“Should my child drop Grade 11 Chemistry?” I’ve heard that question, or some variation of it, dozens of times from the parents of high school students over my thirty-year career as a teacher and administrator. Perhaps your son or daughter is finding a course particularly difficult and wants to exchange it for another, or he or she has decided that science is not the path that they want to pursue. It seems like a relatively simple choice, but decisions like this one can have remarkably profound consequences.

Few things are as painful as watching a child suffer under a difficult workload, trying hard to succeed but coming up short on test after test. It can chip away at one’s confidence and steal precious time and energy from success in other subjects. Perhaps science is simply not his or her thing you say, and so it seems that dropping that course might be the best path forward. But what if in doing so a route to a new and exciting university program is now practically out of reach, or what if he or she enters a program that requires some knowledge of chemistry only to be woefully unprepared for the challenges of the second year of university and must switch degree programs?

Faced with those possibilities, many parents will argue for keeping as many doors open as possible by taking the full range of courses offered. This sounds like a prudent approach, but this decision can often come at a cost as well.  What if this strategy means that the student’s grade point average is so damaged as to prohibit entry to the university of his or her choice, or that the scholarship that was so critical to funding that dream is now out of reach? What if the student’s anguish, and collateral damage to the rest of his or her academic program, is all for nothing when it turns out that this particular course wasn’t needed after all? It’s a challenging dilemma with no simple answer, and it is no exaggeration to say that the consequences could not only affect your child’s self-esteem and joy in the present but could also influence your child’s future for better or worse.

Post-secondary education is very expensive, in terms of dollars spent but also in terms of time and opportunities lost. It’s therefore important to ensure that your son or daughter is pursuing the most fulfilling and productive path. There is no success to be found in achieving a degree in a subject that doesn’t interest you or pursuing a career that gives you no joy. So it’s important that students understand both their intrinsic interests and strengths to make sure that the path ahead is a joyous and meaningful one.

That is why the planning for your child’s educational path and potential career should begin as early as the entry into high school and be continually assessed and updated as those years pass. The road to a fulfilling career and a satisfying life can be a winding one, but it shouldn’t be decided by neglect or chance, and it shouldn’t be limited by past decisions that were uninformed.

As an adult, I have a personalized retirement plan that is continually updated and reviewed by a professional to ensure that my years in retirement will be rewarding and full of the things that I love doing.  My advisor asks the critical questions that I should be addressing, assesses my needs and desires, and charts a course that will maximize my chances of success. Why wouldn’t we have that same sort of approach for our children in the critical years of secondary and post-secondary education?

There is no reason that we can’t be identifying and then taking advantage of each student’s unique strengths while mitigating their vulnerabilities to ensure their success throughout the high school years and beyond. There’s no reason that we can’t assess their interests before they are a high school senior so that we can provide the best advice each year as they select courses and programs. There’s no reason that each student shouldn’t have what I have with my financial planner, an individualized strategy for success.

If we allow young women and men to flounder around hoping to land on the right combination of courses and programs, we may inadvertently limit the potential in each of them and affect their best chances at fulfillment in the years ahead. 


Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette can help.  Learn more about our Student and Parent Advisory Service.