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by Paula Wheeler


What are you taking next semester?

With winter break over, high school students are either starting their second semesters or preparing for final exams week. No matter which schedule their schools follow, all students will soon need to select their classes for the 2023-2024 academic year. 

As they consider what classes to take, college-bound students can benefit from understanding how college admissions officers will eventually evaluate their high-school transcripts. More than any other element of the college application, a student’s transcript is what colleges use to assess their academic strengths, as well as their capacity to succeed in an academically rigorous environment. 

Students, here are some factors to think through as you make your choices for next year:


What’s required by your high school?

Every high school will have core requirements for graduation. Be sure you know what these are and keep track of them as you complete them! You don’t want any of these to fall through the cracks.


What’s required by colleges and universities?

A school’s Common Data Set (Google: “common data set [name of university]” will tell you this. While many requirements are similar among schools, others may have differences in what they like to see or what they require to be considered for admission. For example, some strongly prefer that you take and progress in the same foreign language for all four years of high school. University of California schools require you to have taken a full year of fine arts in the same subject area. As you get closer to deciding on schools, know their requirements and plan accordingly!


What classes will challenge you appropriately?

In general, you want to aim for the “sweet spot” of selecting classes that will challenge and stretch you, but where a good grade is within your reach if you put in the effort. College admissions officers like to see that you’ve challenged yourself, given what’s available at your school, and that despite a rigorous course load, you succeeded in earning strong grades. It’s important to consider your goals here: If you are targeting the most highly selective colleges, you’ll want to take the most rigorous course schedule you can, every semester  – AP classes, advanced classes, weighted classes. 

An “appropriate” level of challenge looks different for everyone. Strategically, your schedule should be similar to those of your academic peers. You want to balance the rigor of your course schedule with the ability to maintain strong grades (an occasional B in a rigorous class might be worth the experience, but too many B’s and C’s will put you at a disadvantage) to pursue your interests outside the classroom, and to sustain your mental and physical health and wellbeing.


What classes do you want to take?

This is the fun part: what are you interested in learning? Which teachers at your school inspire you? Do you want some creative options to balance otherwise intense academics? 

If you know what you’d like to study in college or even what type of career you may want to pursue, take classes that will help set you up for success! Future STEM majors, that could mean adding computer science, math or science electives.


Who knows you best?

If you’re uncertain about the best options, talk it over with a trusted advisor, teacher or parent. They can help you think through what’s realistic for you, given your other commitments, your academic performance to date and your work ethic. Some academic stress is positive. Too much is counterproductive, sabotaging motivation and leading to burnout or downright misery! Get the input of someone who wants the best for you, and has a good idea of what you’re capable of.

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