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“Either run the day or the day runs you.” | A Yale Student's Advice on High School Courses

Updated: May 24, 2022

We had a great opportunity of interviewing KX and asked him some advice on: High School Courses

  • an alum of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

  • a musician, composer, and pianist

Here are some main points he stresses:

  • "Time is elastic. That is why it is important to give yourself deadlines."

  • "Work first, play later. But don’t forget to play later."

  • "Be proactive. Plan alternatives, and choose the second-best option."

Q: If you scored in the top 5% how did you manage to balance all the coursework and load?

A: Time is elastic. This is called Parkinson’s Law. The more time you have on something, the more you slack off, and your productivity is automatically lower. The same exact work can take from an hour to 10+ hours depending on how much time you are given. That is why it is important to give yourself deadlines. “I must finish this in the next hour.” Time yourself with an actual timer. Break down large assignments into smaller ones so you feel a sense of accomplishment every time you complete a section. Work first, play later. But don’t forget to play later.

Q: When did you complete your homework/study (during classes, on the bus, at work, at home, etc.)?

A: Whenever I write an assignment down in my planner, I take note of how long it will probably take. For example, during the carpool ride back home, I can do two 15-minute assignments. Most of my homework is done at home. I sometimes do homework during class. The pro of doing homework in class is that you can get a surprisingly decent amount of work knocked off your planner. The con is that you may get caught by your teacher and be subject to the teacher’s unconscious biases toward you for the future. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Q: Did you skip any classes to get a course that was more challenging and looked good for colleges?

A: Yes, because it happened to be that these classes that were more challenging and looked good for colleges were also really interesting. The word “challenging” frequently takes on a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Unfortunately, in the current meta of college admissions, things such as course load, GPA, and standardized test scores matter a bit too much, I think. Taking demanding courses is a fairly consistent way of increasing the chances of getting accepted by a college, but it is by no means the most meaningful way or the path of least resistance.

Q: Did you use a planner, online organization app, reminders of IOS devices? If so, which ones?

A: I used a notebook planner, mainly because I can conveniently pull it out anytime. It was a regular notebook that I converted into a planner. What matters more than what planner you use is how you plan things out. Plan things out in the long-term, not just in the brief span of a week.

Q: Is considering the teacher that teaches a course important when making selections?

A: YES. How much you enjoy a course has virtually nothing to do with the curriculum itself; it has pretty much everything to do with how it’s being taught. Do not waste 50+ hours of life taking something demotivating when you can take something interesting such as Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course.

Q: If you did not get your top choice classes, how did you deal with that? Did you request course changes, create a new plan, etc.?

A: Plan alternatives, and choose the second-best option. Talk it through with your counselor, and if that doesn’t work, move on. It is important not to complain about things that are outside of your control. According to Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Proactive people… work on the things they can do something about… Reactive people, on the other hand… focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control.”

Q: What AP classes helped your 4 years in high school the most, and which ones helped your essay (AP Seminar, AP Research, etc.)?

A: AP English Lang, APUSH, and AP Psych. However, it had 99% to do with the teacher rather than the course itself. Take classes that are taught well.

Q: Do you think that you benefited more from your AP classes or from your extracurricular activities?

A: They helped me develop in different ways. AP Psych taught me that my thinking, which I frequently take for granted, is in fact flawed in many ways; it was a humbling and mind-opening experience. APUSH taught me not only history, but the historian’s mindset of corroborating sources and seeking the truth, which proves to be of utmost important in today’s day and age. AP English Lang made me enjoy writing. My extracurricular activities taught me a lot in terms of how to be a better leader and how to step outside of my comfort zone.

Q: Which AP classes do you think did not benefit you score-wise and knowledge-wise?

A: Knowledge-wise, I think it is too early to say if a class didn’t benefit me. The classes I do not mention in the next question are those that didn’t benefit me score-wise.

Q: How did you efficiently manage your time to prepare for the AP tests?

A: The primary purpose of learning something in high school is to make it easier to relearn when you actually need it in the future. Let’s be realistic: by the time there are weeks before the AP tests, we mostly focus on cramming, not on remembering. If you want to cram days before the test (like I did), cram everything one or two days before the test. Rest assured, you will forget everything right after the test. If you want to remember everything, disperse your studying time throughout the year instead of cramming everything a few days before the test.

Q: Which AP classes are accepted as credit by the college that you attended?

A: AP Calculus BC, AP Chinese, AP English Lang, AP English Lit, AP Psychology.

Q: How did you do in AP courses qualitatively and quantitatively?

A: Score of 5 on 15 tests.


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