Ridgewood High School’s “Tradition of Excellence” boasts a plethora of course options. We know this can seem like a blessing and a curse. Take it from us, we’ve had to choose from the seemingly endless RHS course catalog four times now. As seniors, our time at RHS is slowly (but also very quickly?) coming to a close. With the time we have left as students here and as editors for the High Times, we want to give a gift to our future successors just in time for class selection season. While there are firm rules in place regarding what classes a student is ultimately allowed to take, we hope our advice helps you approach that blue Skyward screen with a little bit more confidence.
If you have any questions feel free to reach out to us!
College/Major: University of Toronto, Humanities
Background: DECA, AMSTUD, Ridgewood Crew, club ExCELL, RHS Ambassadors, High Times
Topic(s): Business Electives
For most of my freshman year, I dreaded fulfilling my business requirement. As someone who thrives off of discussion and group projects, I held the firm belief that taking a business class meant I would spend my year aimlessly crunching numbers. As soon as I stepped into room 139, I was quickly proved wrong. To start, Mr. Kase (Entrepreneurship, Merchandising & Marketing), Mrs. Mendez (Marketing), and Mr. Murtha (Accounting, Stock Market), are all phenomenal teachers. They welcome you with open arms and are great people to look towards for guidance. I’ve taken almost all of Kase’s and Mendez’s classes but I highly recommend Entrepreneurship. It’s a great class to get out of your comfort zone and begin your high school career! Kase is super welcoming and pushes you to be active. There is no hiding in that class. For upperclassmen looking for an honors elective, Advanced Marketing is a great choice. There’s little to no homework (as long as you get your classwork done) and the class is perfect for DECA success. The skills that you learn from the business department will last you a lifetime (For example, under Murtha’s guidance, I’ve learned how to manage the school store). The people I have met and the relationships I’ve built with Kase, Mendez and Murtha have defined my high school experience. Without them, I would not be the person I am today. Keep an open mind and take a chance! I promise you won’t regret it.
College/Major: University of Richmond, Leadership Studies
Background: AMSTUD, DECA, Soccer, High Times, Peer Counselor
Topic(s): American Studies
I have been lucky to have had many meaningful academic experiences over the past four years, but American Studies will always stand out to me as the clear favorite. In room 248, you will find far more than a challenging curriculum and a line on a college transcript. Through AMSTUD, I was taught how to think critically, how to question the myths we are told about our history and this world, and what academic growth feels like. In truth, growth of any kind is painful, but there is no other group of people or teachers I would have rather accompanied me through this journey. As I’m sure many of you know by now, AMSTUD is a two year selective program integrating the study of English and History. Ms. Hans (English teacher) often describes her class with the term “microhistory”, and this is a word I still think of frequently. As a result of my two years as her student, I am constantly wondering what it felt like to be living through the major historical events we often try to simplify with statistics or names of battles. Ms. Riordan (History teacher) shows up to class each day with a full lesson plan, eager to engage every one of her students in discussion and debate, with the end goal of an experience far greater than getting an A on a test. In my opinion, American Studies does require a love of history and a willingness to work hard, but along with the intensity comes a community of people who made my high school experience everything that it was.
College/Major: Undecided, Political Science/International Relations
Background: RHS Democrats, High Times, Band, ALPS
Topic(s): Band & Social Studies Electives
No matter what year you’re going into, no matter what your current interests are, there is no “correct” way to be a student at Ridgewood High School. Part of the beauty of this school and its inspiring, strong community is the fact that such a diversity of students all come together under the same banner. Before I delve into some of my personal, specific aspects of my four years at RHS, I want to offer that making decisions which afford balance—between interest, challenge, inner confidence, and a sense of inner peace—are the most engaging, and ultimately the most rewarding. That truth extends far beyond your schedule.
