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A Crash Course in Taking Classes Outside of Your High School

Right now I am busy reviewing Application Nation students' course selections for the next school year. As the college admissions process becomes increasingly competitive, students think more is better when it comes to classes. And students aren't stopping with the classes offered at their high schools.

Now more than ever, I am seeing a significant uptick in the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes and college classes through online high schools and colleges. Many students believe that taking these advanced level classes will impress admissions officers and help them stand out. However, admissions officers don't see it that way.

Before you sign up for one of these outside classes, here is what you need to know:

  • Admissions officers only expect students to take advantage of the classes offered at their high school. 
  • Students should exhaust their curriculum options at their high school before taking an outside class. For example, if a student's high school only offers AP Calculus AB and a student takes that class as a junior, they could sign up for an online AP Calculus BC class for senior year, especially if they are interested in a business, science, or engineering major.  
  • If the high school doesn't offer APs, there is zero expectation that a student needs to take APs or the AP exams through another institution. The point of going to that high school is that it believes in a different approach to education, one that is not about "teaching to the test." Embrace it. That's why you are there!
  • When a scheduling conflict arises at the high school and a student absolutely needs to take a certain class, they can consider taking it through an online accredited institution or their local community college or local university.
  • If you really need to take a college class, don't be fooled by prestige. Taking a class at an elite university when you could have taken it for a fraction of the price at your local community college is viewed as elitist. Go for the cheaper and more accessible class, and that usually is your local option. 
  • When you take classes outside of your high school, you want to be aware of how it will be recorded and counted at your home high school. Almost always, your high school will not list these classes on the official transcript and thus will not include the outside classes in your GPA.
  • Students need to prioritize their classes at the high school before they even think about taking additional classes outside the high school. If a student is struggling in their core classes at their high school, that is a sign to stick with my 5-4 Plan which encourages students to take all five core subjects in all four years of high school only. This is what colleges encourage too!
  • Before you sign up for a summer AP or college class, consider the fact that a class is not something you can report on your activities list. That is a missed opportunity to not only take a break from academic work, but to do something in the summer that you don't have time to do during the school year that could be reported on your activities list.
  • If you take a class outside your high school and it does not report that class and grade, you will need to report those classes/grades/institutions to every college where you apply. That usually means an official transcript must be sent to each college to make sure they see the classes you took and the grades you got. Sending transcripts from other institutions costs money and takes time!
  • Finally, taking classes outside of your high school can be expensive. In an environment where colleges are trying to equalize the admissions process and not give advantages to those who have more resources, taking an expensive class can send the wrong message.

READ MORE: 5 Big Announcements in College Admissions So Far This Year

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Looking beyond your high school for courses before you have conquered the options at your high school can be tempting. But admissions officers are not expecting a student to seek out additional coursework. Focus on the classes that count first: the five core subjects. Exhaust your options before you even think about taking classes outside your high school. 
I know that the college admissions process is not always clear. One thing that is clear is that it is not what high school you attend anymore; it is what you take advantage of while you are there.