universities. Talk to your guidance counselor or look at the university’s website to find out requirements, like if you must take a foreign language or if your dual enrollment credit will transfer. As long as you fulfill high school graduation requirements and also keep an eye on college requirements, finding a balanced schedule doesn’t have to become stressful or complicated. Instead, you can see challenging classes as chances to expand your knowledge, and balancing those hard classes with classes that interest you will also broaden your horizons.

STEELE PARKERSON is the External Communications Liaison for the African Community Learning Program and a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. To support the African Community Learning Program’s work, please email or visit our website at

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