How an Academic Plan Can Reduce Stress and Increase Student Success

Now is the time to think ahead and build an academic plan for a successful school year. Experts from Academic Approach share why this makes sense for your kid.

We all know the feeling of having too much to do in too little time. Between sports and AP classes, clubs and extracurricular activities, no one is busier than your high school student. But, with a little effort, your child can navigate a jam-packed school year without becoming overwhelmed. It all starts with an academic plan, says Carla Pedersen, Regional Director with Academic Approach, a test-prep and academic tutoring company in Chicago.

And, with an academic plan of their own design, students can stay on top of their schoolwork and make room for their personal goals, too, instead of dismissing an opportunity because they believe they’ll be too busy to participate.

“It’s great when students can take the time to build out their calendar for the school year, even if it’s aspirational,” Pedersen says. “Maybe this is your student’s year for trying out for the play and they may not know what that commitment will be like. How does it impact their fall or spring?”

As an expert in academic time management, Pedersen knows that when students take the time to plan ahead, they recognize when their commitments will compete for time and attention — field hockey practice, marching band rehearsal and that weekly organic chemistry quiz — and when they’ll have pockets of time to socialize, relax and even get some extra sleep.

But it rarely happens by accident, and that’s why an academic plan can be your high school student’s best tool for a successful and satisfying school year.

A plan leads to greater ownership

There’s no one right way to create an academic plan and even if your student examines the school year just month by month, they’re gaining perspective that can empower them to take ownership of their time. Pedersen suggests starting with what she calls benchmark moments.

“This could be involvement with the soccer team, or new AP classes on their schedule. What is the cadence of the class? At a micro-level, a student may get to know the class workflow and test schedule. Even if they don’t know that information yet, they can eventually incorporate it to understand what the time commitment to that class will be,” she explains.

By embracing an academic plan, your student is in a better position to set long-term goals. “Will there be an AP test in the spring? What do you need to do now, or four months from now, to prepare?” she says, adding that any class that is challenging for a student will require more work, and a plan will help your child find the time needed — or adjust other commitments where necessary.

Knowing what’s in the future can help your child feel comfortable about adding a new sport, participating in a club or even taking a part-time job.

Choices about timing the SAT or ACT

Once classes and extracurricular activities are in the plan, it’s time to layer in testing — the SAT or ACT. What does taking the SAT in March mean for your child’s December, January and February? By having a plan, your student will begin to recognize that they have choices about when and where they take these important tests and, just as importantly, how and when to prepare for them, Pedersen says.

“Your child may want to test in the spring, so what do they have to do before then? Sometimes all the big parts of their lives are overlapping in the same three months,” Pedersen says. “The biggest thing is having that visual so they can ask what they can move around strategically.”

Knowledge is power here. “If they don’t think about it far enough out, they may find they have to do three or seven or 27 things at once, but an earlier view can impact some of that and allow them to take ownership,” she says.

Nuts and bolts of your student’s academic plan

By junior year, students should take a good look at the months ahead and create an academic plan — especially if they are incorporating ACT or SAT test prep in their schedule. By starting with a diagnostic test, students who work with Academic Approach receive a realistic plan for test prep and can plan to get started sooner or later, depending on their personal situation, says Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Services at Academic Approach.

“Nothing is in your way of seeing where you stand,” Ferguson says. “Take the diagnostic test on any weekend morning and you will know where you are starting. You can have a conversation with us, and we can build your calendar together. Our job is to determine how many hours you’ll need to achieve your goal. There are infinite ways a student can approach their junior year, so let’s take a look at what’s the reality for you. Just because you’re calling us in September doesn’t mean we need to start tomorrow. If right now is a bad time, let’s put a plan together for when it’s a good time.”

Picking a day of the week to check in on your plan and make essential updates is wise. For example, dedicate time each Sunday to plot out the coming week.

“This is really smart work and can set your kid up for the week,” Pedersen says. “When they get to Tuesday and beyond, they know what they will be doing.”

But be strategic, she warns. “The goal isn’t to fill in every moment, but to get ready for the week so you can be as successful as possible when you are busy.”

Learn more about Academic Approach. Visit


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