It’s that time of year: students need to pick their classes for the next school year. Increase your chances for admissions into the college of your dreams by choosing the right classes to take in high school.

What a college sees on a student’s high school transcript is critical to the application. While no one particular class on a transcript will determine the applicant’s outcome, the combination of classes can make or break your chances.  While there’s no 100% guaranteed formula in college admissions for building your schedule, there are strong patterns for success.

Here are some tips to guide you:

  1. Meet your high school’s requirements. Be familiar with your school’s list of required courses for graduation.  Most colleges (even online ones) require a high school diploma to enroll in a program that grants bachelor degrees.
  2. Take a balanced set of classes. Every year try to take courses in English, science, math, the social sciences, and a foreign language. These are core subjects. Even if you met your high school graduation requirements by taking these classes in middle school, you still want to take these core subjects each year of high school.
  3. Choose a smart range of college-prep courses.What classes you choose to take partially depends on the selectivity of the college you want to attend.   Rigorous honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) courses make a student more desirable to a school.

Colleges recognize a student can only take advantage of accelerated courses if the high school provides them.  If AP courses or IB programs are not offered, colleges understand.  They only expect that a student will excel in the opportunities to which there is access. Colleges also understand different high schools have different requirements that may restrict what courses a student can take.

  1. Consider online and dual enrollment options.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Are you very interested in physics, but your school lacks Physics C?  No problem. With the internet and dual enrollment, students can take almost every class imaginable! Be sure to check with your school prior to taking an online or dual enrollment class to confirm credit will be accepted.
  2. Show colleges a positive pattern. Colleges want to see that a student accepts challenges. Make sure you have a high level (or an improving degree) of rigor and success throughout your high school years. This includes the senior year. Have you heard this famous question: “Is it better to take a course where I know I can get an ‘A’ or should I take a harder course and risk getting a lower grade?” The answer is: “It’s best to get an ‘A’ in a harder course!”  For the less confident, we advise students to take the higher course if the student thinks she can get a “B.” A “C” or below typically means a student is in the wrong level. Essentially, students need to seek challenge, not avoid it, and succeed in the challenges chosen.
  3. Know the admissions guidelines for top choice colleges. Many colleges, especially the selective ones, have specific admissions requirements for entering students. For example, Harvard recommends that a student takes four years of a foreign language. University of California requires one year of visual and performing arts. Research each school individually.  Make sure any and all minimum requirements are met.
  4. Pursue intellectual interests. It’s OK to take courses like filmmaking or fashion, just make sure you have the right balance of rigor. When deciding between different courses, honesty is very important. Is drama the class you want to take because of a real excitement about it and the challenge the field presents, or is the motivation powered by a desire to avoid a different (and perhaps more difficult) academic subject?
  5. Consult with teachers, a high school counselor and/or an expert college advisor from International College Counselors on what courses are most appropriate.Some difficult decisions may need to be made about which courses to take and how to balance schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
  6. Do not catch Senioritis!Many admissions offices will check an applicant’s senior year schedule and performance before offering admission. Schools have also rescinded acceptances of students who performed poorly during their senior year.

Students who push themselves to excel all the way through high school, or show a trend of improvement, are the type of student colleges welcome.  Schools see “extra effort” as a good sign that a student is ready for college.


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