Three Ways to Earn High Grades in College Through Smart Course Selection
Leonardo Da Vinci was a badass. History records his amazing accomplishments in art, architecture, music, engineering, philosophy, science and anatomy. The guy painted The Last Supper and also invented the tank, for goodness’ sakes. Most of us have more limited passions and aptitudes. Savvy students are realistic about this. They maximize their grade point averages by choosing courses strategically.
This means shielding your weaknesses and playing to your strengths. This also means making sure that you have satisfied the basic requirements every student needs to be taken seriously for top jobs and graduate programs.
I advise students to use three basic strategies when selecting classes:
1. Conquering the basics. At the secondary or “high school” level, students must display a basic level of competence in writing, mathematics and science. This foundation must be strong and balanced. Most colleges take for granted that students have mastered these fundamentals. If you have basic weaknesses then you should take drastic measures to fix them to position yourself for success in college and beyond. (And if you haven’t read Kick Ass in College now would be a good time.)
2. Going on “defense.” A great deal of success or failure depends on your enthusiasm for a given class.Yes, you should learn to enjoy tough challenges since success tends to elude those who always take the easy path. But be smart about it. Let’s assume “Andrew” flat-out despises and fears Statistics (perhaps even suffering from panic attacks just thinking about it). But if he must pass a mid-level Statistics course to graduate, he is stuck. So he had better consider taking a defensive approach. For example, Andrew could:
- Speak with a college advisor about how to get around his “land mine” class, possibly identifying an easier path to satisfy the minimum requirement.
- Consider a pass/fail option, if available.
- Single out one professor who teaches a gentler version of the class.
- Take the class during a shorter summer session, when it may be easier.
- Audit or “sit through” the class first (for no credit) as practice.
- Take a community college version of the class first (credit may not transfer but this is also a great confidence-builder for a tough class).
- Get individualized tutoring before and during the class.
3. Going on “offense.” Please don’t get me wrong – my advice is not that you simply avoid hard classes. That would not be desirable or even possible for success-oriented students. While it may make sense to “water down” GPA-killing requirements, that is only part of the strategy. You must also accentuate your strengths. This means seeking out harder classes with an aggressive, search-and-destroy mentality, whenever you can. If “Lisa” is a math ninja she should be pushing herself to enroll in taking the toughest math classes she can reasonably handle. That way, her lower grades in English may be neutralized when college admissions officers or employers evaluate her overall record. Always go on offense when it makes sense. Just be realistic and don’t get overloaded with brutal courses. Even for the world’s best runner a marathon is still an extreme challenge. Do not let overconfidence ruin your grades either!
Remember, a fortune in tuition and your very future hang in the balance. So play all the angles when you choose your classes.