The Trials and Tribulations of Course Selection: A Guide from Multiple Perspectives

RHS website reminds students of the April 22nd course selection deadline

RHS website reminds students of the April 22nd course selection deadline

William Meyer, Currents Editor

Every winter, hundreds of students scour the program of studies in pursuit of creating a perfectly balanced schedule for the upcoming school year. This process can be overwhelming when trying to consider course rigor, subject matter, mental health, and so forth. To help guide you through the process, the Radnorite has gathered advice from multiple perspectives. These include Mr. Lemon, one of Radnor High School’s counselors, Nathan Kellerman, a senior, and Ian Sun, who is a current junior. Although the course selection process may be done for some, course changes are still available until April 22nd, 2022, and it is important to keep their advice in mind, even if you have completed the course selection process, to reflect on your choices. 

What is a common mistake people make when picking classes? 

Mr. Lemon: 

Some “don’t take the time to be thoughtful about the classes [they] sign up for.” It is important to consider “what it is going look like for me when I reach September next year.” Instead of solely thinking about the list of courses on paper, you should take extracurriculars, sports, and other opportunities you might want to pursue into account. Many students overload themselves for the sake of college applications, but you might “be putting yourself in a messy situation of having five or six hours of homework a night” with extracurriculars added on top. Mr. Lemon explains that “he would always prefer to set kids up for success academically, personally, and psychologically, and sometimes that means doing less, but doing it well.” By picking all the hardest classes based on what application readers want to see, you are not owning your choice. Even if you take the most rigorous schedule “and do incredibly well, [you may] still not get into that incredibly prestigious school.” You can find success regardless of whether you go to a top 20 school or not, and potentially harming your mental and physical health for a university may not be a sacrifice worth taking. 

Nathan Kellerman: 

Many people tend to underestimate their abilities and are afraid to take classes “outside of their comfort zone.” Referring to AP Physics as an example, he notes that “if you put your [effort] towards it,” many people can do well. That being said, “if it’s a far stretch, then don’t take [the class].” It is still important to find a balance between your personal needs and your academic goals by making smart decisions catered to what you knowingly can handle. 

Ian Sun: 

Ian’s points go hand in hand with Mr. Lemon’s and Nathan’s. People often fill “their course load with APs and seminars in the hopes that it will get them to a [top] college.” Challenging yourself is always wonderful, but “it should not come at a cost of your mental health and your ability to do well in school.” For some people, taking several APs might not be suited for them. Another common mistake is taking a course solely because their friends are taking it. Not only might you end up “disliking that class, but [it also is not] guaranteed that you’ll end up with the same period or teacher.” 

How do the classes you take play into the bigger picture of college admissions? 

Mr. Lemon: 

“It depends on the types of schools you’re looking at.” If your goal is to get into the extremely selective schools, you “need to take the hardest classes available to you in your subject areas.” Contrarily, many other schools are more focused on your grades than class rigor, one example being Penn State. “Penn State had a hundred thousand applications last year … [and simply] do not have the manpower” to read every application closely. “In some ways, you’re better off having a couple of APs mixed in the areas you are strongest in because that is going to leave you with the highest GPA” if you want to go to schools like such. Contrarily, for other schools like small liberal arts colleges, application readers appreciate students pushing themselves by taking harder classes. If you have an idea of what type of school you want to go to, you can arrange your schedule to fit your application. 

Nathan Kellerman: 

As someone that has gone through the college process, Nathan mentions that “colleges look for a steady progression of rigor” in the courses you are taking. Colleges want you to take harder and harder classes as you go from freshman to senior year to show that you are continuing to challenge yourself.” With respect to pushing yourself, it is still important to know your limits. As beneficial as it might seem to take another honors or AP class, you should not push yourself overboard. It could have some repercussions for your mental health and grades. Furthermore, “dropping down a level in a class is never the worst thing in the world since mental health is more important than another AP class on your transcript.” Nathan’s final piece of advice is to “take the classes you can take and try to challenge yourself, but don’t kill yourself with work.” 

Ian Sun: 

Ian believes that “colleges would like to see your passion and your interest through your course selections” and extracurricular activities related to it. For example, “if you really love engineering, a great way to impress the colleges is to take high-level science courses and the PLTW engineering courses here at Radnor.” To pair with it, you can join a variety of engineering-related activities. However, like the answers to the previous question, you should not overburden yourself with challenging courses. By doing this, you can end up failing and getting overwhelmed. 

