Your brain is like a muscle that grows and gets stronger when you stretch it. You wouldn’t run a marathon tomorrow without any training, right? If you’re serious about completing the marathon, you’ll start training and increase your distance incrementally.
Developing a rigorous course load throughout high school requires similar training. Colleges are not looking for perfection over four years—they are looking for growth. Each year’s curriculum should stretch your brain a bit further, but within reason, based on previous efforts. If you struggled for a C in a particular subject area, you might not be ready to jump to the honors level the next year. But if you earned an A or B without losing sleep, you might be ready for a more rigorous challenge. As rigor increases, it’s normal to experience a slight dip in your grades while your brain-muscle gets used to it. But over the course of the year, you’ll grow, and ideally be ready for more stretching the following year.
As you consider the opportunities your high school offers to deepen your course rigor, think about your strengths and interests, ask your current teachers for advice, and select a balance of courses that allows you to be successful.
Please also keep in mind the value of cross-training. Marathoners don’t train by running 26.2 every day – they mix long runs with medium and short runs, as well as yoga or basketball or whatever cross-training catches their fancy. You need to do the same. Colleges want you to continue deepening your extracurricular commitments, as well as to get a full night’s sleep and have time to relax. Make sure your course load still allows you to live a balanced life.
For more information on this topic, listen to our most popular episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation: What’s Better: An A in College Prep or a B in Honors?