Choosing a Balanced Schedule

Although it feels like we are in the depths of winter and working hard in the third academic quarter, we are also at that point in the year when we begin talking with students about course selection for next year. Our Advising team is asked many questions as students think about their next steps. Some questions are broad, and some are very specific, but a piece of the answer to all questions lies in the pursuit of balance.

The best piece of advice that I can give students is to choose a set of courses in which you will be challenged and engaged, and in which you can find success. That’s a little bit like our doctor telling us that for maximum health we should eat well and exercise – a sometimes daunting task! But if students can honestly assess their interests and capacity and do their research, an appropriate and balanced schedule is possible.

Here are some questions that students should ask themselves when choosing classes:

  1. Do I enjoy the subject? If a student loves history, then diving into AP European History will be a joy.  If the thought of timelines and land wars in the 1400s is not appealing, then spending hours each week preparing for class may not be the best use of homework time. It’s hard to be engaged when the topic doesn’t spark an interest.
  2. Am I willing AND able to put in the work? Students today are busy. Sports and performances and community service and jobs and commutes – all these things take time and energy. If students commit to taking an accelerated class (honors or AP), they not only need to think about whether they want to dedicate time to the class (preparing for tests and quizzes, doing the reading, keeping up with homework), but also is it even possible to carve out enough time in their busy days to meet the expectations of the class and find success (earning the grade they desire).   
  3. Is this the appropriate class for me? Sometimes students think that they must take every honors and every AP class available so that universities will be impressed with their record, but then they struggle because they are overwhelmed or underprepared. Some students think that if they get all “As” in a regular or college-prep class their transcript will look better than if they get a “B” in an honors class. The perfect class is one in which students are challengedThey should be stretched to think in new ways, to write better, to think more clearly, to build better arguments, and to solve complex problems. Material that is too simple is not good, nor is material that is too rigorous.        

Here are some things students can do to make good choices:

  1. Research options. Students should actively learn about the classes offered at their school. They should talk with the teacher who currently teaches the course and ask questions like, “What is the homework load and how will my grade be determined?” Students can also talk with other students who are currently taking the class to ask, “How much time do you spend outside of school doing work for this class, and do you take lots of tests or write a lot of papers?” Students can also read course descriptions in their school’s Course Catalog.

  2. Practice Executive Function skills. At Trinity, we encourage students to think about the reality of their choices and ask themselves the question, “Is there enough time in my day to be happy and healthy, challenged and engaged, and successful if I take these classes?” Trinity students should consult the Homework Planner and the Take Charge of Your Schedule Worksheet to answer these questions. This time management worksheet asks students to consider activities that happen between the evening hours of 4:00 and 10:00, like the commute home from school, dinner, practice, and homework. If their commitments exceed their available hours, then choices must be made.

  3. Consult the experts. Talking with an academic advisor or a college advisor can be very beneficial when students consider their options. These advisors are well-versed in the big picture and can help answer questions like, “Are you meeting graduation requirements? What do the colleges that you are considering really want to see on your high school transcript? What courses have other students with similar interests taken?” Parents are experts, too. They know their student best and should be included in the conversation.  

Choose a set of courses in which you will be challenged and engaged, and in which you can find success. We want all students to have a great academic experience, and we know that this looks different for every student. Finding balance is possible when students ask the right questions and honestly evaluate their answers.   

About the Author

Jennifer Fletcher is the Dean of Enrollment at Trinity.  She will tell you that she has the best job at TCS because she gets to do “all the fun stuff,” which for her includes things like course selection and speaking at Admission Open Houses and working with the Upper School principals to build the master schedule each year. She is an avid shopper (of shoes), a collector of cookbooks, a watcher of British mysteries, and a lover of Mid-Century Christmas decor. 

About Trinity Christian School

Pursuing Excellence for Mind and Heart

K-12 Independent Christian School in Northern Virginia

Located just over 20 miles southwest from Washington, D.C., 10 miles south of Route 66 in Fairfax, and 10 miles west of the Capital Beltway

Educating students to the glory of God by pursuing excellence for mind and heart since 1987



A 2019 National Blue Ribbon School