What science course should you choose?

Written on behalf of the Gunn Science Department

At this time of year, I am fielding a LOT of questions from both students and parents regarding which science course their student should choose for the next school year. “College prep, honors or AP?” “Should/could I take more than one science class? More than two?” “I would like to be [an engineer / a doctor / an astronaut / a drama teacher / a vintner]. What classes should I take to help me achieve that goal?”

I usually end up answering these questions with more questions:

  • What classes have you taken so far?
  • How comfortable are you with the level of math required for the course?
  • What do you do outside of school? And what is that time commitment?
  • Is this your only “stretch” course or are you planning to try multiple courses that could push your learning?

I don’t answer the question about which courses will help students meet their career goals, because, frankly, the courses you take in high school don’t really prepare you for the coursework you will have to take in college if you wish to meet those goals. The best part of high school is that you have a LOT of options for taking many different courses, not just science courses. You really should take courses that you think you would enjoy, or even those that you are just curious about. This is the time to do that. It is likely that if you enjoy the course, you will do well. But that isn’t a promise.

Sometimes you may really enjoy a course because it challenges you in ways you have never been challenged before. It is in that type of course, that “stretch” course, where you are pushing the limits of your previous modes of learning and discovering new things about yourself—new ways that you need to adjust previous modes to accommodate this higher level of learning. This push often comes with a price: “failure” and time.

“Failure” isn’t failing. It’s the act of not learning something to the level you expected of yourself the first time you try it. “Failure” is getting “it” wrong, but realizing that it won’t be wrong forever. It’s that time when you were learning to ride a bike and you fell (a lot…) and got bruised and bloodied, but you didn’t give up. You put on some Band-Aids®, got back on the bike, and tried again and again until you got it. Perseverance and resilience grow out of failure.

Time is a BIG factor when you make your decision. Our honors courses are at a high level of rigor, as they have always been. They contain less content than they have in the past as we transition to incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards. Time, on the other hand, has always been a factor. The honors classes take more of your out-of-class time, since you are learning at a deeper level and keeping pace with the college-prep classes. We post the expected time commitment outside of class in the course catalog, as all the departments do. You should definitely look at those expected homework hours for all the classes you intend to take in order to not overcommit yourself in your course load.

As you may have noticed by now, I have not actually told you how to choose a science course for next year. In the end, the decision is yours. If others in your life (parents, friends, siblings) try to convince you to do something you are not comfortable with or interested in, let them know why you are making the choices you are making. Advocate for yourself and your well-being. I truly hope you will be heard.

When you leave us and go on to “beyond Gunn,” the best thing we could have helped you to learn about yourself is how you learn what helps you to understand new things, how can you reach out when you are “stuck” and need someone to hold the back of your seat until you can pedal on your own. We can help you learn to be confident in your ability to learn (yes, every single one of you). Even if you don’t learn the same way your best friend does, you are capable of learning and you will succeed.