Are you taking the right high school courses? Here are five questions to help you find out

high school courses

Your transcript is one of the most important pieces of your college application that admission committees pay close attention to. They view the transcript as a tool, to help them assess your qualities as a student and predict your future academic success. While it is no secret that your grades and overall GPA will be examined under the magnifying glass, the classes you choose will also play a key part in the transcript review.

 In order to make your application more impressive and competitive, you should select your high school courses wisely. Below are a few things admission committees consider in terms of classes selection:


Are your high school courses meeting the college requirements?

Your curriculum should not only meet your high school graduation requirements, but also the college admission requirements. The core classes such as English, history, math, and science are required by most colleges. It is essential that you have taken (or plan to take) all the required courses before you graduate from high school. Without the required high school courses on your transcript, you will most likely receive a rejection letter (they may not even look at the rest of your application).

Unfortunately, every college has its own set of requirements, which might vary significantly from one school to another. Before your sophomore year, you should brainstorm a few potential colleges that you would apply to and look at their high school courses requirements.

For example, if you’re interested in applying to any schools under the University of California system, you will need to complete a minimum of 15 required classes, with 11 of them completed before you begin your senior year.  Reviewing the admission requirements early allows you to plan ahead and avoid any unnecessary stress or disappointment later. If you didn’t look at these requirements until one month before your application deadline and you realized you didn’t complete all the required high school courses, it would be too late for you to do anything.


Are you getting the most out of what is available?

When you become a freshman in high school, you might put your focus on adjusting to the new environment and doing well on the classes selected for you by your counselor. However, when starting to plan your sophomore year curriculum, you should be more aware of what is available to take. Students should explore the different options available and take advantage of the opportunities. For example, if your goal is to get into the engineering programs in college and your high school offers science and math elective classes, you should really consider taking them. If your high school doesn’t offer electives that match with your academic interest, you should check with your local community colleges to see if they offer any of those classes. The goal is to prove to an admissions committee that you do take advantage of the available resources to better prepare yourself academically for college level work.


Are you seeking challenges?

Schools like students who welcome challenges and are good at overcoming difficulties. Therefore, when reviewing your transcript, they would want to know if you’re a challenge-seeker or a challenge-avoider. One way to find out is through your high school courses selection. Many competitive applicants take rigorous courses such as AP, honor, or IB classes to show admission committee that they have prepared themselves for advanced level classes. And they gradually increase the number of these challenging classes they take every year (e.g. 2 classes in the sophomore year, 3 classes in the junior year, and 4 classes in the senior year). This tells the admission committee that you are ready for academic challenge.


Have you been improving?

Now that you have got your curriculum planned out and enrolled in some rigorous classes, it’s time to get to the hard work. You might have the most impressive curriculum but what’s the point if you fail half of the classes? Admission committee understands that some high school courses are more difficult than the others and it takes time for students to develop their study skills. Therefore, they focus more on trends. If you got a C on Algebra in your freshman year, a B on Trigonometry in your sophomore year, and an A on Pre-Calculus in your junior year, schools are pleased to see that you have been progressing every year. Oppositely, if your grades have been going down throughout the years, they might have doubt on your motivation, commitment, and ability to pursue academic excellence.


Do the classes tie to your academic interests?

If you have your heart set on certain academic programs and you think you will be selecting a specific major on your application, be sure your high school courses support what you say, and vice versa. Admission committee knows that high school is the time when students take courses from a wide range of subjects and explore their academic interests. So it is totally fine to have classes from different areas in your curriculum. What I mean is that if you are very determined on what you want to major in and you are going to talk about how much you have prepared yourself for the major in your personal statement, then you better have the relevant high school courses on your transcript to back up what you say (e.g. taking multiple studio-art classes to prepare for the design program).

We hope that these five questions can get your ideas flowing for choosing your high school courses. You should create a game plan and discuss the plan with your counselors. If you’re interested in specific classes but unsure if they are right for you, talk to the teachers. Ask them about the class topics, workload, exams etc. so you can do your assessment and determine whether the classes are appropriate for you.

It is important to choose right high school courses that allow for a balanced course schedule so you have sufficient time to study, participate in extracurricular activities, and involve in other commitments you may have.

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