Challenges optimize high school experience


Ji-Sung Lee

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] mere 39.2 percent of Physics 1 AP testers scored a three or above, while AP Chemistry students barely made it over the halfway mark with only 53.4 percent getting a three or higher, as reported by the AP Student Score Distribution from the 2015 College Board.  These standardized high school courses are roughly equivalent to undergraduate college courses and are by no means easy.  Not only are these classes more accelerated, but often students crave high GPA’s and good test scores, which stops them from taking these upper level courses and reaching their full potential.
As students enter the four years of high school, they are often scared of challenging themselves through classes in fear of getting rejected from colleges and seeing their GPA drop.  But balance is an important factor and The Princeton Review believes colleges want to see more than just good grades.
Because of the stress college applications evoke in high schoolers, many students prioritize an impressive report card over taking classes that are both challenging and interesting. Instead of taking more rigorous classes that may sound appealing, students become immersed in hypothetical scenarios of a hard class hurting their GPA.  As a result, they fall back on  more leisurely classes, knowing they will be able to comfortably coast through a class.  Because high value is placed in awards such as Valedictorian, which is determined by GPA, people sacrifice their interest in education to obtain something as shallow as a good GPA.
Students need to realize that an education can have lifelong impacts while a GPA only matters for a brief time frame.  While college admissions are interested in GPA, it’s important to recognize that schools place more value in unique applicants with balanced resumes.
It is vital that students pursue intellectual interests in high school to find potential future interests, rather than sitting through years of classes they don’t enjoy.  Because college offers a much more rigorous curriculum in which students select more narrow areas of interest, if students are unable to challenge themselves and pursue their interests in high school, failure is inevitable in a collegiate setting.
One aspect of balance that colleges look for is a combination of challenging coursework and extracurricular activities.  Colleges continue to look for more than high scores on exams; activities such as extracurriculars are just as valued.  While some high schoolers may shy away from the idea of a busy schedule, they will inevitably learn the importance of time management skills, and build beneficial habits for the future.  Straight A’s do not guarantee college acceptance.  Students should realize that by taking more accelerated classes, their likelihood of succeeding in the future increases.
The National Survey of Student engagement states that students  “were more likely to engage in a variety of effective educational practices” when being questioned and challenged in classes.  When students are not asked to further their intellectual ability, their growth and potential is stunted as they lack motivation to gain knowledge.  Students are so reluctant to challenge themselves because they fear bad grades and believe the only way to maintain a high GPA is through taking easier courses.  
With the competitive spirit that grades bring, the National Association of Secondary School Principals states that as many as half of all school districts are considering  to forgo titles such as Valedictorian.  Educators have come out and explained the negative message it sends out to students with unhealthy and sometimes unfair competition.  
When choosing classes, keep in mind the eternal and beneficial effects an education brings opposed to a GPA that lasts only so long, usually accomplished by easily passing classes unless you choose to challenge yourself.  Students should value gaining information on topics that interest them rather than focusing on specific titles and perfect grades because an education is defined by more than a letter grade.
Do you value learning information more, or the grades that come along with them? Let us know in the comments below.