The Freshman’s Guide to Surviving TJ

Frequently asked questions about the four years at TJ

Sid Ram, Staff Reporter

Five months ago, acceptance letters came out from TJ, and when you realized you had made it, you were probably beside yourself with excitement. I was in your place once too.  I can remember being confused by all the events the upperclassmen were telling me about and all the questions I had about TJ itself. The first few weeks at TJ as a freshman can be daunting, but not to fear: below, you’ll find answers to your most pressing questions. All of the following questions come from TJ freshmen, and their answers come from me, a junior, and several other upperclassmen I consulted with to get you accurate information.


Q: How does one make up the extra history credit?

A: First off, if you have no idea what the extra history credit is, don’t worry, I had no clue until later in my freshman year. At TJ, you are not mandated to taking a history course during your freshman year, but Fairfax County still requires TJ students to have four history credits to graduate. There are multiple ways you can satisfy this requirement. The first way is to take a summer history course. I took Ancient Civilizations (Ancient Civ) as a summer course between my freshman and sophomore year. Otherwise, you can take two history courses during your sophomore, junior, or senior year to satisfy this credit. Do note, however, that this second history course will count as an elective. If you’d like more information on how to satisfy the extra history credit, click here.


Q: How many APs should one take, and how many is one supposed to take?

A: This is a very good question, and I think that you should really take a moment and plan this out with your parents and mentors. Throughout your TJ career, the only AP course you HAVE to take is some form of AP Calculus (either AB or BC). For all other courses, you have the option between an AP and a non-AP course. Don’t be pressured into taking an AP course, and DON’T take an AP because your friend is taking one. Junior year is the first year I’m taking an AP, and I genuinely have no regrets. If you are interested in a subject and want an accelerated, more in-depth dive into the material, take an AP.


Q: Does one have to take summer school?

A: No. You don’t HAVE to take summer school, but the short answer is, that if you don’t take a summer course, you might not be able to take some of the electives you want to during the school year. As I mentioned before, I took Ancient Civ for summer school between my freshman and sophomore year, and it wasn’t a bad experience. The class did require a bit of work, but it’s only a 5-week program, and usually, there wasn’t too much homework. If you want a list of courses that are offered as a summer course, click here. My suggestion is: don’t take a summer course unless you specifically want to get a class out of the way or if you are genuinely interested in the course. I took Ancient Civ not only to satisfy my extra history requirement but also because I really enjoy history. Ultimately, the choice lies with you and your family. It is important to note that if you take a language course over the summer, you may not be eligible to take the same language in school after that in school.


Q: What is the workload like?

A: This question doesn’t have a perfectly straightforward answer. To be honest, the workload almost fully depends on the courses you’re taking. You could take four AP courses and have a heavy courseload, or, you could opt for a lighter course load by taking some more relaxed courses. You’ll always have the core classes which all require you to devote time to them to study for tests and quizzes or work on projects. The key here is, again, to take classes that you are interested in, not the ones you are taking just because it’ll look nice on your transcript. An important note on this topic is that, with all of your classes, you stay on top of things. Know when the upcoming tests and quizzes are, and start preparing in advance. Don’t wait till the end and do it the night before. It causes less stress, and you save yourself some time by studying gradually instead of cramming the night before.


Q: What is IBET, and what are some of the projects associated with it?

A: IBET, as you probably know by now, stands for Integrated Biology English & Technology. It is the group of the three courses mentioned above that all freshmen at TJ are required to take. Every IBET is focused on a different research topic, take for example the microbial fuel cell IBET, and the salamander IBET. You will do research on your IBET’s topic, and develop your own academic paper by the end of the year. It sounds like a lot of work, but you’ll have a team working with you, and there’s a whole year for you to work on it. IBET is a great experience and a lot of fun overall. Click here for a sneak peek into other exciting events you’ll experience this year.


Q: Are Spanish 2 and French 2 as difficult as everyone claims they are, and why?

A: This is a tough one. There are a few problems here. One, the answers could be a bit subjective. Two, I only took Spanish, and have no clue how French is. But I will say this. Learning a language is tough, and it requires hard work and dedication (pretty generic right?). Our Spanish 2 classes are run as immersion courses, meaning its taught in Spanish, and students are encouraged to speak only in Spanish. Especially at the beginning of the year, this could mean that you only understand half of what your teacher is saying. But as the year progresses, you will start to understand more. The key is speaking. French is much the same way.


Q: How does 8th period work?

A: 8th period is a set of two forty-minute blocks that come around every Red Days (Wednesday and Friday). You sign up for your blocks through ion under the 8th-period tab. 8th period is a great time to get help from teachers, work on homework or participate in a club that interests you. Try to attend different clubs and see which ones you enjoy.


Q: What happens during homecoming, and do freshmen participate?

A: Homecoming at TJ is essentially a week of festivities culminating in the homecoming dance. The four classes participate in competitions, and each day of the week is devoted to a different competition like MEX, a big dance-off that happens on Friday. Lunchtime pep rallies are a great way to get involved. It is important to support your class council during this time and most importantly SHOW CLASS SPIRIT! As freshmen, you can participate as much or as little as you want.


Q: How does one balance school and sports/extracurriculars?

A: This is a really good question, and the answer is quite simple. School takes priority. It may not be ideal, but missing a practice or two won’t mean the end of the world. Another big piece of advice is to communicate. Your teachers and coaches are here to help you, and if you have a lot going on, communicate with them. Advocate for yourself, respectfully of course, and they will usually help you plan, or give you an extension.


Q: What are senior labs?

A: Every senior at TJ does a senior project. Its similar to IBET projects, however, seniors have the ability to choose their own topic of research. Based on a project, seniors apply to the labs that will help them conduct their research. It’s not something you have to worry about at this stage, but be thinking about which of the labs your interests lay in. Labs have prerequisites as well, which you will have to take in sophomore or junior year, so keep that in mind. Click here if you want an insight into a student’s journey to a senior lab.


Q: Where should I sit for lunch?

A: We have the privilege of sitting anywhere we want in the building for lunch. Usually, freshmen sit in IBET commons, sophomores in chem commons, juniors in physics commons, and seniors in Franklin Commons, however, this is not set in stone. Wherever it is you sit, clean up after yourself so our lovely custodians don’t have to work too hard to keep our school looking great.