Course Selection: Going the Extra Mile in High School

Open BookCollege admission counselors report that the courses a student has chosen over the course of four years greatly influence the way his/her application is viewed by the Admission Committee. When judging the strength of an admission application, many admission personnel place “Quality of curriculum” and “Grades achieved” above SAT scores, leadership roles and athletics.

What do they mean by “quality of curriculum?” Read on.

The more demanding an academic subject appears to be to a college, the greater its impact on the application’s strength. Advanced Placement courses tend to be valued the most, and Honors courses follow closely behind.

You may not know that most colleges create a new grade point average for their applicants, and the majority will weight these new averages if they include Honors and AP courses.

Only “solid” academic subjects are included; usually this means English, Math, Science, Social Studies and Foreign Language. Therefore, if you think you can achieve a B or better in an Honors course, take it!

Exceeding Course Requirements

Solid courses are the meat and potatoes of a student’s high school transcript. They are the courses that count heaviest when evaluating a student’s application. For this reason, you need to select your courses with care. If you are considering a career in science, for example, consider taking four years of science and math even though your graduation requirements or college admission requirements may ask for only three of each. Remember these “requirements” are minimums. If you are applying to a competitive school satisfying only the minimum requirements may not make you a desirable candidate.

Despite high schools having graduation requirements that specify a minimum number of credits a student must accumulate before graduating, this artificial number does not necessarily represent what admission officers wish to see on a student’s transcript. It is not uncommon to see some students viewing their senior year as a time to “kick back.” Why not? After all, you worked hard for three years. If you only need two or three credits to graduate then your senior year is bound to be easier.

Unfortunately, the admission officers at colleges and universities around the country view this attitude as taking the easy way out. It tells them something about a student’s devotion toward academics and raises serious questions about a student’s maturity and ability to withstand the rigors of a college education. The moral of this tale is: take a minimum of four of the toughest solid classes you can when you are a senior, but only if you can do well in them.

How College Admissions Views Your High School Curriculum

First and foremost in the eyes of a college admission officer is the quality of the course selection that an applicant carries on his/her high school transcript. During your high school years, did you take the absolute toughest, most challenging courses available to you, in which you could do well? The second part of this sentence is just as important as the first. There is no point in taking tough classes if you cannot do well in them.

Admission officers are very concerned with your preparedness for a college curriculum. They want to see that you managed a minimum of four solid courses per semester. Solid courses are those classes offered in English, mathematics, science, social sciences and foreign languages. It is not an uncommon practice to see a college admission office maintain a policy of “stripping” a transcript, which simply means re-computing a student’s grade point average (GPA) using only the solid courses taken.

One college admissions officer recently told us that his college specifically favored applicants who had completed four years of the five academic subjects mentioned above. He mentioned that most high school students take only the required 2-3 years of foreign language, and many take only three years of Science. In a very telling statement, he says:

“The fourth year of a Science, a Mathematics, and a Foreign Language is the great divide among college admission applicants. Those who have chosen to remain in the challenging academic curriculum stand a better chance of getting accepted into more competitive universities or colleges.”

The admissions person mentioned above works for a highly selective, private liberal arts college. The vast majority of admission personnel, whom we have questioned, from all types of colleges, have echoed his advice. Of course, there are always exceptions.

“Solid vs. Non-Solid” Classes

Regarding fine and practical arts or “non-solid” classes: while solid courses are an important measure of a student’s readiness for college, the many elective courses offered such as, art, vocal music, drama, computer science, typing, etc. play a vital role in a student’s portfolio. They provide a student’s high school record the all-important word: balance.

For example, the student applying to an art college rarely needs four years of math OR science, but does need an extensive art background and a portfolio. Additionally, a computer graphics course in high school would be a nice credit to have if you are planning a career in computer science. If you have a special talent such as, acting or music, and you plan on pursuing it on the collegiate level then it becomes imperative that you consider several courses in these areas over extra science courses. Still, it is wise advice for the college bound to consistently challenge themselves throughout their high school years.

Keep in mind, although colleges may state a minimum requirement of three years of science and math for admission, you may boost your chances of acceptance by taking more than the minimum.

In conclusion, consider this: your college admission portfolio begins on the first day of classes in your ninth grade year. Everything that you do from that day forward will somehow impact your college years. Therefore, it is wise to begin positioning yourself early by planning your high school years carefully – even if you do not have a clue as to what you wish to major in or where you want to go to college. All the extra hours and effort put towards taking extra “solid” courses and/or having a very balanced portfolio can really pay off come admissions time!