Two Keys to Selecting High School Courses

Two Keys to Selecting High School Courses

It’s pretty common knowledge that college admissions counselors pay close attention to your high school course load – and we get plenty of questions about what exactly they’re looking for. Today, we’re talking about selecting high school courses that will both benefit you and impress your potential colleges. In short, you should be selecting high school courses with two main things in mind: your courses should challenge you, and they should align with potential major interests.

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Select courses that challenge you.

selecting high school courses

Admissions counselors want to see that you worked your tail off in high school, because that shows them you’re ready for the academic rigors of college. Even if you can get away with it, don’t enroll in classes that will be a total cakewalk. Instead, challenge yourself by selecting high school courses that will get you out of your comfort zone, teach you new skills, and make you work for that A.

You’ve got a few different options nowadays when it comes to challenging yourself. How do you choose between standard, honors, or AP/IB courses? That depends on your experience and skill level in the subject matter. While AP classes are the most impressive to potential colleges, they aren’t the best fit for all students. Talk to your past or current teachers and get their opinion on which class you should take. For certain honors classes, you can take a placement test to see how you measure up.

Additionally, be realistic about your schedule. Don’t sign up for five AP courses while you’re also playing a varsity sport and leading student council. Don’t cram all of your hardest classes in one semester. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day! Be ambitious with your course load, but not masochistic.

Last but definitely not least… don’t catch senioritis! Elite colleges pay attention to what you do during the final stretch of high school. Just look at this excerpt from Yale University’s blog,

“Knowing how you have engaged in high school gives us an idea of how you might engage at Yale. If you push yourself to excel all the way through your senior year and beyond, we take that to be a good sign that you will do the same at Yale. And that is the type of student we welcome.” 

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Select courses that align with your potential major(s).

selecting high school courses

When I was in high school, the class that intimidated me most was AP Calculus. That course would’ve definitely challenged me, so it would’ve looked good on my transcript, right? Well, no, because I was headed off to college to major in English Literature. Colleges want to fill their incoming classes with experts, and I wanted to show them I was a literary expert!

The courses that you choose in high school should ideally line up with your future major. If you’re dead set on going a pre-medical route in college, AP Biology and AP Chemistry would be excellent options for you. If you want to enter the journalism school, AP English would be a better. Your transcript should tell the admissions counselor that you know what you’re interested in and you’re good at it, too!

Don’t feel hopeless if your particular high school doesn’t offer all of the AP or IB courses you’d ideally want to take. You won’t lose points for this, because admissions counselors realize you can’t control the curriculum you’re offered. Instead, take advantage of the classes you do have access to, and challenge yourself as much as you can.

That being said, it’s still important to keep a bit of variety in your schedule. Aim to take one English, science, math, social sciences, and foreign language course each year. You just don’t need to take the hardest class offered in the subject areas you don’t plan on pursuing after high school!

When you receive your new schedule at the beginning of each semester, ask yourself two questions:

  • Am I truly being challenged?
  • Am I taking courses that fit with my future major?

If you can answer yes to both, you’re on the right track. If you're answering with a "no" or a "maybe," it's time to reevaluate.

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