What is the best way to find balance in your schedule? 

Mr. Lemon: 

“Take challenging classes in the subjects you are interested in.” Once September hits and you come home after a seven-hour school day, “you are going to be more inclined to want to work [on assignments] if it is important to you.”  

Nathan Kellerman: 

From Nathan’s experience, it has been “a lot of experimentation.” He explains that “it’s hard to know exactly [what classes] you need to be [in], but the only way to find it is by taking classes and recognizing what your strengths and weaknesses are.” Each year, you should reflect on the classes you are taking and ask yourself how you feel about your schedule based on criteria like the amount of free time you have and your mental health. Then you can decide whether to take a step up, down, or maintain the rigor you are currently at, though it is generally encouraged to take a step up. 

Ian Sun: 

“On top of choosing your courses based on your interests, you should also consider life outside of school like extracurriculars and mental health.” As someone taking four AP classes this year, he points out that “taking several AP classes in one year may not be the best choice if you get easily overwhelmed.” You should consider whether you can truly handle the course load, not just in terms of homework and tests, but in terms of satisfaction and fulfillment. “If balancing your mental health means cutting down on AP classes in favor of honors or advanced level classes, there’s no shame in that.” 

What class(es) do you recommend? 

Mr. Lemon: 

I love it when kids “pick and choose elective courses that are for fun for them and give them an opportunity to breathe during the day.” What type of class this entails varies for everyone. For some, it may include art or music, and others, cooking. He voices that “high school can be hard, and it is important for kids to find things to do during the day that feels fun or removes pressure.” 

Nathan Kellerman: 

Nathan recommends AP European History, which is taught by Mr. Dunbar or Mr. King. He suggests this course, stating that “it is a very different experience from traditional history classes because there is a lot of emphasis on reading primary resources and engaging in in-class discussion.” He points out how it is less “lecture and fact-based, and more idea and conversation-based.” It mirrors a college environment, so it is helpful to prepare for university and its format is “like a breath of fresh air.” However, it is important to note that his class is taught by Mr. King, so it may differ from Mr. Dunbar’s class. 

Ian Sun: 

“It depends on the individual.” He recommends challenging yourself in topics you find interesting and avoiding picking classes “because others do it.” Simply put, “choose the courses that fit your needs, and do not stress yourself too much.” 

What should people do if they do not know what classes they want to take? 

Mr. Lemon 

Talk to other students, upperclassmen, and teachers about what suggestions they might have. If you know of a teacher that teaches a class that you might be interested in, you should seek them out. “Teachers like to talk about the things they are teaching.” Other people are great resources because you can also imagine how you would feel in a specific class based on what others say. 

Nathan Kellerman: 

Nathan offers three resources to find your ideal schedule. It is “always a good first step to look at the program of studies,” which lists every course the school offers. In it, you can find descriptions of every class and other details like course credits. Above that are your “teachers who know you well from taking their class.” When the teachers make your course recommendations in January and February, they consider your efforts throughout many months, so they are aware of your capabilities. “Teachers want to help you, so don’t be afraid to talk to them.” Lastly, “the step beyond that is your guidance counselor” since they have a lot of information to offer about a variety of classes. 

Ian Sun: 

Ian gives a step-by-step approach starting with asking yourself: “What interests you?” and “What is something you are very passionate about?” Once you have a general answer, you can find courses that align with those interests in the program of studies. Lastly, you should talk to your peers in classes that you are considering. Last year, seniors persuaded Ian to take Viewpoints instead of AP US History and AP Language and Composition, stating that it broadened their view of the world and gave them invaluable experience in forming arguments and debating. Unfortunately, Viewpoints didn’t run this year due to a lack of sign-ups, so he took the two AP classes. Some juniors, however, did work out a compromise, where they are currently taking the history and English classes that seniors typically take, and next year they will take Viewpoints with the class of 2024, ensuring that the program has enough interest. Regardless, in Ian’s view, “talking to friends who have taken the class gives you firsthand knowledge better than any syllabus can.” 


Course selection can be arduous, but your friends and teachers are great resources that know you well. While this article should have helped you understand the greater picture of course selection, take it with a grain of salt. You know yourself the best, so do not let others’ opinions drive your entire process. Make a schedule that works for you, even if that means taking one less AP class or taking 6.5 credits instead of 7. As Mr. Lemon states, “own your decision.”