My son is currently a high school sophomore who has been active in jazz bad since the sixth grade. He is in the "second tier" Jazz band and so goes to school an hour early three days per week. For him, jazz is a fairly easy A.

However, for junior year, he's taking three AP classes (AP English, AP History, AP Spanish) as well as calculus, astronomy, and Wind Ensemble. He claims he wants to give up jazz to free up time for his harder classes.

However, he's in AP History this year (I can't remember if it's US or World--just that it's one this year and the other the next). He took the AP practice exam, got a 96% against a class average of 71% and, after the teacher graded on the curve, he had 101%. Maybe the AP classes aren't as hard for him as he fears?

He hates science and math, and gets B's in those courses often enough that his GPA is around a 3.6. I want it to be higher, but it's mercifully better than his middle school grades so I don't complain (except to strangers on the internet).

The "A" in Jazz is keeping his GPA up...or will it bring it down in junior year because the time needed undercuts his other grades?

Would telling him about how the A affects his GPA undermine his confidence in his own decisions or would it allow him to make a more informed decision? Would I lose credibility by strongly urging that he stay in Jazz if at all possible? We have a collaborative and easy-going relationship that I don't want to jeopardize by opening the can of worms unless there's clear benefit.

I know he enjoys jazz as I hear him play songs from his book just because they looked like fun.

ETA: We just got his grades for Junior year. They are even better than usual and was one A- away from straight A's. He liked the extra hour's sleep and perhaps spent more time on regular homework.

  • When I was in school, a zero-hour (zero credits) class did not count toward GPA. How is it listed and weighted?
    – MikeP
    May 8, 2018 at 0:44

4 Answers 4


Would telling him about how the A affects his GPA undermine his confidence in his own decisions or would it allow him to make a more informed decision?

If your son is a junior in high school and doesn't already understand how an A grade affects his GPA, then the point is probably moot. He's been in school most of his life and he likely understands how grading works by now. I don't think you will undermine his confidence.

Yes, it's okay to make sure he is making an informed decision. Especially on the off hand chance that he hasn't figured out how a GPA works.

Would I lose credibility by strongly urging that he stay in Jazz if at all possible?

You say that you have a good relationship with your son. Having a simple discussion with him is not going to ruin your relationship. It doesn't sound like you're demanding anything and just want to make sure he is aware and considering the benefits of an easy A vs. improving his overall GPA by focusing on skills that will benefit him more in his academic career. As far as grade averages go, five B grades and one A is not going to be better than five A grades. I actually see where he is coming from he. If is genuine about wanting to improve in other areas it will likely help him a lot more to have a strong foundation going into college than a single A grade will. Unless he intends to play jazz for a living he's right to focus on thise skills that will carry him through higher education.


Insisting on good grades won’t abnormally affect your credibility. But it’s difficult to have any credibility with older teenagers. However, continue to speak the un-opinionated truth to your son about the value of good grades and he will remember your words when it counts. Even if he never admits it anytime soon.


Perhaps some advice in terms that a young man would get pumped up about...

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu insists that a great general looks for battles he can easily win.

Choosing to retain a class because it is an easy A is being cunning and smart — strategic even.

Why is this relevant? Life is, to some degree, a competition. If you can give yourself an honest competitive edge, you’ll respect yourself and start building a successful resume which others will also regard well.

Whatever complaints or jealousy there may be about winning easy battles, everybody likes a winner.

  • 1
    Can you add a little something about why there is value to good grades? I've certainly never found any, especially from subjects unrelated to whatever it is you later aim to do with your life.
    – Erik
    May 7, 2018 at 14:37
  • 1
    Having higher grades will give him options, like acceptance at more schools, or scholarships versus no scholarships. Grades demonstrate that he can focus and learn material and demonstrate that understanding. Being able to demonstrate this is better than not being able to demonstrate this.
    – swbarnes2
    May 7, 2018 at 21:38

What is your son's goal? Is he looking to get into a specific university / program? Is he just looking to learn the most?

