Advice for Selecting High School Courses

Sep 14, 2018

by Arden Mitchell
Director of Admissions

Many high school students (and their parents) struggle with choosing classes that will not only meet high school graduation requirements but also improve their chances for admission into highly selective colleges. Remembering that everyone's situation is different, here are a few guidelines:

Start with a Foundation

While the potential for more free periods may sound enticing, aim to take at least five academic courses per semester. You don't need to fully jump into an honors, IB, or AP course if you are not ready, but progressively challenging yourself looks great to an admissions committee. 

Excel in English

Most colleges expect that you'll take an English literature or writing course every year of high school. These classes help students to develop their grammar, reading comprehension, and vocabulary, which is often reflected in college admissions exams like the ACT or SAT. The average college experience depends heavily on reading and writing abilities, so it’s useful to have the additional practice!

Multiply the Math Courses

Colleges also look for three full years of mathematics courses, and some even look for four, depending on the major you are considering. Classes like algebra, geometry, and trigonometry can help you prepare for entrance exams too! To really stand out from the crowd, it’s recommended that you take pre-calculus and calculus, which is often considered to be “college-level”. 

Why Study Science?

While most high school's only require two years of science (one in natural sciences such as earth science and one in laboratory sciences like chemistry or biology), additional science courses are big hits with colleges. Science courses demonstrate your ability to think analytically and apply theories. They're also a lot of fun! And if you're considering a STEM field, extra science courses will help you build a solid foundation, giving you a headstart on the materials (not to mention a competitive edge) you'll need to learn in college.

Learn a Language

One sure way to stand out from a pool of applicants is by taking a foreign language throughout high school. Colleges typically expect one or two years, but taking the same language all four years demonstrates proficiency in a foreign tongue. With an increasingly globalized society, a knowledge of another language is useful beyond the college-search process.

Experiment with Electives

Electives are classes you take that are not specifically part of your graduation requirements. They allow you the opportunity to try new things while uncovering your career interests. More than many other courses, the electives you choose give admissions committees insights into your personality. Whether you take painting, theatre, computer programming, or nutrition, experiment and have fun!

Some Final Thoughts

Ultimately, what admissions committees want to see is that you have a solid knowledge base and a desire to challenge yourself. Each semester, ask yourself if you're taking a well-rounded set of courses that will prepare you for college academics. Also ask if you feel challenged by the courses you're taking. Your curriculum should stretch you; after all, we're looking for talented learners who enjoy variety and challenge!

If you have any questions at any point, be sure to reach out. Our knowledgeable Admissions Counselors are happy to consult with you about selecting classes and extracurricular pursuits that will help you achieve your academic and career goals.