Experienced Posters II: The Sequel. Help Me Guide My STEM Athlete Kid Through The Next Three Years

You fine people on cc helped me last year when I started asking questions about my kid. It’s time for round two. Looking for advice re: summer activities, and perspective on upcoming course scheduling.

Freshman year is wrapping up in the next couple of weeks at their small CA public school. It’s a non-traditional one with independent study, so there is little class time and mostly self-study. The school’s advantage is course flexibility. Student has completed the following course work to date:

Math: Int. Math 1 Ad; Int. Math 2 Ad; Int. Math 3 Ad; Pre-Calculus Hnrs

Math (community college dual enrollment): Math 150 (Calc w/ Analytic Geo I); Math 151 (Calc w/ Analytic Geo II)

Science: Adv. Biology 1,2; Chemistry Hnrs 1, 2; Physics 1,2

Social Sciences: World History & Geography 1/2 (Renamed Identity & Power Around the World)

English: English 1/2 Cluster

World Languages: French Year 2 (3/4); French Year 3 (5/6); Spanish Year 2 (3/4); Spanish Year 3 (5/6); Spanish Year 4 (7/8)

Next year is tenth grade/sophomore year. Courses include:

-English 3/4
-Phys Ed (final year - course work is not time consuming)
-Art (2 semesters - Visual/Performing Arts graduation requirement)

-AP Spanish (year 5 foreign language)
-AP Physics

-community college dual enrollment Poly Sci courses (semester 1 & 2); completes the Government/Economics Social Studies graduation requirement

-cc/de Linear Algebra, Calculus 3 (semester 1)
-cc/de Discrete Mathematics, Differential Equations (semester 2)

(The cc/de professor from this year is teaching one math course each semester and thinks that the work is do-able for the student, given this year’s performance.)

Thus far, the transcript has all As. The schedule has been accelerated for math, science and foreign languages due to interest, aptitude and willingness to work hard. Frankly, given that school is still remote, doing an extra math/science course this year worked out well. Especially since there were no serious school clubs happening. (If a particular math course would be best repeated at college due to being of a superior quality, no problem. The acceleration is also to free up the college schedule for more targeted electives, or to get a combined degree.)

I have a strong preference for no graded course work during the summer. Partly because the school year is long enough, partly due to a training-heavy summer sports calendar.

Question 1: How many courses can a high school student take on a semester system and still be considered rigorous? The school slots up to 7 classes per semester officially.

For grades 11 and 12 (junior & senior year), are five courses per semester too few? (The courses would be AP or dual-enrollment level. The thinking is: that is a lot of advanced course work; also, sports is one EC that is over 20 hours per week, plus other smaller ECs, and college applications.)

Question 2: The school transcript only shows A (B, C, etc.) grades. Although students get a numeric grade in coursework - As are equivalent to work in the 90 to 100 numeric range - there doesn’t seem to be any +/- on the transcript. Given this, is there any potential future issue if a course ends up being a 92 or 93? Would individual course grades ever come up in a summer program or scholarship application?

Another reason why the schedule has been accelerated is due to sports. The kid has been an athlete in a technical, non-recruitable and unfortunately expensive sport for almost a decade. The last 15 months have been rough, however. Facility closed permanently, all coaching was lost. Major training set-back. So, school was prioritized.

This summer, the plan is to ramp up training again, at an out-of-state facility for most of the break. (The student applied to a competitive STEM camp - 3 weeks full-time virtual/remote experience - but didn’t make the cut.) Training would be in segments most of the day, with further cross-training classes at night. There will be short pockets of time available throughout the day.

Question 3: What could be good ways to pursue STEM interests this summer? Bonus points for cheap/free and remote/self-paced.

Student is interested in building & engineering; would greatly suit a Mech Eng degree (so far, given their interests/aptitudes).

Feedback is appreciated. Thanks for reading.

(Original thread:)


as a student (rising senior) here are my 2 cents.

i’m not familiar with the type of structure that your kid’s school has but is there a minimum number of classes they have to take? and it really depends on if they want to squeeze in more classes before senior year (take a weight off during college apps) if it’s how I suspect it works.

again, sounds like there needs to be some planning. you’re from CA (as am I), are they applying to UC schools? there’s the A-G requirements to keep in mind. also if they want to pursue STEM, will they be able to complete courses like physics or AP chem/bio in time?

it would not. my school does not have +/- and there’s no impact on GPA, nor has the course grade specifically been required. +/- I think has the primary purpose of making a more accurate GPA, nothing more.

there are plenty of online courses and self-taught courses online. summer program deadlines are long past but I think wavelf.org has potential summer courses taught by current college students that could be interesting. afaik they don’t provide course credit though. there are many interesting courses that your child could take.

hope this helps.

edit: changed to gender neutral language since I didn’t realize you posted in gender neutral terms. i apologize for the error.

