The Bar-On Brief: The anxiety of course selection


Illustration by Maria Salter

By Shauli Bar-On , Columnist

The Bar-On Brief: A weekly column

As students age, they are tasked with more and more freedom. Among the choices students are granted is the opportunity to select which classes they want to take rather than take a set curriculum.

Naturally, as a student progresses through high school, he has more options to choose from.  The annual electives fair took place earlier this week, where students had the opportunity to attend presentations about classes they may be interested in taking next year.

There are a variety of factors students must weigh in deciding whether or not they should enroll in a class:

One of the most important factors is the course’s instructor. Students will likely be in contact with their teachers for a period close to 180 days. The reason the electives fair is so important is to determine, albeit in a quick 10 minutes, if a teacher’s personality will help you succeed in that class.

There are an extraordinary number of passionate, well-qualified teachers at HHS, but there are teachers on campus, as there are at every school, whose reputation suggests students should avoid taking the class.

The best way to obtain such insider information on teachers is not Some comments posted by students may be true, but are nonetheless anonymous and do not always depict an accurate, full-picture representation of the class and its structure.

An honest teacher evaluation can be provided by former students who cannot hide behind the shield of their computer monitor. Accurate descriptions of teaching style, passion and level of engagement can only be provided by a student who is willing to be asked follow up questions.

As the rule with all surveys, it is best to ask more than one person regarding teachers’ personalities.

The most popular questions students tend to ask when considering a class is, “how hard is it?” This question comes in many forms including but not limited to, “how hard is it to get an A?” “How much homework is there?” “Will I survive?” Such questions generally come from students inquiring about an AP or honors class.

The answer to the difficulty question varies because every student is different. It is important for students to challenge themselves, but it is equally necessary to prevent exhaustion from overworking.

True, AP and honors classes are more attractive to college admissions officers looking at your transcript, but that is assuming most of the grades by the course names are As and Bs.

Taking every AP and earning Cs and Ds does not have the same effect as the first scenario. Colleges want to ensure students know challenge themselves, but also that they understand themselves.

Course rigor is essential to be an attractive applicant but every person has a different definition of rigor and a different level he can handle. Some students are easily capable of taking three AP classes, play a sport and manage a club. But some students find it plenty challenging to take a single honors course in their high school career. And that is just fine.

In addition to a simple sense of time management, students who can perform under high stress and limited time, have the natural ability to grasp concepts quickly and apply them efficiently.

Do not judge yourself by the accomplishments of others and do not lower your expectations based on comparisons.

So remember to pick your classes based on your own interests, weighing all factors you consider important. Listen to advice, but remember that ultimately, it is merely advice.

And with that, I rest my case.

The Bar-On Brief is a weekly column that runs Thursdays. 

Follow Shauli Bar-On on Twitter @shauli_baron