The destination should determine the path. If he is targeting a difficult to get into program, talk to him about the effectiveness of the two strategies. Your part is always to support him, so do so. Honesty is not discouraging, however it is better for him to make the final choice. Do not tell him "Jazz is easy for you, and math is hard"; instead, ask: "Does Jazz or math get you to your goal faster / easier etc."

When presented as connecting to a goal / result he is aiming for, the solution will make more sense. So, start with that. And, let him make the final call.

  • There is a well-priced state school with a well-respected teaching program two hours north of home--just close enough to be comfy and far enough to be independent. It's a frustratingly good match. (He wants to teach high school history which is--from what I've heard from other teachers gets little respect and less pay.) It makes me anxious for his future but it's not my life. May 7, 2018 at 15:14
  • I would trust him and be proud of him. My own mother was very critical of my choice in education, which ended up damaging our once very close relationship for a very long time. I was never an ordinary child, and would never have an ordinary life, no matter what profession I chose. From everything you tell me, this seems true for your son. So, be proud of his choice, and trust that he will not be an "average" high school history teacher. May 8, 2018 at 12:12

My suggestion as to how to structure the conversation around this topic would be to find out how he feels about his work-life balance. It sounds like he's making a choice there right now (to drop a "fun" class to focus more on the "work" classes), which is a reasonable choice; but something that can be hard for kids that age to understand is the need for a balance there. Dropping all of the fun in order to focus on work can be detrimental to their mental health.

But I also think a junior in high school (so 16 ish) is old enough to make that choice, albeit with some gentle advice to consider his work-life balance. I don't suggest telling him what choice to make, but instead just a reminder that everyone needs a hobby and something fun to take their mind off of work from time to time. If jazz fills that niche, great; if he has something else to fill that niche, great. Maybe he really wants to drop Jazz in order to have more sleep, or to have more time to hang out with his friends, but is couching it in terms that he thinks you'll respect more - frankly I look at that list of subjects and think he deserves some time to hang out with his friends, so I don't think it's something to be concerned with.

Additionally, perhaps he's going to keep up with Jazz on his own - just not as a class. Sometimes "having" to do something takes some of the fun away from it. Perhaps he really would prefer to have a side thing with some of his friends, or just play for his own enjoyment.

As far as the GPA goes - I don't think I'd ever worry about getting an easy A onto the transcript. I'd much rather have somewhat higher level of learning in the important classes, and perhaps somewhat higher grades there as a result, than a small bump in GPA.

  • 2
    Don't take this to be belligerent because I don't mean it to be, but can you back up your claim that colleges don't look at GPA? That's something I've never heard anywhere else. If not GPA, what are they looking at? May 3, 2018 at 21:19
  • I suppose it depends on the school, but the schools I looked at even twenty years ago (ivy league and similar) pretty universally said GPA was a factor, but not the most important factor, and 3.6 is certainly fine (if that's on a 4.0 scale, it's great; if it's on a 5.0 scale, it is still pretty good, and those AP classes will drive it up.) See this post for example for a discussion of how it's relevant sometimes, but not always, for example.
    – Joe
    May 3, 2018 at 21:28
  • I read the post you linked to. It quoted two people who said grades aren't important, but at the bottom it cited consistent yearly surveys from the National Association for College Admission Counseling that states that "most admissions officials put a high priority on grades." On this page, one of the subtitles is "Admission Offices Identify Grades, High School Curriculum, and Test Scores as Top Factors for First-Time Freshmen." This leaves me confused and worried. May 7, 2018 at 16:06
  • @SnappingShrimp Unfortunately I think there's not really a clear answer there, ultimately. My experience and that of the people I've talked to (primarily at my school) was that GPA matters some, but not nearly as much as people seem to think, and that 'easy A' classes are fairly easy for admissions counselors to spot. But I don't doubt that other schools prioritize it more, especially if they're basically admitting everyone over a certain GPA due to state laws.
    – Joe
    May 7, 2018 at 16:26
  • I went ahead and modified that last line, but I stand by what I generally feel on the matter (that GPA as an end is something most people, parents and students, care far more about than they should).
    – Joe
    May 7, 2018 at 16:29

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