#54 High School Course Selection Tips Transcript



Julie Spak  00:00

I call it the eyes wide open technique that I use with our families. We said, Let’s have our eyes wide open. Before we apply. Let’s make sure some students think oh my goodness, I’m senior, I can finally relax. And that is not the advice we would ever give. Because Oh, colleges and I know from working on the college side, colleges do not understand people who relaxed during high school, they feel you’re going there to learn. So why would you suddenly take every easy fluffy course than you could ever imagine? I mean, of course, you want to try something fun and new, but not at the expense of taking your rigorous high school.


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:42

High school course selection is high stakes for many college bound teens. The effects on what might seem like a simple choice can impact GPA, college admission, what you pay for your student go to college, their readiness to do well in college, and how long they spend in college. Julie Spak, is an independent college counselor in his work with me for a decade. She brings insights from working at the college level and high school level, as well as being a current mom of two high school young men. You’ll leave this episode with excellent pointers on how to build the right high school schedule for your student and know how to find what the colleges want, as well as what to look out for. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to the one year anniversary episode of College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Well, it’s my pleasure to welcome long time friend of mine colleague, Julie’s back to the podcast, how is it that I’ve gone an entire year without having her on I’m so excited to welcome her now, not only welcome her to the podcast, but for our one year anniversary, Julie is on today that helped me have a great conversation to arm our families with actionable advice around choosing the right high school classes for their teen. Julie, welcome to the podcast.


Julie Spak  02:19

It’s a pleasure to be here at least. So thank you so much.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:22

I’m so glad that you’re on. And I can’t believe it took me this long to get you on the podcast I found and I know I’m in Cincinnati, you’re in Philadelphia, and we’ve worked well together for a decade like that. Yeah, I found that in different areas of the country, scheduling begins at different times of year here in the Cincinnati area. Even some high schools are going to start as early as mid January, some won’t broach this topic until March. What do you find and your area and with the students that you work with as an independent educational consultant,


Julie Spak  02:59

I find that February is the big month. So I think because in Philadelphia, we have a lot of you know, could be snow, maybe the parent meetings are usually we have one date set for early February. And then the snow day is planned. So that students and their families come in and learn all about it. They send out the information via email ahead of time hoping that you’ll read through it. But obviously, then they have the actual meetings. So I would say February is our mom here in Philadelphia,


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:30

you bring up a good point. Typically, they’re going to have some kind of event, either virtual or in person at the high school. And I’m hearing Are you saying that you encourage families to attend that?


Julie Spak  03:44

Yes, I absolutely feel especially now that more and more is back in person I went last year to my son’s I have two high school students myself, I think whenever there’s a chance that you can be in person, oftentimes at these meetings, the big heavy hitters of the school come out. So if you want to meet the principal, you want to meet the curriculum director, you would like to meet the person who’s in charge of foreign language with a PS, I find that these people tend to be in attendance at these events. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to speak with them in person and develop a relationship. If you can possibly get there. I agree,


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:27

not only interacting and getting to know them. But I’ve found that if you can ask your questions at an event like that which we encourage all of our families to be asking questions all the time of your high school and or college, you’re gonna get a faster answer, and perhaps a more thorough answer when they’re in a crowded auditorium or doing a webinar than if you’re trying to email it or get it addressed at a later time.


Julie Spak  04:54

I agree. I agree. 1,000%. And I think that when people know who you are and know who Your students are, especially for our families who are at larger schools, this can be a tremendous bonus, I think the student wins every time. And he was parents feel better about it as and when you can see how the person interacts, and the amount of time and energy that they put into this. I think it makes it easier when you have questions or sometimes when things don’t go as well as you would hope, where you run into a snag. And you can see how this person operates and get an idea of their personality, I just think it makes the whole process easier. Because you know what, Lisa, we both know that problems do come up, and you want to be able


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:33

to, that’s part of the win and the growth is learning how to go through them. In addition to having these events, they’re also going to put out your course curriculum or the course guide or its course of study, somewhere, it’ll be available online, that to me should always be your very first place to go just like figure out everything that your high school is offering.


