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My Advice for 8th Grade Families Choosing Classes

Last night in a moment of frustration, I asked (well, maybe I yelled) if Max, my 8th grade son, had reviewed all the paperwork. "Yes, Mom," he replied matter-of-factly. I uttered, "We'll see," under my breath.

We have a meeting today with Max's advisor where he will be selecting his classes for freshman year of high school. While there aren't a lot of choices for freshmen at his school, I couldn't help but think about how overwhelming this must be for families. The course catalog is 51 pages long. Then there's a Physical Education Alternative Credit Application Form. And, an updated list of electives, hot off the press from three days ago. 

If I didn't spend my days evaluating high school transcripts for a living, I would be totally lost. So for any 8th grade families unsure of what their rising freshman should take, here are some key goals:

1. Make sure your child is signed up to take a full year of English, math, science, foreign language (unless there is a language exemption), and history.

Now, not all high schools offer these five core subjects to freshmen. Sometimes there is no designated history class, for example. Or, in my son's case, the high school combines both English and history into one "Humanities" course. But most American high schools will offer all five core subjects starting in freshman year. Your child won't go wrong if they take all five core subjects for all four years of high school.

2. Consider what subjects your child does well in and/or enjoys more.

If a higher level class is offered in that subject matter, encourage your child to stretch themselves and take it. For example, if your child loves English and the high school has an Honors English class for freshmen, this is a nice way to dip their toes into a subject matter that they can excel at.

3. The math curriculum is usually determined by what math class your child takes in 8th grade.

Students who take Pre-Algebra in 8th grade, for example, will take Algebra in 9th grade. Max is taking Algebra right now, so automatically, he will take Geometry in 9th grade. And based on his grade (and a very good math tutor!), it looks like he could take Honors Geometry. But I will be curious to hear his advisor's thoughts on this one. It's the only honors class offered to freshmen at the high school.

One note to point out: If a student wants to get ahead in math, they can sometimes take a math class over the summer or possibly double-up in math and take two math classes in the same school year. However, either option is incredibly time-consuming and demanding. I recommend that if a student wants to jump ahead in math, that they do this the summer before 9th grade to get this out of the way before their schedule and summers get too busy.

4. Many students begin taking a foreign language in middle school.

If the student is doing well with that language, I would highly encourage them to continue taking that language throughout high school. Students who stick with the same foreign language through their senior year of high school are usually able to reach the highest level of coursework offered—which colleges truly appreciate, no matter what major the student plans to pursue. Sticking to the same language throughout high school shows continuity and allows for deeper proficiency. So students should choose their foreign language wisely!

5. Make sure your child's schedule has room for lunch and a study hall.

There is nothing more important than to have time to eat during the day, hang out with friends, and catch up on schoolwork. You will never find an admissions officer at a college that disagrees with me. Our children's mental and physical health are the top priority. 

6. Electives are a way to explore non-academic fields in high school and can open up doors for students down the road.

If there is room in your child's schedule for them, wonderful. If not, that is okay. Elective classes do not carry the same weight in the admissions process as core academic classes.

READ MORE: A Plan for Extracurricular Activities for Every Year of High School

There are tons of other pieces of advice I want to pass along to 8th grade families. But now that I am wrapping up this blog and the clock is ticking, Max tells me he forgot to fill out a "reflection" form on his goals for high school. So I am off to help him brainstorm on that. In the meantime, wish me luck in today's meeting. Max tells me, "I've got this, Mom." I love his confidence.
Photo caption: My son, Max, and my daughter, Sophie.