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Looking at the potential pitfalls of 9th grade course selection

Katie ’24 Staff Illustrator

Each May, a new batch of incoming 9th graders embarks on the treacherous journey that is Marlborough course selection. Hailing from a wide variety of schools across Los Angeles, or sometimes even across the world, these new students will meet with members of the Marlborough administration to choose their classes for their first year. However, coming from academic environments that might be less rigorous or cover different material than Marlborough, students are typically advised by the administration to take on a less challenging course load in order to prevent academic struggle alongside their potentially stressful transition to a new school. In contrast, students who joined the school before the 9th grade are typically given the opposite advice. Where new 9th graders are told to be cautious, returning students are oftentimes counselled to take more risks on Honors-level classes and then later drop these classes if they feel over challenged. 

“The worst case scenario for a student coming into a new school is to struggle academically,” Director of Middle School Sean Fitts said. “We do not want that, because if they’re struggling academically that’s going to impact everything … we don’t want them to feel overwhelmed at the same time that they’re trying to adjust to a new school, so it’s better to be underchallenged a little bit at first.”

Although the administration evidently has the best interests of new students in mind, some new 9th graders nonetheless regret the class choices they made due to the larger impacts that these decisions can have on their grade-point average (GPA). Oftentimes, and especially when Upper School students begin the college process, students can feel that the decisions they made in 9th grade have possibly made them less competitive candidates in comparison to students who were advised to take a more challenging course load from the beginning of their high school careers. Students have expressed frustration over this fact, as many feel as though they could have challenged themselves more had they been encouraged to do so. 

“The process was not clear enough for me to understand that my decisions made in my course selection [for] 9th grade would affect my overall GPA, which could affect a lot of things in consequence,” Lana ‘24 said. “As an … 8th grader, I was not ready to make decisions that would ultimately impact my entire college admissions process and maybe even my life.”

Because this complaint surfaces year after year, we believe that it is imperative for new students to be as informed as possible about the classes they are signing up for and the effects that these decisions can have on their transcripts. One possible way to give students an increased understanding of the workload that they are taking on could be to provide opportunities for communication between new students and students who are currently taking 9th grade Honors classes (particularly, those who were new 9th graders themselves). This could help new 9th graders gain a perspective on the difference between Honors and regular courses from students who have insight into the actual experience of taking these courses while also managing other commitments and transitioning to a new school. 

Ultimately, although this is a complex issue, the motivations of the administration and new ninth graders are fundamentally the same: both want to facilitate a smooth transition to a new school while also encouraging students to take full advantage of Marlborough’s extensive academic opportunities. We believe that connecting new ninth graders with returning students could improve this transition and make the process easier for both students and the administration. 

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