Many schools have opened their course selection for next year, and many will be opening soon. As students gear up to pick their classes for their upcoming year of high school here are a few things to be aware of.
According to National Association for College Admissions Counseling, the top five factors in college admission decision are
- Grades in all courses
- Grades in college prep courses
- Strength of curriculum
- Admission Test Scores (SAT, ACT) – this may be less significant now with the pandemic and schools choosing to be test optional or test blind
- Essay or Writing Sample
Strength of Curriculum
While many things about college admissions have changed, one thing that has remained consistent is the importance of grades and the strength of academic curriculum, which is also referred to as Academic Rigor. Generally, if a course is a part of Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula, it is considered more rigorous than a typical high school course. Similarly, courses that provide college credit (like dual enrolment programs) through a partnership with a local college or university are considered more rigorous than courses that offer high school credit alone.
AP versus Honors Classes
Most high schools offer “Honors” classes that are more intensive than a typical class for that subject, sometimes called as a “College Preparatory” (or CP) class. The challenge with these “Honors” classes is that colleges in their admissions process have limited means to gauge their intensity or compare Honors offering between different high schools. While Honors classes do demonstrate additional rigor, the interpretation of the level of rigor and providing additional weight in terms of GPA is left up to individual universities.
Core Academic Subjects
In the current academic scenario, there are five academic areas which comprise the college preparatory curriculum.
English – 4 years of English is required almost universally across US for high school graduation. Taking AP or IB level class adds to the rigor
Math – Typically the requirement is three years of high school math with student reaching at least Algebra II. Students taking a 4th year of Math, and reaching pre-calculus or Calculus by senior year is viewed to have had a rigorous curriculum.
Science – In college preparatory context, this is usually lab science including Physics, Chemistry and Biology. The requirement is usually 2 years of a lab science. Taking additional years of advanced lab science (like AP Chemistry, IB Biology) will help demonstrate rigor.
Social Studies – Typical requirement is 2 years, with one year of World and 1 year of US History and/or Government. Rigor can be demonstrated by taking AP/IB level classes.
Foreign Language – Vast majority of four-year colleges require two years of foreign language completed at high school. Additional rigor can be demonstrated by taking additional years of the same language. Many universities require foreign language to earn a Bachelor’s degree upon entering the college. Strategic college bound students may wish to earn college credit preemptively by taking AP/IB exams or a dual enrolment class.
Art – Many universities would like that students take 1 year of Art like – Visual Art, Music, Theater, Dance etc.
A few other things to keep in mind –
- Depth versus Breadth –
Depth – Students who take deeper and higher-level classes in a given area (with increasing intensity) can demonstrate that they can take most challenging courses in their high school.
Breadth – Students who pursue a wide range of academic topics get varied exposure but maybe unable to advance towards the most rigorous courses in a given area.
While each has its advantage, students choosing depth would be viewed more favorably in a college admissions context than breadth.
- You do not have to load your schedule with all rigorous classes. Choose your classes so that you feel challenged but not overwhelmed.
- Pick the classes that highlight your strength and set yourself up for success.
- Popular and most sought-after classes can fill quickly. So, plan early.
- Make sure to consult with your school counselor before enrolling.