As you age and become a junior and senior, your interests may become more clear, and they may not. For me, sophomore year is when I felt a visceral connection with social science, happy to immerse myself in AP US History for hours after the bell rang. Alongside that, sophomore year is when I began to connect more personally with my educators and peers, taking the time to hang out after class, talk, enjoy, relax. All of that retroactively enhanced the in-class experience. Carrying that academic passion with me, I decided for senior year to take two social science classes, AP Human Geography and AP American Government. Because I have an interest in this specific area, these classes have given me that rewarding feeling of studying something I love. While you don’t need to actively hunt for your interests or your niche (they will probably come to you regardless), you should consider which subjects and which classes you’ve enjoyed the most, not just for the kids, not just for the teacher, but for the actual heart of what you’re learning. Into junior and senior year, when you have more control over your schedule, it’s an amazing feeling signing up for classes you have a passion for that in turn reward you in a plethora of ways.
That amazing feeling has also motivated my decision to stick with band. Outside of the classroom, I do enjoy music and I do enjoy performing, so dropping band hasn’t really been a question for me. For those of you interested in continuing with music, there are easy ways to get your finance requirements done, like a summer finance class, and there is plenty of room in a perhaps packed schedule to chill out with some other kids and play some music.
It’s never a race to figure out your interests, or figure out your community, carving out some kind of niche within the school community, but once you do have a greater sense of that groundedness in what you’re looking to participate in and ultimately achieve, the rest will follow—and the more you can meaningfully engage with your peers and teachers, the more fun you will have. That is how your time in the high school will be rewarding.
College/Major: Undecided, Political Science
Background: DECA, Chinese Club, High Times
Chinese can seem pretty intimidating at first glance, and it is if you don’t have proper guidance. But if you feel like Spanish or French aren’t really your thing, I can’t recommend taking Chinese enough. There are a good amount of people who give up the first few weeks of class and drop out, but there is a learning curve. Once you understand how the quizzes and tests work, you’re pretty much golden. I’ve taken Chinese all four years of high school, and am currently in Chinese IV Honors. It does get more challenging like every other language, but it’s building upon a solid foundation. Mrs. Lee, who teaches the course, is also one of the best teachers I have ever had.
College/Major: Undecided, Finance/or Economics B.S.
Background: Ridgewood Girls Tennis, Tennis Instructor, High Times, RHS Ambassador
Topic(s): AP Art History & Latin
Throughout my life I was never someone who ever appreciated or understood art and its cultural significance. I remember visiting various art museums with my father and although he tried to explain to me the details and aspects of different pieces by artists like Van Gogh and Picasso, I never understood why people loved art so much. So as I got older I drifted away from trying to learn about art and focused on other subjects like math and science. It was not until Junior year that I was intrigued by art. One day, my friend in English class told me about an assignment she was doing for her AP Art History class. She was describing to me about how her class went to the MET and explored the different sections and how her task was to choose a piece and present about it. She asked if I would listen to her practice and as she described the parts of the artwork and the significance it had during its time period and how influential it was for people I started to change my outlook on art. My friend and I decided to sign up for AP Art History mostly to gain some AP credit, but quickly I learned to love art and began to comprehend why people adored paintings and sculptures so much. Whereas before I would see a column on a building and overlook its details, now I am able to pinpoint different structural detailing and its significance. For underclassmen, I would highly recommend taking AP Art History, not only because you will be able to take an AP course but also the knowledge you will gain from the class will stay with you throughout your life. You’ll be surprised how many conversations you’ll be able to have with people of all ages and backgrounds and how you will be able to appreciate the art around you.
The stigma around Latin is that it’s simply a “dead language” and “useless in everyday life”, and for the most part, those criticisms are correct. There is no modern country or city that speaks fluent Latin and it would be very hard to find a use for Latin outside of the classroom. However, the many overlooked aspects of Latin is the deeper understanding of the history behind the language and how it became a base for essentially all other romance languages. Additionally, taking latin opens you up to a world of history and mythology that pretty much no other language offers. Both Latin teachers, Dr. Lucci and Mrs. Gigante, are well-educated professionals who have dedicated their lives to making a so-called “dead language” alive and fun for students. In terms of workload and tests/quizzes a majority of your time in Latin will be pretty manageable, and I found the class to be relatively easy to handle on top of other classes. What I loved most about Latin was the connection I made with my classmates for all three years I took the class at the high school. I was able to bond and grow closer with students I would have never befriended outside of the classroom, and we came together over a shared love for something rare and interesting. Yes, you may never use Latin outside of school, but you’d be surprised how your knowledge comes in handy for places like art museums or even vocab or subject matter in other classes. The reason I would suggest underclassmen take Latin in high school is that it became a stress free environment for me and my classmates, and unlike other classes where projects, tests, and quizzes dominate your mind. Latin was a space where you could relax and connect with other kids without feeling pressured to master the language. Latin is so much more than just a language, it is a cultural masterpiece that encompasses the beginning of civilization and the creation of art and literature that would pave the way for other cultures and languages.
