It would be really nice to be able to tell a family that I told a student to do X, Y, and Z, and because of that, she got into Stanford, and therefore my advice = good advice. But it’s never that black and white. In thinking about how to answer this question, I realized that I don’t actually give families advice. I give them information. I clarify what the options are, how those decisions will be viewed in the context of their college applications, and let them make the choice that is right for them, academically and personally.
For example, if a student asks me whether they should take AP US History or regular US History, there is no one right answer. If that student’s dream is to attend a highly selective college, I would tell her that the most selective schools will expect you to take the most rigorous courses. If she’s doing well in history this year and wants more of a challenge, she might decide to take the AP class.
If that student knows that the homework load attached to AP US History would force him to quit playing on the soccer team, which is his absolute favorite part of high school, he might choose to take the regular class.
If that student is completely devoted to science, and is doing independent projects and experiments in her garage for fun, and history is a special form of torture for her, she might decide to take the regular class.
If that student is obsessed with Hamilton and Ken Burns’s documentaries, and makes his family visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial on vacation, he might decide to take the AP class.
Every time I talk my students through an important decision, like choosing their classes for next year, figuring out whether to take the SAT again, or deciding which college to attend next year, I show them the fork in the road. I try to show them as far down each path as I can so they will have a better understanding of the consequences of each choice, the results of each choice. I try to give them context for how colleges are using this information, and how each option will impact their applications. I try to ask the kinds of questions that will get them thinking about the issue in a different way. And then I let them choose.