1 Like

Wow. I’m impressed. Most kids lost their focus during the pandemic, and it seems as if yours just focused harder and accomplished more, academically.

Check to see if your flagship state U, and your nearby engineering schools offer an “intro to engineering” type summer program. In my state, my friend’s kid (who was interested in engineering, and specifically mechanical engineering) did a summer “taste of engineering” program at the flagship state U that was a 5 day course - one day each of 5 different subtypes of engineering. He came out of that saying, “Mechanical is what I want.” The next summer he did a 3 week engineering camp at a 2nd tier engineering school. These summer programs helped him to see that engineering was really the right path for him (not that anyone who knew this robotics-obsessed kid who was downloading manuals and repairing computers and anything mechanical in the house ever since he was eleven years old couldn’t have seen that!) Pre-Covid, I’m sure there would have been something in your state, but now, who knows? On the other hand, he might be able to enroll in such programs anywhere across the country, if they’re being held remotely this summer. My state flagship just cancelled it for this summer, saying that with the availability of vaccines, and the kids’ being fed up with zoom, it just wasn’t healthy to do another zoom program.

It’s normal for a kid to take 5 academics, plus one period for gym/health/lab, plus lunch, plus a study hall. My kids often took another academic, or even two more academics, so no lunch and study hall. But it’s not expected of them; in fact, I had to sign special permission slips for them to take another class in place of lunch.

I have been told not to worry about A minuses - that an A was an A. This was borne out for my son in his acceptances. If the transcript only shows A, then honestly, how is the college to know that the kid got an A minus? Clearly, your kid is working hard and achieving. Don’t stress about low A’s. They’re still A’s.

As for his non-recruitable sport: if he can demonstrate that he worked many hours at it, and shows evidence of high achievement in it, it can at the very least show a college that he is able to focus intently on training for a goal, with the notion that that ability is transferable to academic focus and achievement. But it sounds as if he has hit a roadblock with this sport. Aside from what he can do this summer, how would he continue with it during the school year?

1 Like

SO he’s taken two semesters of CC calc and he’s just finished his freshman year? He’s going to be just fine, don’t worry about it.

1 Like

Completing these courses would (a) use up the math courses available at community colleges, and (b) fulfill the math courses needed for most engineering majors (although some upper division engineering courses are like specialized applied math courses) (see http://www.assist.org for course equivalencies to California public universities).

If the student wants to go further in math out of interest, then taking courses at a four year school would be needed. But also note that more advanced math courses as taken by math majors tend to be proof and theory focused, which not all good-in-math students like (since some go on to major in math-heavy subjects other than math).

Regarding physics, which AP physics?

For engineering majors in California public universities, college calculus-based physics courses tend to give the best credit (see http://www.assist.org ), because even AP physics C may not be considered math-rigorous enough (especially for E&M, which commonly has a corequisite of multivariable calculus in college) to be accepted for engineering majors.

1 Like

Thank you very much for your response, @harrypottereatspie. AP Physics, Bio and Chemistry should be able to be completed. Thanks for the link. Will have my kid check it out.

Also, no need to apologize for anything. I am sorry that you feel you spoke in error, and want you to know that you did not in any way!

The student in question happens to be female and of mixed ancestry. I just don’t feel like that should have any impact on their interests, or place them in some sort of categorization, so that is not focused on in our home.

1 Like

Thanks, @parentologist. School has been remote since March 2020, and due to the school being independent study, class time was pretty limited each week. So the extra work happened to be do-able this year.

We looked into some summer programs: some were expensive, some had deadlines that passed. Because sports training is so spendy, low-cost and convenient options (that work around training) wasn’t a nut we successfully cracked thus far, and here June is. Perhaps next summer. Great to hear that your friend’s kid was able to better identify their interests!

Appreciate the info on As - although the student has high grades, one or two are off, and it’s not really something I want them to stress about.

As for sports training, this summer is a bit make or break. Due to losing 14 months of training time, getting back on track means going out of state to a high-level facility. (It’s a huge honor to get in, and it’s a big deal that they’re willing to take my kid on - they say no a lot.) It either leads to something - or it doesn’t. If it does, the next few years will be training-heavy for future competition. If not, an athlete can test out levels, having experienced top-level coaching, and become a coach themselves to the next generation of athletes. In that regard, attending an out-of-state academy is still a worthwhile prospect. Starting this a year or two from now would be too late.

Gotta love the early peaking of sports - it’s why I’ve been a pit bull about academics not falling behind, and also enjoying hobbies. (Volunteering has been impossible due to competitions being cancelled and social distancing.)

The next challenge is funding a move away from home to train. The long-term costs are beyond our means (I have no shame in saying this, they really are nuts) so now we need to secure private sponsorship if at all possible. We have work to do in that regard.