College/Major: Cornell University, Government
Background: Student Government, RHS Democrats, High Times, DECA, Model UN
Topic(s): AP US History
The social studies department at RHS is a real gem. Although many RHS students flock to the maths and sciences, I have found it most academically and personally fulfilling to explore the huge myriad of opportunities in the social studies department. Over my four years at RHS I have had the pleasure of taking seven courses in the social studies department. I can not pick favorites because all seven courses offered a multitude of insights. That said, Mr. LaFemina’s AP U.S. History course allowed me to discover my passions in politics and history and sharpened my critical thinking and writing skills during the two years I was enrolled in it. It is a fairly difficult course, but the knowledge and nuanced frame of analysis I gained from it is invaluable. Additionally, Mr. LaFemina is an interesting teacher who is deeply passionate and very sharp. He thrives on sharing a deep understanding of the world with his students. Nevertheless, he also derives a lot of satisfaction from changing his own beliefs due to points brought up by his students. In addition, I would certainly recommend taking AP Human Geography with Mr. Appel, one of the most talented and creative educators in the building. There are many courses that I did not mention which are certainly worth taking, but AP Human Geography with Mr. Appel and AP United States History with Mr. LaFemina are the two courses that have fundamentally affected my understanding of the world the most.
College/Major: Undecided, Psychology
Background: Swim Team, High Times, RHS Ambassador
Topic(s): AP Psychology
One of my favorite classes I’ve taken at my time at RHS is definitely AP Psychology. Personally, I find the study of human behavior and cognition fascinating, and it’s why I want to study it in college. But the truth is, you don’t have to be an aspiring psychologist to take this class. Psychology explains how we interact and function, and this course covers so many topics that touch upon a lot of relevant areas in our daily lives. So even if your area of interest has nothing to do with Psychology, like business learning the foundational elements of how our minds work can still easily enhance your understanding of those topics. For example, a lesson about how marketing tactics persuade consumers could be very valuable to a person interested in that field. As far as the class itself, it’s definitely fast-paced because it is an AP level course and it involves A LOT of note-taking. But, I truly believe that the things you get out of this class are worth the time and effort, and I encourage everyone to take it!
College/Major: Undecided, Environmental Studies/Undecided
Background: Soccer, ALPS, High Times, Girls Who Code
Topic(s): AP Human Geography, Lit & Film H
I am certainly not one to have bias towards any specific core class: one day I might enjoy math and another I’ll find particular interest in English. I was never floored by any one class I took until I decided to take AP Human Geography my junior year. For someone like me, I found the broad approach that Mr. Appel took the class incredibly intriguing. It spans from discussing topics such as the Von Thunen Agricultural Model and how our agriculture systems work to debating how to peacefully divide the Middle East with your classmates. Mr. Appel is possibly one of the two teachers I’ve had at RHS who seems as though they have both a thorough understanding of the topics at hand and also really enjoy teaching it. I recommend Human Geo to almost all of my friends and have yet to receive a complaint. It’s truly the one decision I made that I have no regrets about, and it definitely helped guide me during the college application process. I truly had no idea what I wanted to study but this class helped me discover a new appreciation for environmental science and agricultural issues, and it seemed like the perfect major seen as I love nature already. I took one AP class my junior year, and three my senior year and it seems to be the perfect balance. It can definitely be intimidating signing up for an AP course but understand that a lot of them are of varying difficulty and some are much easier than others. I’d also suggest adding a few classes that you know are going to be easy your senior year — you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have an immense workload during college application season or if you work a lot of hours like me. If you’re looking for an easy English class, I take Lit & Film H and it’s really enjoyable — especially since we just watch movies/film for all our assignments and classwork. All in all, just remember that you don’t need to pack your schedule with lots of difficult classes for the sake of your mental stability and the fact that your GPA is the chief reference point for colleges and you don’t want to be looked over.
