Course Selection: Why Your High School Class Decisions are Important
By Erin Barnes on February 18, 2021
For many high schools, course selection for the next school year begins as early as January. So, the fall is often a good time to contemplate your next steps. While electives and core classes may vary from school to school, there are a few good rules to follow in order to maximize your time in high school.
Assessing Course Levels
Rule 1: Take the Correct Level of Coursework for You
First and foremost, take the correct level of classes so that you will be challenged and successful at the same time. In some high schools, it may be difficult to avoid getting caught up in the pressures of taking the most difficult courses available. While some students might find it in their best interest to take five AP classes during junior or senior year, that path is certainly not the best decision for most students.
Instead, take the most challenging class that you can handle in the subjects that interest you the most. So, if you are stronger in math, take an honors math class, or if you are stronger in history, don’t be afraid to try an honors or AP history class.
Listen to our short conversation with Peter Van Buskirk about the importance of selecting the correct level of coursework during your senior year.
Rule 2: Elevate Your Course Difficulty Year Over Year
Another important piece of advice is to evaluate your level of course work, step up your game, and challenge yourself year over year. For example, if during freshman year you took one honors class and four academic classes and you did well, then try taking two honors classes during sophomore year and maybe three or four during junior year.
Developing Your Interests
Rule 3: Focus on Subjects That Interest You
Too many students are worried about selecting classes that might impress colleges. However, one of the most important aspects of high school is to develop yourself as a person. From learning time management to discovering passions, high school is a time when you can explore different fields of study or topics of interest, in particular through elective classes.
Take advantage of opportunities to explore new subjects and develop new skills. Through this process you might realize that your ceramics class offers a place for you to destress from the pressures of your core classes, or that your engineering technology class is much more interesting and fun than you would have anticipated.
As a result, you might follow a different path than you ever had previously imagined and learned a great deal about yourself in the process. The best way to accomplish this self-discovery is to take some time to read through your school's course catalog and don't be afraid to try something new.
Completing Your Requirements
Rule 4: Research Your Course Requirements
It is important to take the classes that interest you while also making sure that you fulfill the necessary requirements. High schools have a minimum amount of classes that you must take in each core subject to graduate; however, the level of college to which you are applying might have a higher standard.
Most colleges require the core classes of English, math, history, science, and foreign language. Typically, a student's transcript will contain the following number of classes:
- 4 years of English
- 3-4 years of math
- 3-4 years of history
- 3-4 years of science
- a minimum of 2 years of foreign language
Often, the more selective colleges would like to see five core class taken each year so that they know you are prepared to handle a certain level of work in college. However, it's also important to note that colleges do not expect you to take classes that are not offered at your high school.
Senior Year Selection
Rule 5: Continue to Work Hard During Your Senior Year
Senior year matters - more than you might think. It is important to discover and challenge yourself throughout high school, including senior year. Colleges are looking for students who are still engaged in the learning process because, you guessed it, college is just an extension of that process.
Former Dean of Admission and Scoir Strategic Advisor, Peter Van Buskirk, explains:
Your senior year course selections reveal a lot about your focus and motivation—and can, by themselves, be determining factors in your admission outcomes. 1) Choose courses that make sense to you—move to the next logical level of rigor in each discipline. 2) Commit yourself to doing as well as possible—never settle for “good enough.” And, 3) focus on colleges that will value you for what you have done—they will see your body of work academically as having prepared you for success at their institutions.
Admission counselors do not want you to take a break from learning or to coast through senior year. In fact, it's just the opposite, since senior year is the last year to show the colleges what you are capable of doing. As a result, many colleges will ask for your senior year's first semester grades prior to deciding on your admittance. Also, if you haven't performed up to your ability in the first three years, look at senior year as a way to prove to colleges that you do have the potential to be successful at their universities.
At the end of the day, you should focus on courses that allow you to discover what you enjoy and what your strengths are. Instead of competing for top-rank among your classmates, channel your energy into activities that allow you to gain a sense of who you are as an individual.