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Resource CenterGetting in & Applying to CollegeCollege PreparationChoosing High School Classes

Choosing High School Classes

When most people think of high school, freedom is not likely the first word that comes to mind.  However, this is a period in your life where you begin to gain more autonomy.  Indeed, from acquiring your driver’s license to (potentially) leaving school grounds for lunch/free periods, greater independence is now within your grasp.  This also extends to the classroom as high school provides a modicum of academic freedom.  You see, unlike elementary and middle school, your schedule is not wholly defined for you.  Though colleges (and your home state) expect you to fulfill certain requirements, you have some wiggle room as to how you meet them.  From electives to advanced placement classes, you’ll definitely have more of a say in your course-load.  So, how exactly do you go about choosing your classes?  Great question!

1. Make an appointment to speak with your guidance counselor.
Obviously, he/she is well acquainted with the curriculum your high school offers and can inform you of the standard schedule for students in your grade.  Your counselor will also ensure that you’re satisfying all the necessary requirements.  And he/she can help highlight courses that might be of interest or appropriate for your skill-level. 

2. Don't settle for the minimum.
Don’t just register for the minimum number of courses you need and then opt to fill up the remainder of your schedule with study halls or free periods.  Instead, consider signing up for another elective.  Colleges will definitely be more impressed with a second foreign language or a computer science course then they will be with the extra 45 minutes a day you spent sitting in the library (or cafeteria).  Plus, enrolling in another class might allow you to discover a new academic passion.

3. Consider your career interests.
When creating your schedule, you should also keep in mind what you might want to study in college.  After all, it’s beneficial if you can show aptitude and continued interest, especially since some colleges (though definitely not all) ask you to declare your intended major on your applications.  Therefore, if you think you might want to go the engineering route, make sure your schedule is chockfull of science and math courses.  If you love painting, take a handful of fine arts electives.

4. Challenge yourself.
Of course, perhaps the most important aspect to consider when choosing your classes is rigor.  Colleges, especially competitive ones, aren’t usually interested in students content with skating by or those who opt to take the easy route.  They seek out applicants who demonstrate drive, determination and intellectual curiosity.  Indeed, admissions officers want students who challenge themselves and who will be able to handle a college curriculum. 
This doesn’t mean you need to arrange your schedule so you’re only taking honors, accelerated, IB and/or advanced placement courses (though if you do – kudos).  While you shouldn’t be afraid to step up your academic game, there’s no need to go overboard.  For example, if you struggle with math enrolling in AP Calculus will likely do more harm than good (both to your GPA and your psyche).  Instead, sign up for harder classes in the subjects in which you excel.  If you love reading and writing, take honors English or AP Literature.  By pushing yourself, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the subject matter in greater depth.  You’ll likely gain a deeper appreciation for the material and you’ll feed and stretch your intellect.  And if you see yourself succeeding in an accelerated or AP class or two, consider adding a few more to your schedule next semester or year.

5. Find the right balance.
Though you shouldn’t shy away from hard work, you also want to ensure that your course-load allows you a healthy work-life balance.  If you find yourself doggedly studying from the minute the last bell rings to the second you hop into bed, perhaps you should reassess your schedule.  Certainly, your school work should be challenging but you should also have time to explore the world and participate in activities outside of the classroom.  That’s just as important as book learning.  And it’s a much healthier way to approach life.


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Don Munce