Julie Spak  05:58

Yes. And in my district, for example, we have three high schools. So there’s actually a course curriculum for each of the three schools. However, if you read the fine print, which I have, you have, you know, I encourage you to do it, find out what’s available, because sometimes there might be something offered at one campus that your student could possibly be a part of, as long as you know, it’s available. And also our school district, which is Downingtown, Pennsylvania, they actually in this past year broke new this year, when I look at other students, you know, when I do this work for other people or help them, I always look and say, let’s see if they have a new this year or recently added a lot of times they will make a point, if there’s a new program, they want you to know about it. And in our district just for a quick example, is they recently partnered with UPS, and are having students who want to have that experience of working with a real company during school hours for credit. What’s not to love about that. This is


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:01

hilarious. I was literally gonna go what is UPS stand for? No, you mean like UPS. So


Julie Spak  07:07

deliver delivery, United Parcel.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:11

I thought around University of Pennsylvania something.


Julie Spak  07:15

So for those of our listeners who know anything about upsa, our ground up company, literally I know that’s upon as well. But they love to hire people from within. And in our area, I think they’re really trying, which I think is smart on their part. They’re trying to work with people who are in data analytics, people who want to work in all those types of AI experiences they’re trying to get people involved earlier sooner. And high school and just knowing that exists, I was thrilled to see that. And now it’s advise other students, that’s fantastic.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:50

I would also say to your point of like, they will say I’ve seen that with other schools as well, new this year or new offering. The other thing as you’re doing this, I always encourage families to sketch out what they want their student to take for all four years, like you’re gonna put it in ink for next year. But then pencil in what you think you might want to take the following years, because the other thing that you’ll also see in that course of study is what might be a prerequisite for future courses. So you might have your eye on something and go like, Oh, that’s really cool. That’s only offered to seniors. I want to take that course when I’m a senior, read the fine print and make sure there’s not a prerequisite that you may need sophomore year, junior year. And make sure that you get that in. So that doors open for you to take that class when you get to high school.


Julie Spak  08:43

Yes, that’s such a great point. And also sketching out Lisa, I love your idea of doing that. And so when the students go to their sophomore meeting with their counselor, their junior meeting, and you have that you can show your counselor, sometimes they can say that teachers going to be on sabbatical next year or this year, we’re offering this or our high school, my high school in Downingtown. Pennsylvania, only allows one AP class freshman year. That’s the rule. That’s all they want you to take so that you get all your ducks in a row and you do exactly what you said. You planned out your curriculum. What did you take in eighth grade? Are you ahead in math? Are you ahead in foreign language, just so that students who are applying to highly selective schools can ensure that they’re taking all the necessary courses that they need to you know, to be able to gain those acceptances. There’s a


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:35

school here in Cincinnati that a private high school that I know doesn’t allow any APS till junior year. So let’s move on from the high school and talk about the colleges because while you want to understand what your high school is offering, you may not even know yet what colleges are on that college list for application but you’re probably got it on your mind a little bit or you might be deep in the hunt is also important to understand what the colleges are recommending or requiring of applicants as well. So what advice do you give to students in that regard,


Julie Spak  10:11

the best advice I would give students is let’s look at our own State University’s website. Let’s look at a school that you may be considering you might be private, might be public, but it’s smaller. And then maybe another school, that’s a reach school or a highly selective school. And let’s see what their students are taking in order to get into the school. The second part that you and I Lisa know really well is what your major is going to be if you happen to know that, that’s fantastic. That’s always a great thing to be thinking about. But our students that are looking for business engineering, we always have to be cognizant of what they take in high school so that they’re on the right track, to even be admitted to those majors. But different colleges have different requirements. And especially if you’re looking at liberal arts, when I worked in admissions at the University of New Hampshire, we literally counted up the number of college prep courses which Math Science, yes, or in language. And those things in sciences and lab sciences are always considered strong things to take off for years, if you are looking at a highly selective university.


