9 Tips for Choosing the Right High School Classes

When it comes time to high school course selection, I turn into game show contestant, trying to guess the right answer. I really don’t know what colleges are looking for these days. If I tell my kids to ask their school guidance counselor, they laugh. “What’s so funny?'” I ask. “Guidance counselors are a joke,”  they tell me. Apparently, in a big high school like ours, counselors oversee hundreds of students and don’t really provide much guidance.

So today, when an email from International College Counselors hit my Inbox, I couldn’t wait to hear what the experts had to say. I found it so helpful that I wanted to share it with all of you.


9 Tips for Choosing the Right High School Classes 

If success in the college admissions process is important, then your student needs to choose the right classes.

The high school transcript is almost always the most important document in a student’s application. Keep in mind, though, rarely would there ever be one particular class on a transcript that would determine the   applicant’s outcome.

While there’s no 100% guaranteed future college admissions formula, there are some strong patterns for success.

Here are some tips to guide you:


1. Meet the high school requirements. High schools have a list of required credits that must be taken in order to graduate. Most colleges (online or other) require a high school diploma to enroll in any program that grants bachelor degrees.

2. Take a balanced set of classes. Typically, a student should try to take courses each year in English, science, math, the social sciences, and foreign language.

3. Choose a smart range of college-prep courses. A student doesn’t need to take AP Everything to get into college but course choice does depend on the selectivity of college a students wants to attend. Demanding and challenging honors, accelerated, AP, International Baccalaureate (IB), and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) courses make a student more desirable to a school. However, colleges recognize a student can only take advantage of accelerated courses if her high school provides them. If AP courses or IB programs are not offered at a high school, colleges understand and only expect that a student will excel in the opportunities to which there is access. Colleges also understand different schools have different requirements that may restrict what courses a student can take.

4. Show colleges a positive pattern. Colleges like to see a high level (or an improving degree) of rigor and success   throughout a student’s high school years. This includes the senior year. Have   you heard this famous question: “Is it better to take a course where I   know I can get an ‘A’ or should I take a harder course and risk getting a   lower grade?” The answer is: “It’s best to get an ‘A’ in a harder   course.”  For those who find this answer unacceptable, we advise   students to take the higher course if the student thinks she can get a   “B.” Normally “C” or below means that a student is simply   in the wrong level. The key is that students need to seek challenge, not   avoid it, and succeed in the challenges chosen.

5.  Know the admissions guidelines for top choice   colleges.  Many colleges, especially the selective ones, have   specific admissions requirements for entering students, for example, a   foreign language requirement. It is best to research each school   individually.  Make sure your student meets any and all minimum   requirements.

6.  Pursue intellectual interests.  It’s OK to   take courses of a personal interest like filmmaking or fashion, just make   sure it is not at the expense of a schedule’s overall rigor. Honesty is very   important when a student is deciding between different courses. Is he or she   choosing drama because of a real excitement about it and the challenge it   presents, or is the motivation powered by a desire to avoid a different (and   perhaps difficult) academic subject?


7. Consider online and dual enrollment options.  Are you very   interested in physics but your school does not offer Physics C? Now, with the   internet and dual enrollment, students can take almost every class   imaginable! Be sure to check with your school prior to taking an online or   dual enrollment class to confirm credit will be accepted.

8.  Consult with teachers, a high school counselor and/or an expert college advisor on what courses are most appropriate. Some difficult decisions may also need   to be made about which courses to take and how to balance schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

9.  Do not catch Senioritis! Many admissions offices   will check an applicant’s senior year program and performance before offering   admission. Additionally, schools may rescind an acceptance if a student   performed poorly during the senior year.

Students who push themselves to excel all the way through high school, or show a trend of improvement are the type of student colleges welcome.  Colleges take “extra effort” to be a good sign that a student will do the same at their school.

About International College Counselors

International College Counselors provides expert college counseling on undergraduate and graduate college admissions, financial aid,   tuition, essays, and college applications to domestic and international students.      

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