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College is for pursuing dreams -high school is for the basics

This June, I will complete my second year of college courses. I am studying physics, chemistry, and statistics, as well as European history and English literature. I have already finished a college course in calculus and United States history. I am 17 and a senior in high school.

Many people in my high school take advanced placement courses. For some, these courses are a way to move even further ahead in subjects at which they excel. For others, it is a way to impress colleges. For me, however, neither is the case.

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At this point, I don't plan on becoming a doctor. I have never even entertained the idea of being an astrophysicist. Calculus, though a necessary skill in life, will probably not be the central focus of my future career. And there are much easier ways to put together a flashy rsum than by laboring over problem sets and laboratory notebooks.

When I tell people I expect to major in the humanities, they are always surprised. They see my four years of double-period science classes and my sequence of AP math classes and ask the obvious question: Why? Why would a nice girl like me want to take so many extremely difficult courses in high school if I don't plan on continuing in those fields? Well, I'll tell you why. It is exactly because I don't plan to pursue these subjects that I focus on them now.

I love English. I shine in history. I'm forging ahead in my independent study in creative writing. But in many ways, the classes I value the most are the ones that lie the furthest from my current interests and natural academic strengths.

For a lot of the subjects I study, what I know come high school graduation will be what I know for the rest of my life. Period. I can either learn now why a cannon ball lands where it does or forever hold my peace. Soon enough I will have to specialize. For now, I want to learn as much as I can about as many different subjects as possible.

Thanks to excellent teachers and a wide range of classes offered in my high school, there will never be a better or more convenient time to do this. As any college freshman sitting in the last seat of a stadium-size organic chemistry class can tell you, high school is where it's at for introductory courses. Never again will I be able to find my calculus teacher at lunch to discuss why I can't get my graphing calculator to work. No freshman physics class in college will have only 11 people in it. Never again will I be able to take the highest level course in so many subject areas every single day.

Next year, I'll be going off to an actual college campus. I see course catalogs offering Chinese History, Literature and Culture of Renaissance Italy, and the Anthropology of Philanthropy. I read about classes in creative writing taught by people whose names line my bookshelves. Internships, study abroad, and research opportunities - these are not chances I want to forgo because I have to fulfill my distribution requirements.

College is for pursuing your dreams, high school is for learning the basics. And if I decide, later on, that my dreams require a background in chemistry or calculus, I won't be fazed. After all, I've been there, I've done that.

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*Lucia Stella Smith is a senior at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society