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High School Students, Here’s How to Live the Life You Want

If you’re a Putnam City high school student deciding what classes to take next year, there's something you need to know. The truth is, you’re not simply deciding what classes to take. You’re deciding what kind of life you’re going to have.

How’s that again? How do the classes you take in high school relate to your future life? Let’s walk through it. Don’t skip or skim this article. Remember, the life you want for yourself depends on it.

What’s Your Dream for Your Life?

To begin with, you probably have dreams about what you want your life to be like someday. Sometimes those dreams have to do with what kind of career you’ll have. You’ve probably been asked before: What do you want to be when you grow up? Maybe you want to be a nurse or a doctor or a physical therapist. Maybe your interest is about animals and you want to be a veterinarian. Maybe you want to work with computers, networks, software or video games. Maybe you want to be a teacher or accountant or maybe you want to run your own business. There are thousands of options for your life. Only some of them fit into your dreams, but almost all of them require college or career training.

Sometimes dreams for the future aren’t about careers but instead about a standard of living. It’s common to want to live a comfortable life, to have a home, to have a spouse and children, to be able to travel, to have money to do the things you want to do in life. A survey of Oregon high school students a couple of years ago found that most favored careers that tended to be high paying. There’s one crucial thing about careers that are high paying: they almost always require education or training.

High School Matters

If you’re thinking that getting that education is what college is for, and high school doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. The classes you take in high school will make a huge difference in how you do in college. The high school classes you take may even determine whether you graduate from college.

There’s a study put out by The National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education. The report is called “High School Rigor and Good Advice: Setting Up Students to Succeed.” Basically, the study says that the rigor, or difficulty, of classes you take in high school is a strong predictor of whether you succeed in college. In other words, if you challenge yourself in high school, if you take those challenging classes, do the work and master the material, you’re getting ready to succeed in college.

According to the study, there are several factors that increase your chances of staying in college and succeeding in college. Interestingly, the study says the impact of these factors is greatest for students who began high school with below average achievement and below average family income. If you happen to be someone that thinks you have two strikes against you because you haven’t done well in school so far or because your family doesn’t have a lot of money, the research sends a clear message: Work hard. It makes a difference.

High School Factors that Relate to Success in College

If the message is work hard, exactly what does that mean in terms of classes you choose?

The first factor the study identifies is the need to take high-level mathematics. That’s in line with other research that shows the highest level of math in high school can be one of the largest predictors of college success. According to the recent study, students who took pre-calculus or calculus in high school were more likely to stay in college than those who took no high school math beyond Algebra II.

A second factor the study identifies is the need to take Advanced Placement classes in high school. The study says students who take Advanced Placement classes are more likely to stay in college, even if those students do not receive credit on the end-of-course Advance Placement test in high school. It’s not just this one study that makes this point. There’s lots of other research that makes the same point. High school students who take AP courses have a better four-year college graduation rate than students who do not take Advanced Placement classes.

We might as well add in here that 85 percent of selective colleges and universities say a student’s Advanced Placement work in high school will favorably impact their decisions about who to admit. And 31 percent of colleges consider a student’s Advanced Placement classes when making decisions about which students will receive scholarships. In sum, taking Advanced Placement classes has something to do with whether you get into a college you want and whether you get scholarships that make it possible to go. And, logically, research shows that the rigor of AP classes also helps significantly raise a student’s ACT or SAT score. Any way you look at it, choosing to take AP classes makes a difference.

The study identifies a couple of other high school factors that are related to success in college. Students with higher grade point averages in high school were more likely to stay in college, and students who did more homework in high school were more likely to stay in college. To some degree, both those factors have to do with how hard you are willing to work and how much you want your dreams to come true.

Drawing Conclusions

Simply put, high school is where you lay the groundwork for college. This is where you absorb the knowledge and skills you’ll need to succeed in college. Sure, you want to have fun in high school, and you can. But the big picture is that when you leave high school you don’t want to simply be eligible for college. You want to be ready for college. As someone once said, you want to kick college’s butt. What classes you take in high school will play a strong part in whether you can succeed in college. And whether you succeed in college will play a strong part in determining what career you have, how much money you make in life and what you can do in life.

So go ahead. Choose what classes you want to take next year. Just remember: what you choose isn’t just a decision about classes. It’s a decision about your future, achieving your dreams and living the life you want to live.