Ask a group of high school students and you’ll likely hear the same thing. Picking classes can be downright stressful. And, it’s easy to see why.
Every single class and grade in high school matters.
In fact, they matter a lot.
According to the Princeton Review, college admissions officers consider a student’s high school transcript as the most important factor when reviewing college applicants.
Why? Because it answers one important question:
Did the student challenge themselves in high school?
Although taking (or not taking) a particular class won’t make or break the outcome of your college applications, there are a few guidelines you can follow when choosing high school courses that can help put you on the right academic path toward acceptance into the college of your dreams.
Before you finalize your high school courses, here are a few DO’s and DON’TS you might want to consider.
DON’T Overlook High School Requirements
Not all high schools teach the same courses, follow the same course sequence or have the same course requirements, which is why it’s important to meet with your counselor or academic advisor at least once a year to make certain you’re on track to graduate. Most high schools will have their high school requirements posted on their website and/or in their course catalog as well.
DO Strike a Balance Between Challenging and Manageable
The idea of loading up on rigorous classes in high school simply to impress college admissions officers is one that some students have come to regret. Rather than packing your schedule with challenging Honors, AP and IB classes that can negatively impact your GPA, focus on what you can manage.
Balance out your schedule with advanced classes you feel confident you can handle and layer on additional easier classes, if needed, to ensure you don’t significantly compromise your GPA. Ultimately, it’s a delicate balancing act between showing your ability to handle rigorous courses without destroying a respectable GPA. Another factor to consider is that highly challenging classes often take a substantial amount of study time. If your schedule is maxed out with demanding courses, you won’t have time for anything else including volunteering and extra-curricular activities – other factors college admission officers take into consideration.
DON’T Rule Out Online and Dual Enrollment Classes
Most high schools offer students learning alternatives including online and dual enrollment classes. Both offer tremendous flexibility and, in most cases, an opportunity to explore classes not offered by the high school giving students the chance to explore specialized classes that align with their future goals. Dual enrollment classes also offer students a chance to earn high school and college credit simultaneously which is a great way to knock out a few of those Gen Ed college courses. Check with your counselor to determine what your school offers and how it might benefit you and your future goals.
DO Keep Course Requirements in Mind for Top College Choices
When choosing high school courses, it’s always a good idea to contact colleges you’re interested in individually to find out what their minimum course requirements are for entering freshmen. Some colleges, for instance, only require two years of foreign language, while others prefer three. The last thing you want to do is to reach your senior year and find out you didn’t meet the requirements for your chosen college.
Don’t Follow the Crowd
When it comes time to choose classes, you’ll find that kids have a tendency to talk. In the lunchroom, on social media and in the classroom, kids compare their future class choices with their friends’ choices. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed into taking a class that’s either too advanced for you, not advanced enough or simply doesn’t fit into your future plans simply because your buddies are taking a particular class. Stay on track with what’s best for you. The stakes are too high to be following the crowd.
DO Keep Future Plans in Mind
According to surveys, an estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter their major as “undecided” when completing their college application. If, however, you happen to fall into the other half of students who are on track with a decided major, be sure to choose high school classes that align with your goals. Even if you haven’t settled on a specific major, focus on classes that align with your strengths, interests, and passions.
DON’T Rush into a Class Selection without Asking Questions
The best advice I was given by a high school counselor was to ask questions before rushing into a class selection. The more information you have about a particular class, including the requirements, the amount of homework that is typically assigned and the approximate daily time commitment, the better equipped you’ll be to make an informed decision about whether the class is right for you. Ask your counselor, the teacher(s) who teach the class and talk with students who have taken the class – above all, be proactive and don’t make a hasty decision you may end up regretting later.
DO Seek Guidance if You Need It
If you have questions or concerns, set up a meeting with your counselor. Your counselor has a wealth of information she/he can provide to help you navigate through the process. Quite often your current teachers will offer recommendations regarding which classes you should take the following year. Although you should use their recommendation(s) as a guideline, don’t feel compelled to follow the path they’ve chosen for you. You know what you’re capable of handling far better than anyone else.