Across the country, many high school students are considering which courses to take next year. As they ponder their options, they should know that the level of coursework they choose is an important component of college admissions. Colleges look for rigor, as well as an indication that a student is exploring their interests. The schedule a student selects each year demonstrates their initiative and drive as much as their academic aptitude.

One class on a transcript won’t affect whether a student is accepted or denied by a college, but the combination of classes can make or break a student’s chances. That said, here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you make your decisions.


  1. Pay attention to your school’s graduation requirements. Students must take all the required courses for graduation whether they attend a physical school, virtual school, or homeschool. Requirements may be set by an individual school or by the state. Your school website should outline these requirements, and you should familiarize yourself with them. If you cannot find this information, contact the school to get the specific requirements in writing. For homeschoolers, not all states mandate specific homeschool graduation requirements, but the general recommendation is to follow the public school-suggested courses for graduation, especially if a student plans to attend college.
  2. Demonstrate a positive pattern. Admission readers look to see if students maintain a high level (or an improving degree) of rigor through high school. This includes senior year!
  3. Embrace challenge. Colleges, especially selective ones, look at how many advanced courses your student takes. The more rigorous courses include honors, accelerated, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), and Dual Enrollment (DE). Taking and doing well in these rigorous classes demonstrates that a student can handle college-level material. While students should try to increase the rigor each year, they should also be realistic about how much rigor they can take on while continuing to earn good grades.
  4. Accept that each high school differs. Some schools have the IB program; some do not. Some schools offer more AP courses or have specialized programs. Colleges know this. High schools provide colleges with a school profile that tells colleges about that school’s course offerings, grading scale, graduation requirements, etc. Looking at the school profile, colleges can see the curriculum that was available to your student. If your school lacks a strong curriculum and your student wants to attend a selective college, seriously consider our next point, #5.
  5. Consider online and dual enrollment options. A world of classes exists beyond a high school through online and Dual Enrollment options. Utilizing these options, students can take AP classes not offered at their school or classes that support their specific interests. If you need the credit to graduate, check with your school prior to enrolling in an online or Dual Enrollment class to confirm that the credit will be accepted. Otherwise, feel free to take courses that interest you and will elevate your education. You’ll be able to report these classes in your college applications.
  6. Consult with teachers, a high school counselor, and an expert college advisor from International College Counselors. You may need to make difficult decisions about which courses to take and how to balance schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Students should take courses that will challenge them without crushing them. Consulting with an advisor can help ensure that your student is making the right choices for them.


  1. Choose easier classes just to take easier classes. After choosing what to take for the core subjects: English, science, math, social sciences, and world language, students can use elective space to take courses that align with their interests, like music, robotics, debate, or art. It’s important, though, to maintain the right balance of rigor. So, how to decide between AP European History and AP Psychology? Students need to be honest. Do they want to take AP Psychology because they are really interested in the class, or do they think it will be easier? In most cases, students should take the most challenging courses available in the subjects that interest them the most.
  2. Ignore the requirements for top-choice colleges, majors, and programs. Many colleges, especially the selective ones, have specific admissions requirements for entering students. For example, the University of California system requires students to take a year-long course in visual or performing arts. Harvard and the University of Michigan strongly recommend that students take four years of a single world language. An engineering program may require students to have reached a certain level of math by high school graduation. Research each school, major, and program individually to make sure you meet all minimum requirements.
  3. Succumb to Senioritis. Many admissions offices will check an applicant’s senior year program and performance before offering admission (and all will check your final high school transcript). Colleges and universities want students who push themselves to excel all the way through high school and/or show a trajectory of improvement. Colleges have been known to rescind the acceptances of students who slack off during senior year, so students must continue to work hard through graduation. Extra effort demonstrates that a student is ready for the challenge and adventure ahead!

For any and all help with choosing the right high school courses and/or with the college admissions process, contact International College Counselors. Visit, or call 954-414-9986.


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