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Choose Your High School Courses Wisely

February 23rd, 2013

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Choose Your High School Courses Wisely

You might be surprised to learn that the most important part of the college application is your transcript listing your high school courses and grades. Most colleges want to see that you took the most rigorous courses appropriate for you. As you consider your course selections for next year, keep these points in mind:

Studying Language

German, Spanish and Italian are just three choices you have. Some schools also offer Latin, Chinese & sign language.

Continue Foreign Language. If you are a senior and you have taken three years of foreign language, senior year is not the time to drop it, assuming you are not struggling with the course. Some students who are on track to take an advanced placement language abandon it, just when they are nearing proficiency. Stay with it.

Take Four Years of Math. Research shows that those who take four years of math in high school are more likely to graduate from college. Given the choice, students considering sciences, economics or business as college majors should opt for calculus over statistics (assuming they feel they can do well).

Challenge Yourself Appropriately. If you have never taken an honors or AP class, consider trying one in the coming year, however trying three may be too many. Gradually increase the rigor of your classes at a pace that feels comfortable to you.

Max Baron, a senior at Andover High School thinks that it is better to get a B in a college prep class than a C in an honors class.

“I made the decision to take honors math in high school and at first it was hard, but I wanted the challenge so I pushed myself,” said Max. “When thinking about going up a level, students have to be willing to put in the time.”

AP Courses

Choosing which AP courses to take is a personal and important decision.

Align Your Course Choices and Your Aspirations. If you have your heart set on an elite college (in terms of admission), be aware they will expect you to take several Advanced Placement (AP) (or the equivalent) across junior and senior year. If this level of course is not right for you, then consider colleges that are less focused on level or rigor. There are thousands of excellent colleges in this category.

Be True to Yourself. Some high school students (and their parents) decide not to get caught up in the decision to take courses that will present them in the best possible light in the eyes of college admissions officers. They decide that the honors US History course, for instance, is more interesting than the AP option and they make choices that work for them personally. (See this Washington Post article for a teacher’s perspective on this topic). This might seem to contradict the previous advice, but it is the right choice for many students. When applying to college, you and your counselor can explain the reasons for the course choices you make.

Plan Ahead. If you are a freshman (or the parent of an eighth grader) map out your course choices for each major subject across your four years of high school. If you know you want to finish high school with calculus senior year, you need to make sure you are taking the prerequisites to get you there. Be sure to take some fun electives.

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