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When It Comes to Course Selection, Just Count to Five

I have been getting used to a new computer in the last few weeks. Everything is new, including a brand new update to my Zoom account.

It took the collective wisdom of three colleagues to figure out how to adjust the settings. The one that really stumped us was how to turn off the emojis that would pop up on screen every time I talked with my hands. And that happens a lot. Because, well, I talk with my hands—a lot

The emoji of colorful balloons, like the ones you'd see in a children's story, was quite comical. But it was very distracting to me and the families I was meeting with. I would turn bright red when the balloons appeared on my screen and the family would get a good chuckle seeing them soar as if a young child had just been gifted the balloons at a park and then accidentally let them go. However, the thumbs-up emoji with a big old thumb really emphasized whenever I started counting with my hands. I always start with my thumb, of course. One, two, three, four, five. 

I count to five a lot in my job. I am counting the number of core academic classes a student has taken or plans to take the following school year. It's a habit that started 25 years ago when I began my career in college admissions. It's ingrained in my mind. Does the student have all five core academic classes each year? English, math, history/social studies, science, and world or ancient language. One, two, three, four, five.  
Some might argue that my standards are too high. While I began working in college admissions at an Ivy League university with a high bar of expectations, the truth is that all colleges want to see students taking the five core academic classes every year of high school when push comes to shove.
When families don't believe me, I show them the proof. For example, on the University of Delaware's website, the admissions office clearly states the bare minimum to apply in one column right next to what they recommend in the next column. Many are surprised that the University of Delaware wants to see four years of each of the five core academic subjects. It's as plain as day. One, two, three, four, five.
As course selection begins to sweep the nation like a flood of balloons on my computer screen, students will be faced with making decisions about what classes to take in the next school year. I encourage students to pick one English, one math, one history or social studies, one science, and one world or ancient language (the same language they have been taking all along!). One, two, three, four, five.
Can a student get admitted without taking all five core academic subjects each year of high school? Yes. There could be a scheduling conflict. The student's high school might not offer a core subject in a given year. Or possibly, the admissions officer reading their application might not count on their hand like me and could miss the fact that a core subject is not taken. But if you want to position yourself to be competitive for every college in the country, taking all five core academic subjects is the right thing to do. 

READ MORE: APs Are Being Eliminated at Some High Schools. Should We Be Worried?

The balloons and thumbs-up emojis are finally gone from my Zoom account. But you will still catch me counting on my hand, thumb first, when I am reviewing a student's course schedule. I am always making sure the student isn't taking the minimum requirements; I want them to go beyond. One, two, three, four, five.