Nine Tips for Choosing the Right High School Courses

The courses a student takes in high school are important.  More than academic aptitude, class choice demonstrates a student’s initiative and drive. No one class on a transcript will alter a college acceptance or denial, but the combination of classes can make or break a student’s chances.   
Here are some tips to guide you:
1. Meet the high school’s requirements. Each school has a list of required courses that must be taken in order for a student to graduate.  This is true whether your student attends a physical school, an online high school, or if your student is homeschooled.   
2. Pursue intellectual interests.  The core subjects are English, science, math, the social sciences, and foreign language.  Students should aim to take courses in each of the core subjects each year, then fill out their schedules with courses that demonstrate their particular interests. Take filmmaking and fashion if you want – just make sure you have the right balance of rigor. So, how to decide between AP European History and creative writing? When choosing what to take, be honest. Is writing the class you want to take 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? In any subject, take the most challenging courses available in the areas of study you are most interested in pursuing.   
3. Show colleges a positive pattern.   Colleges want to see that a student accepts challenges. Make sure you have a high level (or an improving degree) of rigor and success throughout your high school years. This includes senior year!   
4. Embrace challenge.  Rigorous honors, accelerated, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), and Dual Enrollment (DE) courses make a student more desirable to a college.  While taking many advanced courses is not required, just recommended, it is especially important to take the most challenging courses possible if your student wants to attend a selective university.   
5. Don’t panic about the courses your school offers.  Colleges understand that each high school is different and that what one high school offers may not be offered at another high school. Colleges also realize that different high schools have different requirements that may restrict what courses a student can take. To prevent any confusion, during the application process, high schools provide colleges with a school profile that lets the colleges know what courses are available to their students. Colleges expect students will excel in the opportunities available to them.   
6. Consider online and dual enrollment options.  Online and dual enrollment courses allow students to take almost every class imaginable. This option also enables students to take classes not offered by their school, including AP level courses. Be sure to check with your school prior to enrolling in an online or dual enrollment class to confirm credit will be accepted.   
7. Consult with teachers, a high school counselor and/or an expert college advisor from International College Counselors on what courses are most appropriate. Some difficult decisions may need to be made about which courses to take and how to balance schoolwork and extracurricular activities.  Students should be taking courses that challenge them, not crush them.   
8. Know the admissions guidelines for top choice colleges.  Many colleges have specific admissions requirements (or strong recommendations) for entering students. For example, the University of California requires students to take a yearlong course of visual and performing arts. Harvard and the University of Michigan strongly encourage students to take four-years of a single foreign language. Research each school individually.  Make sure any and all minimum requirements are met.   
9. Say no to Senioritis.  Many admissions offices will check an applicant’s senior year program and performance before offering admission. With this in mind, it’s important to show colleges that you’re continuing to challenge yourself in your senior year with rigorous coursework. It’s also important that you do well in those challenging courses – schools have rescinded the acceptances of students who performed poorly during their 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.  Students who make the “extra effort” show colleges they are ready for the challenge and adventure ahead!   
Need help with choosing classes or applying to colleges, contact International College Counselors at 1-954-414-9986 or