College/Major: Undecided, Biology/Economics
Background: Model UN, Finance Club, Cross Country, Debate, Applied Engineering Club
Topic(s): Advanced Math
I really appreciate the education the RHS has provided me, and I’ve tried my best to take the most rigorous coursework possible throughout my four years here. I think one of the more unique aspects of my course load was that I took the highest math track throughout high school: Algebra II Honors as a freshman, Math Analysis as a sophomore, Calc AB as a junior, and Calc CD as a senior. Many students may tell you that taking high-level math is a bad idea, and, yes, it can be difficult. However, I think that these courses have helped prepare me for Calculus in college, reframed the way I think about math and the world around me, and have been useful in Physics classes at RHS. Math Analysis is just another name for Honors Precalculus, and (as I’ve heard many people say) one of the hardest math classes at RHS. It personally helped me develop strong study habits and prepared me well for the math courses to come. Both Calc AB and CD are taught by Mr. Turkington (Turk), who prides himself on getting high AP scores and has thoroughly planned notes and for students to follow along with. He really cares about his students doing well, and he provides plenty of resources to help them study on turksmathstuff.com and turksvids on Youtube. Practically every student gets a 5 the AP exam, a testament to the depth and comprehensiveness of the lessons. We get through so much content that we even go past the confines of the AP curriculum. Since it is work-intensive, the class becomes a community of sorts, with study sessions and problem sets in Period 9. I would highly recommend upper-level math classes to anyone who is interested (and has a teacher recommendation!) and willing to put in the time and effort to study for the quizzes.
College/Major: University of Miami, Undecided B.S.
Background: Orchestra, Tennis, High Times, Astronomy Club, Project Interact
Topic(s): Spanish & Computer Science
I entered Spanish 2 Advanced as a freshman, and then Spanish 3 Honors the following year. Spanish was one of my favorite classes in middle school and also one I was best at. So when I got to high school and my A’s turned into B’s, C’s and D’s, I was very disappointed in myself, and also confused. This class that I used to excel in turned into the most stressful hour of my day. I lived at period nine and even got a tutor my sophomore year. This definitely helped, but I noticed when it came putting what I learned into play during tests, the rules of the language would not gel in my head. The paragraphs I wrote read like a form of gibberish in Spanish.
When it came time to choose our courses for junior year, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I belonged in a CP level Spanish class as opposed to honors, especially as the difficulty increased. But, I’d be relearning some material because the curriculum is not built for a student to jump between honors and CP classes. I also didn’t think colleges would be too fond of me dropping down levels like that. I was told that you never want colleges to question anything on your profile, and this would probably create a question. I also realized that there are so many other classes that I can’t take because my schedule was taken up with Orchestra and Spanish, and I really wanted to explore other topics. The signs were pointing to just dropping Spanish and replacing it with another elective: something I had a better chance at succeeding in, and could maybe discover a passion for.
I told you this story to prove that the same path is not perfect for every student. Taking four years of a language is recommended, but only do it if you think it’s right for you. I knew when I moved to the next level, I would struggle and it would cause me immense stress. I also think having four consecutive years of Orchestra, as well as filling Spanish with two years of computer science showed colleges that I was still driven and had subjects I was focused on, even if Spanish wasn’t one of them. I think it’s important to learn other languages, and plan to give Spanish another go in college, but don’t think it’s mandatory to have a chance at a competitive college. My advice is see if you can stick it out for three years, but if you want to fill your time with a subject you care more about or some other obstacle gets in the way, don’t feel bad about dropping your language. A bonus tip is to really demonstrate to colleges other things you’re passionate about through different classes you fill your schedule with, extracurriculars, and essays.
