David Graves      April 8th, 2024 in Blog

I am going to tell you secret about me – I love movie theater popcorn. It is my kryptonite. If I go to the movies, I need to have a large bucket of popcorn with the butter layered throughout. For me, half of the enjoyment of going to a movie is the popcorn. But, like with anything else, too much of a good thing can make for a bad night. I have had more than a few post-popcorn times where my stomach hated my lack of popcorn control. The same issue is true with a number of things. Salt is great, but too much will ruin a meal. Vitamin C and D are needed for a strong body, but too much can cause serious health problems.

We recently had a meeting with several members of a Georgia county school system, and we talked about the issue they were facing of students going to extreme measures in overloading their academic workload. The issue is not just overloading on AP courses within the school, but also adding on Dual Enrollment classes and virtual AP courses taken through the GA Virtual School program to increase their GPA, their course rigor and their rank in class. But just like with movie theater popcorn, too much of a “good thing” is causing some serious issues for both the students and the school. To be fair, this is an issue that is caused by the trifecta of admissions offices (yes, UGA is a part of it) promoting their student’s rigor, students and parents who are wanting to get any edge they can in the admissions race, and high schools who want their students to be their best (and more). Now we are at a point where both the high schools and the admissions offices are trying to reign things in, but it’s going to take work.

Let’s break this issue down into a few areas:

  • Rank in Class: Beyond guaranteeing admission for the in-state Valedictorian and Salutatorian of the class for UGA and GT, UGA (and many colleges) do not care about class rank. When roughly half of the schools we work with do not report class rank, it kind of loses its importance overall. As well, the difference between #1 and #10 in the class can be so small that it really does not matter. The difference in a GPA of 4.67 vs 4.69 does not matter. I cannot speak for all college admission offices, but by and large rank is generally not a big issue.
  • Unnecessary Courses: At times, colleges will see students who take courses which generally will not go towards their future required courses in college, but are added just to take an additional AP or Dual Enrollment course. We see this a great deal with Dual Enrollment College Algebra, which is not taught at UGA and only transfers in as a Math elective course, but does not go towards a UGA degree. We also see this for students in STEM fields where they load up on AP or DE social studies courses, but only a limited number of these credits actually apply to their UGA degree. I am not saying we don’t want students to learn about a broad range of subjects (we do want that!), but if it is just taking a class to add the the AP/IB/DE total, I suggest students rethink that plan. If you get nothing else from this post, leave with the knowledge that DE College Algebra is generally not the best option, and we instead suggest you go with DE Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus, or AP Statistics, as these courses/credits will go towards a degree.
  • Course Rigor: Colleges like to see that a student has challenged themselves in their high school classes to make sure they are prepared for college coursework. College courses are a step up in expectations, difficulty and time management, so we try and make sure a student is ready for the courses ahead. This is generally looked at within the framework of what is available at a student’s high school, as the academic offerings vary depending on the school. As such, competitive admission colleges see students who take a wide range of AP, IB and Dual Enrollment (DE) courses. We like to see students challenge themselves in all five core areas (English, Math, Science, Social Sciences, World Languages/Computer Science), especially within the areas of their intended academic major, whatever their major might be, from international studies to horticulture. But at a certain point, adding more and more AP/DE courses to their schedule does not shift the review of a student’s coursework. At a certain point, adding more AP/DE classes is like taking more and more vitamin C – it does not help any more, and can possibly harm a student (see the next two points).
  • Balanced Life: While colleges want students who are academically strong, they also want students to be a member of a community, both in high school and in college. Colleges want students to connect with fellow students in high school clubs, sports, volunteering and other areas of personal growth, as they will be a member of a college community, a roommate, a study partner and later a member of a larger community of graduates.
  • Personal Well-Being: Colleges have been working with stressed and overloaded students for a number of years, and have put in place resources to help students when they are overwhelmed. A part of this is managing your course load and not trying to bite off too much academically. The same issues are now facing high school students overwhelmed with the competition to get into college(s) of their dreams. Sadly, the unfounded belief that more is better in the world of high school grades and coursework is causing students to needlessly exhaust themselves in the process.

Just to restate, colleges want students to challenge themselves in their high school coursework and to grow in their knowledge of the world, and we want them to also be a part of their school and local community. In addition, we want to make sure they are taking care of themselves personally. What we don’t want students to do is get into a spiral of overwhelming themselves in a chase for class rank, taking AP/DE courses with the only goal being to add to their advanced course numbers, or extending themselves to the point of exhaustion.

Go Dawgs, and take care of yourself!