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Finding the "Sweet Spot" in Your High School Courseload - a balance of GPA and rigor

Do I focus on a high GPA and take “easy” classes? Do I take high level classes which might hurt my GPA? What if I’m not good at math? Will I still get into college if I don’t take AP physics? 


There is no straightforward, one size fits all answer to these questions. Every student is unique and should consider a variety of factors when choosing their high school course load. So let's break down some options. 


Colleges will be looking at many factors when reviewing your transcripts and considering admission to their school. The two main areas they consider are a course load that shows academic rigor and a GPA that demonstrates academic mastery. But finding the right balance for YOU is key.


For the most part, an increase in academic rigor as you progress through high school is preferred over an increasing GPA. Schools would rather see you challenge yourself and earn a 3.4 than choose easy classes and earn a 4.0. Find that sweet spot - the perfect blend of having enough academic rigor by taking the right number of higher level courses (honors, AP, IB, or dual enrollment) that will allow you to maintain a competitive GPA. 


So how do you find that sweet spot? You might try taking two honors classes as a freshman. If that felt good to you - meaning you worked hard but you weren’t overly stressed - maybe you could do more. As a sophomore you might increase this to add an additional AP course. And so on as you move through high school. Continuing to increase the number of higher level classes as you progress through your high school career shows that you are building your capacity for the demands of higher education.


Your school counselor will have the insight to help you find the right balance. If you end up in a class that is really too difficult for you, trust your gut and switch. It’s all in finding that balance of challenging yourself while maintaining grades that reflect your true potential. It’s not about being so over extended that you're exhausted and stressed. Besides, you might not need to have AP calculus to be accepted into your desired business program, when a course in statistics may be more beneficial.


Electives are another thing to consider when building your high school academic transcript. Here is where you can experiment and have a little fun exploring options. Are you considering a career in architecture? Maybe you take an elective in computer aided drafting. Do you dream of a career in the arts? Your choice of electives should be rich in all different types of art such as pottery, music, painting, etc. Do you see yourself working in the business world? Your electives could include marketing, statistics or computer analytics. Or maybe you aren’t yet sure what direction you will take. This is your chance to choose classes that allow you to discover a possible career path.


Although it’s tempting to take a class because your friends are taking it, resist the temptation. You have your own goals and plans for your future. While having friends in your class is a bonus, following the above guidelines and finding your own sweet spot should be the focus.


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