I knew very little about Computer Science when I entered Computer Science Principles my junior year. My only experience was a few Girls Who Code meetings, and thought it would be cool to learn more about how all of this technology around us works. When I brought this up with my dad, he completely supported the idea and went on about how computer science basically runs our entire world, and is becoming even more prevalent every day. Being in my second year of CS and knowing how to write code to make things move and print statements, I know exactly what he means. I really recommend that everyone tries computer science at some point, just to get a basic understanding of how these devices we use everyday operate. If you’re scared of it being too hard, I understand because I’m definitely not the best at if myself, but Mr. Van Hise and Mrs. Richardson are excellent teachers that can break things down for you and help you with projects for as long as you need. CS is not as bad as you think, and anyone can learn it. Computer Science was very hard for me in the beginning because I was literally being introduced to a new language, but it got easier everyday. It’s like learning how to play a new sport: Once you get the basics down, it’s just building up skills from there.
If computer science is a topic that you’re interested in, I’d recommend seeing how it can fit into your schedule as early on as possible, because the offered pathways are a little confusing. Different courses have specific prerequisites, and you may have to build your way up to a course you want to take.
College/Major: United States Military Academy at West Point
Background: Ridgewood Girls Tennis, High Times, Peer counseling, Wind Ensemble, RHS Debate
Topic(s): AP Economics & Math
I have taken band and Spanish for all four years of high school. These courses on top of my core classes and wellness didn’t allow for any room in my schedule for a business/finance course, which is a requirement to graduate. When selecting my senior year classes, I had to pick a finance course for my history elective because this is the only spot that had eligible courses. I decided to take AP Economics (Micro/Macro). After having completed half of the year, I can say I am very happy with my choice. I would recommend Econ to students who are interested in learning more about the intricate workings of the United States’ economy as well as the interconnected global nature of economics. The class moves fairly quickly and quizzes and tests are frequent, which are challenges to consider.
As far as math goes, I can’t stress enough the importance of following your teacher’s recommendation. Our school’s math department is very rigorous and it’s very important to trust the recommendation of your teacher. Otherwise, there is a good chance you will end up with a grade you are unhappy with and an overall stressful experience.
Advice To Rising Sophomores:
Allison: Contrary to what a lot of upperclassmen say about sophomore year, I found it to be the most difficult year for me academically. I think for most people, sophomore year is the “easiest” year in high school. You’re not a total stranger to the school and you’ve had some time to discover the activities and clubs in school. I realize now that there was too much of a jump in the difficulty of my classes from freshman to sophomore year. My advice to rising sophomores is to take it slow. Don’t jump at the chance to crowd your schedule with every honors class available just because you think it will make your transcript look nice. Your grades matter every year of high school, so be smart and think about how much effort you’re willing to put into your classes. Oh, and if your teachers recommend you to a certain class, listen to them! The best piece of advice I have to anyone trying to decide what classes to take is this: be realistic. Think realistically about what your goals are and if you genuinely want to take the class. I’m definitely guilty of being overzealous with my course load and choosing whatever class had “Honors” or “AP” in front of it. In the end, the subjects I was genuinely interested in were the ones I had the best grades in.
Advice to Rising Juniors:
Caroline: Junior year is frequently coined as the most challenging year in high school, but it is also far more than that. Academically, I felt like I had finally found a rhythm and had solid routines down. I knew where I was most productive, what would calm me down when I was overwhelmed with work, and which teachers to go to when I needed advice. I found my footing in my extracurriculars, and felt myself growing into leadership roles in many of my activities. I am listing these examples as a reminder that many, many good things can come out of challenge. If I could go back and tell my junior year self one thing, it would be to trust myself more, so I will tell you all that now! You know what you’re doing! Each year is an adjustment yes, but you are prepared for it. I strongly recommend that if you are taking challenging classes, or immersing yourself into many activities, they be things you genuinely love. One day I was scared I didn’t look “interesting enough” on my college application (I know, silly concern) and one of my friends said something to me that I will never forget. She said, “what makes someone interesting is being interested”. Passion and genuine interest shine through above all else on a resume, and more than that, they make for a meaningful life. In a year where academic stats and superficial roles are talked about frequently, remember that none of that matters more than creating a life that you genuinely like.
