Back to school is now in full swing! If you haven’t already started, your kids have probably at least picked up their schedules. Or they might be frantically trying to finish their summer projects. In the last week, I’ve heard so many parents mention that they’re dreading the start of the school year. I think the parents might even be dreading it more than the kids!
Are you dreading the school year busyness? (Yes, I looked it up. That’s really a word. “Business” doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to, and so now there is also “busyness.”) Are you dreading the calendar running your life? The hours of homework? The school activities with early morning and late night practice? The lack of sleep?
It might be time to take a good look at why your kids, or you, have signed up for all the activities and advanced classes that are taking up all your time and then some.
Is your kid taking a bunch of advanced, IB, or College Board AP classes to get into college?
You might want to take a look at what’s really required to get into a college or university. A lot of the “information” swirling around the internet and high schools is based on trying to gain admission to super-competitive Ivy League universities (which is only about a dozen small universities in the entire country) or the “top” university in your area. These colleges and universities get so many applicants that they reject even valedictorians and students with perfect ACT and SAT scores. That’s why everyone’s so scared that they might not “get into college.” For some reason, very few parents and counselors are talking about the actual qualifications of students that get into the hundreds of universities and colleges across the country that are not Ivy League. If you don’t have any idea which college or university your student is interested in, a good place to start is by looking at 50-50 colleges in your state at DIY College Rankings.
Is your kid taking a bunch of AP classes because you think they’re needed to get into a “good” college?
How many AP classes do you need to take to get into a “good” university or college? If you ask that question of admissions counselors, high school counselors, or look around on the internet, the standard answer is, “take as many as you can handle.”
Not a very helpful answer.
How many AP classes are really required? You can start by looking at the minimum admission requirements for one particular university. Of course nothing says that a student with the minimum requirements even has a good chance of being accepted, so dig deeper into their requirements and recommendations. You aren’t likely to find and exact number of AP classes you need to take to get into this university, or even information about AP classes at all. Even if you do, you’ve got to look beyond what they say, because every university is trying to raise the qualifications of the students they admit so that they can raise their ranking. (University rankings are based on the qualifications of the freshman class, not the qualifications of the graduates.)
Taking AP classes for college admission is really a question about class rank. When you look at a particular university or college, look at the average SAT scores, ACT scores, class rank, and GPA of the last admitted freshman class. At AcceptanceRate.com, you can quickly find the different acceptance rates, average SAT and ACT scores, and all sorts of other information. If your students has no idea where they want to go yet, start with your state’s flagship university or the university you attended, or the DIY College Rankings Site mentioned above.
Is your kid taking a bunch of AP classes and taking leadership positions in a large number of extracurricular activities because they want to go to a school in the Ivy League? Or you want them to?
Even if your answer is, “Yeah, well maybe. If they do well enough it would be nice,” you need to take a hard look at what you’re thinking about. Do you really want them to go to an Ivy League? Before you spend four years working toward that, you might learn more about current experiences of those colleges. A place to start is by reading Excellent Sheep. And consider that even an extracurricular and AP stockpile won’t be enough to give you more than a lottery chance of getting into an Ivy League school, because their admission rates are all well below 10%. DIY College rankings has a great post that explains why this has happened, and points out that this low acceptance rate means that there are lots of high achieving students at other schools.
Is your student taking a full load, and then some, of advanced or College Board AP classes in hopes of getting an academic scholarship?
Because the SAT is probably more important than this. And there are even scholarships available for students with GPAs as “low” as 3.4, if you look in the right places.
How much of your kid’s homework load is from their AP or IB classes?
In our experience, AP classes and preAP classes cause a significant increase in homework. If you complain, you are likely to be told that it’s because these classes are preparing your child for college, where you’re expected to do 3 hours of homework for every hour that’s spent in class. But consider that high school students spend about 35 hours a week at school, while college students spend only 12-15 hours. That’s a huge difference, multiplied by 3. According to this article on CNN, those hours of homework have a much higher cost than benefit.
Is you kid taking AP classes in hopes of knocking out their first year of college before they even get there?
Because more and more colleges are requiring higher scores on the AP exam for credit, or not accepting AP credit at all. Again, that’s something you can only figure out by researching some specific universities.
Is your kid participating in sports because you’re hoping for a great scholarship?
You might want to consider the real odds of that happening. According to the New York Times, the reality of sports scholarships usually falls short of expectations. A good sport scholarship is likely to cover about 15% of college costs and there is some interesting information in the article about the cost of achieving the scholarship vs the monetary amount of the scholarship. Don’t forget to do your math! You can look up information about your kid’s specific sport at specific colleges and universities on the site Information on College Sports and Athletic Scholarships on Scholarshipstats.com. But don’t forget to read the footnotes. The numbers given are the average scholarship award, with some students getting full scholarships and others getting none. Or if a sport is an equivalency sport, then it’s possible that none of the students get a full scholarship. The scholarship is likely to be split up among several players. Always consider the amount of the scholarship against total cost of attending a university.
Or maybe, forget all that, your kid is the driving force behind the classes she’s taking, and she’s enjoying all the activities she’s added on top of them. She’s driving herself.
Then you need to make sure you’re not forgetting one important factor. How much is she sleeping? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents require between 8.5 and 9.5 of hours of sleep a night. If your teen isn’t getting enough sleep, they’re not alone. 59% of middle schooler tweens and 87% of high school teens don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression, weight problems, automobile accidents, and a decline in academic performance and test scores. Teens who don’t get enough sleep also have more drinking problems later.
If you took the time to read the article in the New York Times about athletic scholarships, the most telling thing to me is the quote from the kid who played soccer for 14 years, all the time thinking he would get a scholarship just like his older brother. Even though he was recruited, he didn’t even make it on the team. His parents still think it was worth it, because soccer was his passion. But while he might have rethought it since the article was written, he does acknowledge that he missed out. “…if I had it to do over, I would have skipped a practice every now and then to go to a concert or a movie with my friends. I missed out on a lot of things for soccer. I wish I could have some of that time back.”
That really struck a cord with me, because that’s how I feel about the time I spent on academics in college. (I was a top level student as a Chemistry major.)
What about you? Do you think your teen has too much or too little homework? Do their outside activities – sports or band, etc. – have really long practice hours?
Is your teen getting enough sleep?