Choosing Challenging Coursework in High School

Preparing for college happens long before the first ACT, SAT or college application; the choices a student makes through the entire course of her high school education has an impact on life after senior year. Decisions on coursework throughout the four years of high school are all very important. To appeal to colleges and to be well prepared for college, students need to choose courses in high school to be competitive.

Set the foundation starting with Freshman year

Preparation for college starts the day a student enters high school. While Freshman year may seem like the time to ease into college prep, doing so is a huge mistake. Freshman year is the time to set a good foundation for the rest of high school. Freshman should talk to a guidance counselor to create a plan that is manageable. A four year schedule does not need to be set in stone but instead should be a guide to keep a student on track towards a more successful high school plan.

The appropriate amount of challenge

From the first day of high school to the last, all coursework should be challenging but appropriate. Students should choose the right amount of core classes and AP classes that they can handle. Overloading on challenging coursework can lead to burn out or bad grades, but choosing only electives that can be easily aced is also not wise. Students should not dismiss coursework that doesn’t immediately appeal to them; on the other hand, students should not take a course just to avoid a harder one. These courses may challenge students in an important way and colleges will see this.

Colleges care about the classes students take every year

From Freshman year to Senior year, everything matters to colleges. Students should choose valuable coursework from Freshman year and continue to build on that through senior year. Senioritis no long exists; the last year counts. Colleges can request a student’s senior year class schedule and final grades upon completion. They don’t want to see a student who took the easy route the last year, since that may reflect on how a student will perform after high school.

AP Class

AP coursework should make sense to a student’s major in college, unless they are unsure of their college plans. Students shouldn’t stray away from AP classes because they would prefer coursework that is an easy A. While colleges would prefer a student take AP classes and receive an A, AP classes generally have more weight towards a student’s GPA; a B in these classes will look better than an A in a normal class.

Foreign languages

Students should take a foreign language even if that language may not affect their future education plans. Foreign languages show challenging coursework and being able to understand or speak another language is an added bonus for a student’s future.

Extracurricular activities

While students should be setting a good foundation and taking challenging coursework throughout their high school education, they should not forget about electives and extracurricular activities. Students should also be participating in activities they enjoy to prevent burnout which leads to mistakes.

Transcripts: rigor plus performance

Colleges look for several things when reviewing transcripts. Is a student challenging herself enough but also achieving? Keep in mind that colleges will review these transcripts based on what a student’s high school has available. If AP and honor level courses are available to students, they should be taking them. If a high school doesn’t offer high level coursework, colleges realize this cannot count negatively towards the student. However, students should keep in mind opportunities that exist around them outside of high school. Is there a local college that allows high school students to enroll in coursework while still attending high school? These options are out there and students should look into them if their high school does not offer challenging courses.

Time management

Rigorous coursework plus extracurricular courses show a student’s ability to manage their time. However, colleges notice when juniors and seniors sign up for extracurricular just to do so. Colleges see a deep involvement in a student’s extracurricular activities over those that were taken at the last year just to add to a college application.

Students should keep in mind throughout high school, challenge of any kind is good. Balancing challenging activities and extracurricular activities is important. While colleges want students to take on coursework that shows their ability to engage in difficult classes, students should not overwhelm themselves and negatively impact their future with poor grades or performance from burnout. In the end, it’s all about balance.

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