AcademicsCareersCommon ApplicationCourse SelectionSecond Semester

Which, When and How Many? How to Choose High School Courses

By January 7, 2015 No Comments


The holidays are over and it’s back to the grindstone for high school students. It may feel early, but it’s already time to choose next year’s courses!

Deciding which courses to take involves some strategy and can often seem overwhelming. What courses should students enroll in? When should they take them? AP, Honors, electives?

When making these decisions, students and families should consider…

When reviewing a student’s application, colleges will take into consideration grades as well as the rigor of courses taken. They want to see that a student is pushing his/herself academically as well as being successful. Maintaining strong grades is still extremely important, however, colleges will be more impressed if a student earns an A- or a B in an AP class, than if s/he earns an A in a regular class.

How many?
There is no set number for how many AP classes a student should take but colleges often have a ballpark figure. More selective schools might look for 2 AP classes in junior year and 4 AP classes senior year. Less selective schools might look for less but will most likely want to see that a student has been successful in an AP class by junior year. Choosing the amount of AP classes depends on the schools the student is interested in and the amount of coursework s/he is able to successfully take on during a semester.

Big Picture
It’s important for students to consider what their entire high school career looks like on paper. Colleges want to see students have taken 4 years of the core subjects – Math, Science, English, Social Studies and a foreign language. It’s an impressive statement when a student has worked up to the most challenging courses available even after fulfilling the high school requirements.

Typically, core subjects take priority over electives. However, working up to the highest level possible in an elective also shows commitment and a drive to succeed. If a student loves to paint, play an instrument or take tech classes, it’s also a great accomplishment to hone their skills over four year’s worth of classes.

Course selection is an important piece of the college admissions puzzle. However, it’s also important to remember that choosing to take or not take one course isn’t going to make or break an application. It’s the big picture that matters and if schools see a student has consistently taken challenging courses and performed well in them, they will see that student as a worthwhile candidate.