Advice to Rising Seniors:
Sofia: Although junior year is notorious for being the most difficult year of high school, senior year comes with its own challenges. The first few months of school are filled with hours spent on the Common App website and writing and rewriting essays. This process is difficult, but find comfort in the fact that all of your peers, classmates, and friends are going through the same exact thing. It is crucial to remain true to yourself. Do not let anyone tell you who you are. Colleges can smell inauthenticity from a mile away (you won’t want to be writing essays about things you don’t care about). It’s hard to believe but there truly is no secret formula to getting into college. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this process, it’s that fact that admission goes far beyond a perfect test score or a 4.0 GPA. Everyone’s situation is different. These are lessons easier to understand in retrospect of course, but having been through the experience, we know now that we are more than a number. Most importantly, remember that school is not the only measure of your success. Since there will be numerous stressors in your daily life, it is crucial to stay connected with those who ground you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends, teachers, or parents. People who love you want to help you. I promise, they will be the ones telling you that everything will be okay. You can do hard things- like apply to college and choose a college and keep your sanity and find joy in the process.
Aaron: Being a senior in high school is a rewarding but also tremendously difficult experience. I will admit that from the end of September to the middle of December, I was losing patience with the college application process and spent long hours staring at the calendar. However, before I was able to fully comprehend it, time passed extremely quickly, and I achieved one of the most significant goals I had set for myself in high school. The most important thing I learned with senior year and the college application process is that growth, passion and drive are tremendous assets. I certainly did not have a star-studded transcript as a freshman, and I will be the first to admit that. However, by spending a significant amount of time getting involved in extracurriculars that I was interested in and building deep relationships with teachers, I was able to “discover myself” and grow academically and personally, which ultimately translated to a successful college application. Thus, because I was able to find a deeper sense of purpose and confidence in myself following 9th grade, I was ready to chase my goals after high school, regardless of the college I was admitted to. You can be confident without being arrogant, and I believe that this was my greatest skill throughout high school. I always knew which areas I was more skilled in and passionate about and I made every effort to challenge myself in these areas. In terms of academic areas of focus in high school, you can ignore a lot of the “rules” regarding selecting the most “traditional” course schedule as long as you are challenging yourself and taking AP courses in areas you are highly passionate about during 11th and 12th grade. You must be unconditionally confident in yourself during the college application process. However, that does not mean stressing over admittance into certain colleges. If you are confident in yourself, a feeling of purpose and security should come from yourself internally and not from an admissions committee. Don’t worry about the “competition” or the judgement of admissions committees, be resilient and prepared to rise up from “setbacks” during high school and you will score big.
Tess: My biggest piece of advice to the rising seniors reading this would be to get most, if not all of your college work done over the summer. This includes narrowing your list, and filling out your applications and revising all your essays. I followed this plan for the most part, and didn’t realize how smart that was until I had to devote so much of my time to schoolwork, and wanted the rest to relax. I would hear my friends talking about supplemental essays they were working on and it was a relief to know I was for the most part done. Sprinkle in some college work during your free time as early on as you can, and it’ll save you in the end. I had a job this summer, but if you spread your work out, you won’t be spending too much time on any given day. It was definitely hard to stay motivated, but trust me, it’s harder when you’re grinding for those last grades colleges will see.
My second piece of advice would be to not overload your schedule. I’m not sure how many of you guys are like me, but when I was given all of this freedom in choosing my classes, I stacked up more APs than I could handle to give me the best possible chance of gaining admission to my schools. Looking back, I’m sure if I knocked one AP off of my list and took another free period, colleges would not have looked at me any differently! Something so miniscule wont determine your future, so don’t make the mistake I did. I’m not saying to not challenge yourself, and ultimately the classes you choose to take are completely up to you. However, if you’re like me and are prone to getting stressed out, don’t take advantage of the freedom you’re given over your schedule just to impress colleges. Challenge yourself to a healthy extent, but not to the point where your mental and physical health is neglected. You will end up at the college you belong, no matter how cheesy it sounds!
Graphic: Isabella Harelick