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:20

One way that I advise families to discover what a college is going to recommend or require is in the common data set. It’s always it’s not always 100% accurate. But there’s really two sources for kind of getting to the heart of what is a college one. And I have a video on our resources page about how to discover demonstrated interest on the common data set. But I’m going to shoot a second video to go along with this episode. And I’ll put a link to it in the show notes and put it over there on our resources page about how to locate in the common data set. What is the recommended and required courses for application? So if you head over there, you’ll see does a college say? Well, you know, we require at least three years of a language other than English. And we recommend for you’re going to get those nuances from looking at that. I always say because I found that college list is in flux with students up until the fall of senior year when they’re applying don’t just saying for the minimum aim for the recommended apps really want to work in keeping those doors open. Right,


Julie Spak  12:29

I would agree with you 1,000%. And also, I love that you brought that up the common data set. It’s a great place. And as you and I also know is some schools University of California system is a good example, require visual arts requirement. Not a lot of schools require this. But it’s better to know I call it the eyes wide open technique that I use with our families. Lisa, let’s have our eyes wide open. Before we apply, let’s make sure because the other thing is some students think oh my goodness, I’m senior, I can finally relax. And that is not the advice we would ever give. Because Oh colleges. And I know from working on the college side, colleges do not understand people who relaxed during high school, they feel you’re going there to learn. So why would you suddenly take every easy, fluffy course that you could ever imagine? I mean, of course, you want to try something fun and new, but not at the expense of taking your rigorous high school curriculum. And colleges make a huge note about it. They look at it very carefully. And in fact, after you are admitted, you are required to submit your final transcript, which hopefully has a strong senior year, right to the very end. That’s what they’re looking for.


Lisa Marker Robbins  13:47

Yeah, let’s remind our listeners that yes, senior year not only matters, but inside your college application, you’re first going to tell the college what you’re taking what you’re registered to take your entire senior year. For many colleges, definitely for the highly selective you’re going to be submitting first semester grades. And finally, you’ll


Julie Spak  14:09

be doing that, as you mentioned that final transcript so what you take does matter. I want to go back to something you said about the University of California system. So that’s true, they require two credits in the same visual or performing art for a student to apply, and that credit cannot be taken in the eighth grade. Now, that’s a nuance that’s very unique to them. Although I do know that the University of Minnesota is another school that has a similar Fine Arts requirement. I really think that just demonstrates you kind of do your homework, do your research online, but be asking the right questions while you’re doing the visits as well. And that’s a great point when you visit or you attend a college fair whether it’s virtual or in person, ask what the high school requirements are. And it also brings us Lisa to dual enrollment, AP credit any other things because we I know you and I both get questions about this. I think every day I’m asked should my students how many AP should they take? Should they take this AP or that AP. And there are lots of reasons people take APS, but you do want to take classes and you can do well in, you do want to have a rigorous curriculum in high school, but you also want to be able to thrive and do well. And also, some schools are going to limit the amount of courses that they will transfer. There are some schools that may be a financial boon to have taken a few credits off of your total amount that you need to graduate from college. But not every college is jumping for joy that you’re coming in. With X number of credits, you know, some schools have very strict guidelines, I do you want to give our listeners the advice of please look at every school that your student is seriously considering and look up with the AP transfer or dual enrollment transfer rules are for each school, they can vary wildly. I don’t know if you want me to share an example or two. But it’s something worth looking up. Before you apply.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:15

Let’s keep going for the sake of time because I know we have a lot we want to get in but do your homework. Some schools are very generous with giving credit for dual enrollment and APS. And some are very stingy. And so and I know some of you are going to pursue heavy AP and dual enrollment for financial reasons. Others are doing it to open the door to highly selective. But I couldn’t agree more with what you said like don’t take what you aren’t ready for. Because not only do these grades affect your high school transcript for the dual enrollment, it affects the college GPA and transcript as well, for sure. That’s exactly right. It was another point I wanted to bring up when you brought up smartly. So the University of California Fine Arts thing. The only other middle school credit that the University of California will accept is mathematics. So high school credit taken in middle school for the University of California system, they will only accept languages other than English and for math. So if you’ve taken your health credit or social studies credit, it will not be considered for your application. So that math is there. Let’s talk a little bit more about math, you made a great point about don’t take your foot off the gas going into 12th grade, particularly for math. I mean, some kids get tempted to not take four years of math. And I’ve seen that be nothing but a mistake.


