Editorial: More Than Just a Number

Making the argument for electives

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With college at the forefront of many high schoolers’ minds, it’s not surprising that students want to maximize their scores on everything—including their GPAs. Sometimes, though, getting the highest GPA can mean avoiding classes that aren’t honors or AP and, consequently, are only graded on a 4.0 scale. Technically, even if a student got a perfect score on every assignment in one of these classes, the end result could be a lower GPA than if the student had simply taken a study hall.

Students’ concerns over numbers may lead them to refrain from taking or even to drop electives graded on a 4.0 scale… but should they? There are many reasons that students may want to give these electives a chance. First, these electives often offer valuable opportunities for students. Western has a unique breadth of classes, with offerings ranging from Creative Writing to Women’s Studies to Audio Production. All of these electives are geared toward helping students develop skills and learn material that won’t be covered in their other classes.

These classes can help students explore their interests and identify passions. “Where else are students going to get the opportunity to explore these kinds of things other than high school, you know, this may be their last shot to try and do that before they go out into the big bad world,” said Amy Wright, Western’s Counseling Director.

Wright also stressed the importance of taking electives for enjoyment. “I think students think that they’ve got to go above and beyond, sometimes beyond what they’re really capable of doing. What is an elective do it gives you a period in the day that should be something that you’re enjoying, as opposed to having to do because it’s required. It should give you an opportunity to kind of chill out and relax a little bit. And hopefully, it gives you some skills.”

 

Additionally, though electives can bring down weighted GPAs, a student’s weighted GPA is far from the only thing that colleges look at. Gifted Resource Teacher Zoe Padron said, “At Western in particular, students are really worried about the fact that their GPA can be lowered by taking unweighted classes, and that is a fear that I think is really short sighted because we spend too much time worrying about what our GPA is what that number looks like. And the reality is that most colleges will recalculate your GPA out of four point scale anyway.”

When colleges do look at weighted GPAs, they mostly use them to see how many AP classes a student took. A school transcript can do the same thing. If two students have the same number of APs, colleges will be able to tell, even if one student’s GPA is lower because of electives. The college would most likely favor the student with more electives, as most high-level colleges appreciate students who challenge themselves with full, high-level course loads.

Electives can also showcase skills that colleges value. “Perseverance, creativity, flexibility, responsibility, commitment, all of those kinds of things that make you successful in college collaborative work,” said Padron. “Teamwork, the ability to take directions, the ability to work independently of these are all things that you have to have to be successful in the school play, in the band, on a build crew, doing architectural drawing, these are all the kinds of things that colleges want to be sure that their students have.”

Additionally, foregoing electives because of GPA may hurt students’ overall applications in other ways. Padron said, “At Western, we struggle to get kids into the very top tier schools, and one of the reasons we do that is that our students don’t take electives. The most elite schools want students who have deep commitments to things that they are truly interested in and passionate about.”

The college application process is notoriously competitive, and the electives a student takes throughout high school can distinguish them from others. Many colleges’ favorite thing to see in a student is a pursued passion. “Colleges like to see strings of things: band 1234, choir 1234, photography 1234, whatever. They like to see the strings,” said Ms. Wright.

Padron agreed that schools liked to see electives on a student’s transcript. “Yes, they want you to take a rigorous course load, yes, they want you to challenge yourself. But one of the things that colleges are interested in, in terms of what challenges you is are you taking courses outside of the core courses that challenge you? And those courses would include things like, are you challenging yourself with computer science courses? Are you challenging yourself in art classes? Are you challenging yourself as a musician?”

Furthermore, there’s a very low chance that electives will lower a school’s opinion of you. Padron said,“I don’t know a single college that would penalize a student for taking electives. You know, even even the schools that are, you know, super academically focused and, and those would be schools like, say, Caltech or an MIT, they want students who have art backgrounds, they want students who have design backgrounds, they want students with high levels of creativity.”

That’s not to say students need to artificially develop a passion for themselves, but it does mean that students who have passions should pursue them. An elective class in a pursued subject area can fit well into the passion narrative that the most successful applicants build.

Overall, electives are great opportunities for students, whether they’re just for fun or a long-term pursuit. Though taking them may seem like a risky move in terms of GPA, students should take into account the other benefits they possess and consider doing it anyways.

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