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Tips on Picking Classes for Next Year

It seems too early to fathom, but most students need to select their classes for the coming school year right about now. They have a list of course offerings, advice from their school counselor and parents, and a whole lot of recommendations from older students which can easily sway their decision.

However, if a student ends up applying to selective or highly selective colleges, the courses they take are just as important as the grades they receive in them. Here are my five rules to follow if you plan on applying to a competitive college:

  1. Stick to a traditional curriculum for all four years of high school. As much as some colleges are progressive and value creative students, they still want to see a very traditional curriculum with all five academic subject matters taken (English, math, science, history, and foreign language) for all four years if possible. If there is a scheduling conflict with one academic subject matter, double up with another subject matter to ensure that five academic courses are taken. 
  2. Elective courses should not be taken in place of academic courses. While elective courses can ignite a spark in a student with non-traditional interests, they shouldn't take elective courses in place of core academic subjects if they're applying to competitive colleges. If the student has room in their schedule, they can take elective courses in addition to their five academic subject matters.
  3. Calculus is an important class to complete before high school graduation. Most elite colleges have an unspoken expectation to see Calculus on a student's transcript even if they are applying as a Humanities major. If a student is not on track to take Calculus but believes they could excel at it, they can consider taking a math course over the summer after 9th or 10th grade to get ahead or on track. Alternatively, students can consider doubling up in math during the school year, but that can be very challenging for many students.

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  4. Before you drop foreign language or another subject matter senior year, read this. Most colleges have academic requirements even for specialized programs. Dropping a core course like foreign language is not ideal. Some students will argue that they took foreign language in middle school and were one year ahead in that language during high school anyway. However, colleges, especially the elite ones, want to see the student is fully prepared for the demands of their curriculum. If the student doesn't take a language senior year of high school, they might need additional language courses in college to fulfill the requirement.
  5. Know thyself! If you feel overwhelmed by the rigor of your current curriculum, take a step back and reduce the rigor for next year's course load. A student's well-being is more important than taking a full load of Advanced Placement or Honors courses. Students can slowly build up the rigor in their curriculum with each year of high school.

Course selection is an important step for all college bound students. It's not just about getting the highest grades; it's about taking the right courses. Whether a student is applying to a college with a low admit rate or a high admit rate, taking a traditional course load each year is recommended. If possible, try to take English, math, science, history, and foreign language. You will be better prepared for the admissions process and for college if you do.