Whether you are a freshman or a senior, there is an art to transcript building. AP or regular, Ceramics or Choir, French or Spanish, the choices are endless. All these choices can eventually lead to a trade-off: choosing a more difficult course or choosing a class you like more. Taking a risk in a difficult class, or staying in your comfort zone can be a gamble. AP Biology might look better on a transcript, but Infectious Diseases might be easier. Head of college counselling Martha Allen shares, “Colleges always say the same thing for the 35 years I’ve been doing this: the number one and number two things they care about most are the courses on your transcript and the level of rigour.” There is a big difference between taking courses that allow you to graduate and having courses that Stanford wants to see.
Junior Lydia Yu describes her selection process: “I first read the curriculum guide and mainly chose classes that interest me. If I’m stuck, I would ask advice from someone who has taken the class before or my teachers.” On the other hand, junior Joyce Fong says, “As long as there was an AP in front of it, I would take it.”
Pressure to select more difficult classes can come from those around you. Family members might push you to take certain classes. Parental input is not always bad, but the pressure can be overwhelming, especially if their choices do not align with yours. Freshman Will Simonds shares, “My parents chose my classes for me. If I can do it, they would want me to do it. My dad checks my email more than I do.”
Another strong influence when picking classes comes from peers. Fong explains, “I think a lot of pressure comes from my friends, and I feel a need to keep up.” If all your friends are taking AP and honours classes, comparing yourself and feeling insecure is a common reaction, but it is important to understand that academic intelligence is not the only form of intelligence.
For those struggling to figure out their course load, remember the decision should ultimately fall on you and your abilities. Junior Phia O’Gorman advises, “Don’t take classes just because you think it will look good on your transcript. Take classes that you think would benefit you in the future, or that you actually want to take.” Similarly, Yu adds, “I think it’s better to choose classes I like doing first instead of blindly selecting a class that might help with getting into college.” Being interested in a class means it feels less like a chore and more enjoyable. Allen concludes, “We don’t say to them to take all these courses you hate. That’s never our counselling goal. It’s what might serve you better long term.”
However, don’t be scared of pushing yourself. Allen shares, “We always have to advise that you challenge yourself and continue the most rigorous courses available to you. It continues to keep more options available later when you start making college decisions.” If you are interested in Engineering, AP Physics would be a worthwhile pursuit, even if it is the most difficult science course. Echoing this idea, junior Lina Lim adds, “Challenging yourself is important. Just make sure if you know you can’t do this anymore and reach your limit, it is okay to step down.” If a class stresses you out to no end, leaves you miserable and with no free time, asking for help or switching out is always an option. Avoiding burnout, taking care of your mental health and having time to recharge is more important than a midterm report or semester GPA.