Though we are only halfway through winter, now is the time schools begin planning for next year. In late winter/ early spring, high schools start the course selection process. Since we know that a student’s transcript is the most important part of the college application, many college-related questions can come up during course selection time. Below we have outlined some common questions and provided answers in hopes of helping students choose appropriate courses during high school.
What courses do colleges want to see?
The bottom line is that colleges want students to take the most challenging courses possible and earn the highest grades possible. However, those differ for every single student and depend on the course offerings at your high school. In general, colleges would love to see you take four years of: English, Social Studies/History, Math, Science and Foreign Language. That is the ideal. While many colleges don’t require a fourth year of Foreign Language, for example, colleges prefer that you stick with those five major subjects.
What level course should I take? My high school offers Honors and AP courses, do I need to take them?
Again, colleges want you to take the most challenging courses for you. That differs for every student. You do not have to take Honors or AP courses to get into college, but if your high school offers them, it’s worth talking with your teachers or guidance counselor about whether you are challenging yourself enough and if taking a harder course makes sense for you. When considering taking Honors or AP courses, think about the hours of homework each course involves, your outside-of-school commitments and getting enough sleep. Some students can take many Honors/ AP courses, while others may be challenged by taking one. Find an appropriate level of challenge for you.
Is it better to take a harder course and get a lower grade, or an easier course and get a higher grade?
This is a common question when deciding the level of a course to take. In general, it’s better to challenge yourself, even if the grade in that course is slightly lower. For example, a B+ in Honors Chemistry looks a little better to colleges than an A- in college prep Chemistry. However, if your grade will dip significantly because of a more difficult course (for example, a D in Honors Chemistry), it’s not worth it. In general, colleges like to see A’s and B’s on your transcript. If your grade in a harder course would dip below that, it’s probably not the right course for you.
My high school allows fun electives during senior year. Can I take them?
It’s a little unfair that high schools allow seniors to take “fun electives” during senior year; perhaps you’ve been waiting four years to take Marine Biology, Anatomy or Sociology. While these are great courses to take, they should probably be considered “electives”. Colleges want to see students “stick with the basics”. That means, continuing with Math, Science, History, English and a Foreign Language. Feel free to add on a “fun course” if you have the room. But, otherwise, wait to take Marine Biology in college.
When thinking about course selection, every student needs to evaluate their own personal circumstances. The above advice is very general and reflects colleges’ “typical” wishes. When deciding which courses to take, students should consult with their current teachers, parents, guidance counselors and college counselors. Campus Bound counselors can help you make an informed decision about the courses that are appropriate for you and will help you put your best foot forward in the admission process.