Julie Spak  17:48

Yes, in fact, I was just talking with a student the other day, he said, I am not going to take high school calculus, I’m going to take statistics, and based on his projected major, which is in the world of business, and I said wow, I would love to share the good news and you will be taking college calculus, you truly not want to have had that type of math. Since your junior year of high school. Think about how much time that is an ESA for students not to have been in the calc game. And so that’s probably the one we see the most for our students that are going into any business type or engineering. So you want to make sure that you take senior year of math. Now some students when they quickly look at their high school’s website, they see it says graduation requirements. graduation requirements are a totally different animal than what it takes to get into college. Our graduation requirements I like to tell our students that this is what your state requires. To give you a high school diploma. There you go by remember that most people including our favorite liberal arts and creatives, they will also be required to take math and science when they get into college as well. And I do not want my students to be at a disadvantage and not have had those classes for well over a year before you’ve hit a college level math or science class. It’s you want to be able to thrive in those classes once you get there.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:25

One of the things too like not only is it taking that year off and being out of practice, right which can weaken your skills if they’re in tune. But those college classes when you get there There you go at double speed because yes what is AP calculus for a whole year maybe in high school is calc one and college for a semester so it’s gonna go twice as fast so great point and do not want to be out of practice at all. I have seen some students who start as they start on this college bound journey they realize like If you want to engineering, it’s going to be almost impossible to get in having not taken calculus in high school, the highly selective or cities are admitting, you know, 30 25%, or fewer of their applicants are going to demand calculus of most students. Not all I’m sure some of you have some exceptions out there. But you know, as you’re thinking about math, sometimes kids go, oh, I want to get to calculus now. And I’ve seen kids double up in that year that they take geometry and algebra two in the same year, and they double up on math. So that’s tough. I mean, even for a kid who’s really good at math, it is possible to take those two math courses at the same time to speed up your math curriculum. So you can get through calculus, if you’re not already on that path. But only do it if you’re really ready. And I’ve seen a lot of kids benefit from getting academic tutoring and assistance during that time, if they choose to take that path. Which brings me to the point of like, if you start to struggle in any of these classes, ask for help. Because the transcript, the colleges are looking not only at your GPA, they’re looking at the classes that you took to get that GPA. But to Julie’s earlier point, like don’t take what you aren’t ready for. But things don’t always go, you know, as planned in hard times happen. So don’t hesitate to ask for help, if needed,


Julie Spak  21:23

I agree. And also, to take an AP just because it’s an AP, I think there needs to be an additional reasoning to do that. You want to be able to thrive and do well. And have the reason that you’re taking it. That’s why I like your point before Lisa, really mapping out what you want to take over the course of four years. It’s such a great exercise.


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:45

I think this relates really well to to the work that Julie you and I do with college major and career coaching, with flourish and through our launch course, is when you start to get an idea of your aptitudes, your interest and motivations, your wiring and what majors and careers relate to that. That can help you choose like if I am going to take AP, and I’m not the kid that should be taking five or six APs in a year, what a eggs should I put in the basket for AP and that should be the ones that are aligned with your wiring and where you’re going and where what you’re headed into.


Julie Spak  22:21

I really have seen especially in the past year, I think really telling students to think about their goals and why they’re doing what they’re doing with the eye on thriving in high school, and college. I think I’ve seen students make better choices. And I’ve been really happy and the results have been better. I really think they’re better when they feel good about what they’re doing and why and they’ve put some time into thinking about it. So for our families thinking about course selection is such a great opportunity to think about today, tomorrow, and future careers. I mean, it’s a perfect time to start thinking about it, and what your student really wants to do and what they’re motivated to do. And to take it I mean, I’m sure we’ve all had those students, oh, I waited so long to take this one class, well, you want your students to be able to do that. So if you start planning earlier, then they’re going to have the opportunity, whether it’s photography, or you know, sometimes it isn’t AP class, I’ve had students that cannot wait to take the AP art. And when they take in so wonderful to see, you know what we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about what some called foreign language others call language other than English, that’s a more modern term.


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:39

What advice do you typically give to the students that you’re working with? Julie, when they’re considering languages other than English?


Julie Spak  23:47

I’m always for it. How many years for if they if you can take four years of foreign language, you are standing taller than most of the other applicants. If you can do it, there are reasons some people who are listening, if you’re not there, and you have three, that’s great. If the student has a decent affinity for it and can keep going. It says a lot. And it really does. I think there’s no downside. Many colleges


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:17

will say, you know, it’s really also showing a global mindset. Yeah, thinking more broadly. And let us reinforce we’re talking about three to four years, sometimes five, if you started in middle school have the same language, right? We’re not talking about a year of Spanish a year of French and with that, let me add that not all colleges will consider ASL American sign language, a language other than English, some will some won’t. So if you’re thinking about ASL, you want to investigate that. I think about what you said about having a year off from if you didn’t take math your senior year and then you’re diving into business calculus or calc one and an engineering course. can be really rough. I’ve seen some students because they’re kind of pressed for time to try to get everything they want in high school, which that struggle is real. Say, Oh, well, I’m not going to take Spanish three this year, but I’ll go back to it my senior year. That’s another one. I think that can get you in trouble. I think those years of foreign languages other than English need to be stacked up on each other without a gap. There’s no room for a gap year with these languages.


