Figuring out the right course load for executive function-challenged students, especially freshman year, is an important task. There are certain measures that soon-to-be-freshman (or really any student in college) can take in order to start off on the right foot and not be overwhelmed.
Taking fewer classes is the obvious first step in helping the executive-challenge student succeed in that critical first semester. At most colleges or universities, five classes (typically 14-16 credits) would be a middle-of-the-road schedule. Students struggling with executive functions should start with four classes (roughly 12 credits) for their first semester of school. In order to stay on track to graduate in four years, students can take 2 summer courses to give them the equivalent of a normal course load. And the nice thing about college these days is that students don’t have to be on campus to take courses. They can be at home for the summer and take online courses through their university (or another) that will fulfill the courses they need to meet the pacing requirements of the school.
The benefits for scheduling the first couple semesters this way are fairly straightforward. For starters, it will put much less demand on the student. If they are struggling to keep up with responsibilities of high school, then there is no need to throw them in the deep end as soon as they get to college. It’s better to ease students into college life. It would be wise to talk to some fellow students or your academic advisors to find an easy class or two to lighten the load. It will be an easier transition to school and a lower stakes environment if students are able to have a lighter schedule with fewer demanding classes.
In addition to the lighter load, it’s a good idea to avoid the really, really difficult classes that first semester or two. At most campuses, these are some form of science class that are usually the toughest on campus—they are often called “weeder” classes because they “weed out” the struggling students. If possible, avoid the really tough Chem or Bio classes those first few semesters.
A lighter class schedule will give the student more time to devote to their schoolwork and should also drive down the stress of the student, allowing them to be more effective. A lower course load will (hopefully) allow students to get off to a stellar start with high grades that will solidify their GPA for semesters to come.
By being very particular and intentional about course selections for the first couple semesters of college, students can put themselves on the right track to have an easier transition to college and a path to sustained success.