This text will be hidden

What are the student’s goals with respect to the sport?

1 Like

@Johnny523, @ucbalumnus I’m not worried about math so much as just our family understanding the math progression in this case. AP Calc at school was replaced with the dual-enrollment option that my kid completed this year.

The high school has a limited AP list, so only AP Physics is listed, there are no others for Physics. AP Chemistry and AP Bio will also be on their list of sciences to complete.

My kid doesn’t vibe on the proof and theory side of math, so a math major doesn’t seem to be a draw for them. Looking at the community college web site, some of the other courses in math listed are: Elementary Statistics, Discrete Mathematics, Calc with Analytic Geometry 3, Introduction to Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations.

Their physics courses are: Introductory Physics, General Physics, General Physics 2 (the sequel?), Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, and Waves, Optics and Modern Physics. What would be good ones to pursue after next year’s AP Physics is done?

My private message to you crossed with your latest posting. I get it - sounds as if you are totally on top of it. Hope your kid loves what she’s doing, and takes great joy in it, and also appreciates your efforts to facilitate her participation in this sport.

1 Like

Elementary statistics is a non-calculus-based course at most community colleges, similar in content to AP statistics. An engineering major who needs to take statistics will generally need-calculus-based statistics, so this course is not all that useful for an engineering major.

The other math courses are more advanced than single variable calculus. Discrete math is mainly useful for computer science majors, but the others are typically included in math requirements for engineering majors.

If I had to guess without the course descriptions, the probable courses are:

  • Introductory physics = high school physics which may be a prerequisite to some of the other physics courses.
  • General physics 1 and 2 = physics for biology majors, no calculus or light calculus use. AP physics 1 and 2 are similar in content.
  • Mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and waves, optics and modern physics = calculus (including multivariable calculus) based physics for physics and engineering majors. AP physics C would be a math-light version of the first two courses.

However, you should check the course descriptions, particularly the math prerequisites, in order to determine which is the course intended for physics and engineering majors. You can also check https://www.assist.org to see which courses are accepted for transfer to engineering majors at various UCs and CSUs.

1 Like

Always appreciate your insights, @ucbalumnus. With regards to sports goals, they include: testing out all levels (this takes a few years); competing nationally (has done this but before high school started); competing internationally. Some ongoing long-distance friendships have emerged due to the sport, and past travel for meets was always on a budget but still interesting (eating out at unique indie restaurants, visiting museums/aquariums/zoos).

Depending on training, schooling might have to be re-imagined. Courses were online this past year, but may not remain so for the local community college. The public school is flexible, but math courses are maxed out, and foreign language and physics will be after next year.

The goal was to have only one high school and one community college transcript, to keep things simple. But I don’t know if that will be possible if large chunks of time are spent training elsewhere, and the college requires in-person instruction. Have to research that.

I haven’t thought much about having the student take courses at a four-year school. Not sure how that would work but it looks like they would have to do so. Would have to research that as well.

I’m visual, and am going to try to graph one potential course progression (math/physics) given your feedback. (Knowing that things could change for junior/senior year, and we’d have to research the course descriptions and if said student could get in.)

Grade 10/sophomore
-cc/de Linear Algebra, Calculus 3 (semester 1)
-cc/de Discrete Mathematics, Differential Equations (semester 2)
-AP Physics (semester 1,2)

Grade 11/junior
-math course at a four-year school
-Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism

Grade 12/senior
-math course at a four-year school
-Waves, Optics and Modern Physics

A couple of other outlier students at this school have had accelerated course loads in the past on a STEM path. But I haven’t been able to successfully interact with the school counsellor with regards to my kid’s path (the advice occasionally lacks a nuanced understanding of advanced course progression without skipping).

All the answers posters on this site have given me, and parents on other threads, has been so incredibly useful.

My point is that a kid who is this advanced and this motivated is going to do very well in life so no need to stress about what classes they are taking or which college they end up going to.


@Johnny523 I fully agree with you.

In this situation, the counselling for the most appropriate math path wasn’t able to accommodate the student. When switching schools for Grade 5, the kid was put on a path that didn’t suit them. Since I am not an education expert, it’s been very challenging for me (as a parent) to figure out, each year, what’s appropriate and decently challenging. Thus far, math acceleration has been working out. In fact, the college level courses have been better than the high school ones - more responsive teacher, shorter lessons but more time each week.

We are also seeking merit (CA schools are the most likely options) and juggling a sport that has been all-in and completely off-track the past few years.

These interacting needs don’t sort themselves out. And if a parent is finding this challenging, chances are the kid would as well. So the path is the challenge - the destination determined by it.