Julie Spak  25:26

Yeah, I know from working on the college side, there’s never a downside to keep going. Having many years of foreign language stacked. I love that word is great advice, a will not to serve you, trust me and


Lisa Marker Robbins  25:39

those highly selective are going to demand language other than English, foreign language all the way up to graduation, you know, when we talk about those schools are going to want to see three years of a lab science, math through calculus, if at all possible foreign language every single year in no room for fluff, which kind of brings us both to the advice that we give. And we’ll leave this as our final advice around what you and I would call fluff and what students sometimes think of they have a right to. So what’s your advice when it comes to the fluff? And how would you define fluff Julie?


Julie Spak  26:17

I defined fluff as the easy way out, you know, can I come in late? And I get out early? You know, do I get an extra study hall? Dincer? Like, I can’t wait for more slang. And I’d say, Well, this is not the time for rest. Now, if you want to take, I’ve had some students that can’t wait to take photography, can’t wait to take art. They’ve been waiting, they’ve been tapping their toe to take the healthcare course. Yes. Take those by all means their interests are something that you enjoy as a hobby. But if you’re looking for ways to shorten your day, or to give yourself more time, just like then colleges, no, I would not recommend that. Sorry. I know I sound mean, but I’m only trying to help Lisa.


Lisa Marker Robbins  27:08

It’s Hey, I always say you’re paying me but they’re not paying us or listen to a podcast that’s free right now. But you’re paying for good advice, not popular advice. And that is one of the things I’ve seen kids try senior year in the pandemic, I’ve seen more and more schools allow a student to take both early release and late arrival. The only exception I think I would make for that is and this kind of goes back to I always ask, what is the why behind every decision that you make it you guys should be asking that when you’re scheduling classes among it and everything else on the college bound journey. But if the why for early release is to do an internship or do a course elsewhere that you’re maybe earning credit for or getting great experience, then that might be okay, but you’re gonna be sure to explain that inside your application. Exactly. I know that you’re demonstrating that you are a fantastic college counselor. If families want to reach you to explore working with you what is the best way to reach you? Email


Julie Spak  28:14

Julie’s back and lead program.com Lea, P R. G ra m.com.


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:20

If anybody wants to contact Julie, her email will be in the show notes. And I know you do a fantastic job. It’s always been my pleasure to work with you for the last decade you bring insights as a mom of high schoolers yourself, somebody with college experience on the college side and we are blessed to have you. Thanks, Julie for coming on the podcast.


Julie Spak  28:44

It’s been my pleasure, Lisa 10. But


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:46

let’s here’s to the next 10 years and celebrating the one year anniversary of the podcast. Congratulations. Thanks. Thank you for listening everyone. And we have had exponential growth and if you have an idea for a podcast episode topic, let us know we’d be excited to do it by Julie by Lisa thank you. Regardless of what time of year it is, you can usually still access your high school’s core selection guide online, or by asking your school counselor for the most recent copy. My college bound Challenge for this week is to sit down as a family and discuss what your teen has already taken and how it relates to what the colleges want for the colleges they are currently considering. Next, sketch out the remaining years of high school courses and weigh it against what the colleges want your students intended major and what aligns with their goals. Remember, this is not a time to take the foot off the gas, if you’re uncertain of that future major and how it relates to core selection. This is something I teach in my course launch Career Clarity. I hope you’ll consider joining me in the course the next time it’s open And for enrollment. I’ll link to more information in the show notes. Today’s episode is definitely something your friends need to if they will have a teen in high school next year. do them a favor and share this episode with them. They will thank you. Can you do something also for me? Help me celebrate the one year anniversary of College and Career Clarity by sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing. It helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. I sincerely appreciate you doing any of those. Thank you. Were listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast where I help your family move from overwhelmed and confused to motivated clear and confident about your team’s future.