Now that college acceptance letters are gracing mailboxes across the country with life-changing news for high school seniors, it’s time for you to think very carefully about what your high school transcript will reveal when your turn comes to apply to college. These five elements of your high school life to date should guide your planning now:
RigorIf your list of colleges includes some of the 100 or so most competitive, then you must have a good complement of AP (or IB or AICE*) and Honors courses. That’s because the most important factor in college admissions is your academic record, highlighted by the rigor of your courses. Whether you’ve got UF, FSU, or Harvard on your college list, be sure to take anywhere from six to twelve (or more!) AP/IB/AICE courses over your four high school years – and perform well. Selective colleges do not value Dual-Enrollment courses the way they do nationally recognized AP/IB/AICE courses – unless you have exhausted the curriculum in a particular subject area at your high school. And if your high school doesn’t offer much by way of AP/IB/AICE courses, take the most challenging ones you can there, and consider taking a few AP courses elsewhere, even online.
ContinuityAre you continuing through a recommended sequence of study? Do you have the right math course that builds upon previous years? Selective colleges encourage students to take a math course every year, even if they want to major in English; similarly, such colleges recommend taking two years of AP English, regardless of your potential major in college. Are you taking that third or fourth year of a foreign language? If not, you need to replace foreign language with another academic core course. Hate science? Too bad, because selective colleges want to see biology, chemistry, and physics – preferably at the Honors or AP/IB level. Show continuity – and progressively more challenge – in your high school program.
ExplorationAre you headed for a career in journalism or theatre? Health care? Computer science? Select high school courses that reflect your future direction, assuming you know what that will be. Not sure yet? Take your best guess, then choose some courses that will reinforce your vocational choice – and potential major – on your college applications. Reinforcing your future direction with those course choices is especially important for the most competitive majors like computer science or mechanical engineering – and for more selective colleges. For example, a future STEM major should have at least one year of calculus as well as biology, chemistry, and physics at the AP or IB level. A future entrepreneur or finance major should also have at least one year of calculus as well as economics, preferably at the AP or IB level. Additionally, at least one year of computer science would provide additional support for any STEM or business major. Thinking about the visual arts? Then be sure to have solid curricular support, especially if offered at the AP level. Undecided about your future major? Then balance your 4-year curriculum to reflect an interest in all five core academic areas (English, math, science, social science, foreign language), with a level of rigor that reflects your college goals – the more selective the college, the more rigorous your curriculum should be.
Balance24/7 academics does not constitute balance. Colleges want lively, responsive, curious, mature teenagers who display a desire to learn about lots of things both inside and outside the classroom. Don’t kill yourself with seven AP courses at the same time (unless you’re headed to a university that admits fewer than 15% of its applicants), or even three AP courses if that’s not within your capabilities. Don’t select 3-4 AP courses that require tons of reading unless you love to read. Frankly, it’s more important to be a happy, healthy, well-adjusted teenager who can comfortably balance school, extracurriculars, hobbies, family, friends, and relaxation. So seek out only as much challenge as you can comfortably handle! Remember, there are over two thousand colleges, most all of which offer a fine undergraduate education.
EnjoymentIf you have a favorite teacher or subject, do yourself a favor: incorporate that teacher or subject into next year’s course selection. You’ll be really happy you did, and your positive feelings will spill over more easily into the rest of your curriculum.
Still confused? Do you have questions? Want to plan out next year’s courses as well as those for the rest of high school? That’s one of our specialties! Call us to find out how we can help you choose your classes, always with your college prospects in mind. And, of course, we can also guide you all the way through your college planning, which involves far more than simply selecting and applying to colleges on your list. There’s more. Much more. Let us explain!
Ready, set, plan!
* Given the choice of AP vs AICE, choose AP because some colleges don’t recognize AICE as the rigorous equivalent of AP (e.g., UCLA) and others don’t recognize AICE at all (e.g., USC).