What college majors are of interest? Note that math beyond the college sophomore level has a wide range of courses available, and those for math majors tend to be theory and proof focused. Depending on possible college majors (some courses may be in other departments besides math):

Math: proof-based linear algebra, abstract algebra, real analysis, complex analysis, numerical analysis, geometry and topology, number theory, logic, set theory, many others
Statistics or (pre-PhD) economics: calculus-based probability theory and other upper level statistics courses, proof-based linear algebra, real analysis
Physics: real analysis, complex analysis, abstract algebra
Computer science: abstract algebra, number theory, combinatorics, incompleteness and undecidability, cryptography, computer science theory
Engineering: upper level applied math for engineering, ordinary differential equations, partial differential equations, Fourier analysis and signal processing, optimization, calculus-based probability theory

1 Like

@ucbalumnus What majors are of interest? Great question. Currently, the “what do I want to do when I grow up?” interest over the past four years is in eco-friendly vehicle/equipment design. This could change but hasn’t, yet.

So mechanical engineering makes sense. A concentration in machine learning, industrial design…? Would love to hear other suggestions.

No major interest in coding, but another cc parent said their daughter went into engineering without the comp/sci-coding background other classmates had, and had to catch up.

My kid’s high school doesn’t have any computer science courses. What are courses that a prospective engineering major should take in high school, in this case at a community college or online?

A student interested in learning the general ideas about computing but not interested in a CS major (or may want to get an idea of what CS is about before deciding whether to do a CS major) can self study https://cs10.org (self study would not be for credit, which is not really important for this type of course), a college course that was a model for AP CS principles.

Frosh/soph level engineering courses that may be found in community colleges include computing for engineering (typically using MATLAB or similar language), statics or solid mechanics (typically requires physics prerequisite), engineering drawing/drafting/visualization, manufacturing/tolerancing, and materials. However, these may not be the best for determining interest. Project Lead The Way introduction to engineering courses in high schools appear to be more for the purpose of helping student determine how interested they are in engineering.

But note that while having some of the above in high school can be advantageous, many students enter college for engineering majors without them, since the minimum preparation is just readiness for calculus (i.e. completion of precalculus in high school), high school physics and chemistry (not necessarily AP), and readiness for college level English composition.

1 Like

I think your daughter can afford to slow down, honestly. Maxing out on math so early will mean that taking classes at a 4 year college during high school years, will be inevitable, I would think.

One thing I noticed is the absence of computer science, and of course college-level computer science involves a lot of math (as @ucbalumnus noted). I would look for something in the summer, whether a college course or some kind of program, for computer science.

Here is a school we used for online classes (similar situation with a performing art rather than a sport): VHS Learning | VHS Learning

it’s tough when a student gets so far ahead of peers. Between the acceleration and the sport, your daughter is very busy (I have one like this) but if there is any value in broadening beyond academics and the sport, I would encourage that too. Maybe summer could be completely unrelated to either, and involve service, for instance.

Does your daughter want to continue the sport in college? I understand that the broadening I just suggested may be incompatible with the sport. Just a good juncture to question everything I think. If she is still committed, the path is clearer.

1 Like

The lack of computer courses at the school means figuring out appropriate courses either at the community college or outside of school. I just don’t know what types of courses an engineering student should have before getting on campus. Of course, it would depend on the major. What someone needs for ME would most likely be different than those in CompSci or EE.

Math has been going well, and the college courses this year were great - she is remote learning still and some high school teachers were generally MIA, whereas her college instructor was constantly available via a booking system. Frankly, that one professor’s dedication to being available to his students was a lifeline. Of her teachers this year, this was the one that cared above and beyond office hours. Simply by being there to answer questions about the course content.

The sport in question runs largely on volunteering - including international competitions. With the lack of meets this past 15 months, service hours were not there. Also, plans of being a volunteer coaching assistant to to younger athletes have been put on hold due to social distancing. So she did volunteering hours at home using the skills learned via a hobby.

The commitment to the sport is there - but, like most sports, it’ll break your heart. Injuries, pandemics, and other complications mean that keeping school on track is super important because success is achieved by the few. (I was in sport myself until injuries took me out at age 16; luckily, my schooling was solid and I got the degree I wanted at the school I wanted.)

The minimum high school preparation for a frosh engineering major:

  • Math through precalculus (ready for calculus).
  • High school chemistry and physics.
  • English composition to be ready for college level courses that require English writing skills (including engineering courses where one writes lab and project reports).

Obviously, additional courses beyond the minimum can be helpful, but not required:

  • PLTW-type introductory engineering courses can help the student determine interest in engineering.
  • Math: single variable calculus, multivariable calculus, linear algebra, differential equations.
  • General (or AP) chemistry, calculus-based physics (AP physics C may be accepted, but often not).
  • Some experience with computing.
  • Advanced or AP level English composition. Note: some colleges may offer technical or scientific communication courses, which may be more specifically helpful to an engineering major, compared to writing about analysis of fictional literature.
1 Like