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What High School Courses Should I Take?

Stephen Friedfeld, PhD

What high school courses should I take?
Stephen Friedfeld, PhD

While it may feel like the school year has just begun, now is already the right time to be thinking about your courses for next year and potentially subsequent years of high school. The courses that you choose throughout high school —- and the grades you receive in those courses — are arguably the most important factor in admissions decisions, so choose wisely! Read on for advice on how to choose the right courses for you.

Examine your strengths and weaknesses

Are you a math whiz? A history buff? Colleges are looking for students to challenge themselves with their high school curriculum, but that doesn’t mean that you need to take every AP/IB/Honors course your high school offers. Play to your strengths, and start by taking the most rigorous courses available in the subjects that come naturally to you before adding others. There’s no point in taking all AP or IB courses and getting C’s and D’s.

Consider your future goals

If you have a clear idea of your intended major/career path, choose courses that complement this interest. For example, if you plan to study engineering, you should take the highest levels of math and science offered at your high school. Admissions officers often review applications through the lens of the major that a student has chosen, so it is important to show strength in related courses. This can also include adding relevant electives to your schedule, such as Anatomy & Physiology for a future physician or AP Government for a future lawyer.

Still undecided about your major? Take this opportunity to explore courses that sound interesting to you and challenge yourself across multiple disciplines. Colleges value well-rounded students just as much as those with a clear academic focus.

Reflect on the previous year(s)

Colleges will look at the entirety of your high school transcript, so you need to consider the story it tells. Did you struggle initially? That’s okay, but you’ll want to show admissions officers that as the rigor of your courses increases, your academic performance does as well. This may require developing new study habits or getting extra help in your classes, but an upward trend in grades can have a positive impact on your application.

Admissions officers also want to see a steady increase in the rigor of your courses from year to year. For some students, this may mean 1 AP as a senior when they had previously taken only honors courses. For others, it may mean starting a full IB Diploma program in junior year. Colleges will review your transcript within the context of your high school, so your goal should be to challenge yourself as best as you can given the curriculum available to you.

Stephen Friedfeld is the co-founder and COO of AcceptU. He received a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Prior to founding AcceptU, Stephen was an Assistant Dean of admissions at Cornell for four years and an Associate Dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University for six years. Stephen is an IECA Associate Member.

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