Picking and taking the right courses in order to gain acceptance to your dream college should be an exploratory time for all students. For those who dream of a reach college, there needs to be an equivalent amount on preparation, challenge, and proper balance to make that dream a reality. We’ve had a lot of dreamers at Parros College Planning, many of whom dreamed of attending Ivy League schools, and were successful, with our guidance. Each of these students brought different strengths and were remarkable in their own ways, but they all had one key similarity: they started early, and they followed our advice.
We think that a big part of our success with these students comes from having the ability to work with them the entire four years of their high school careers (sometimes as early as 7th grade.) We’ve assisted in tailoring their course schedule in order to adhere to what colleges are looking for, and what works best for each student. Knowing which classes to take and when to take them are important for any student, so here are a few general guidelines to follow when choosing courses this upcoming fall.
- It goes without saying that you must take core courses, all four years. Colleges want to know that you have completed all your foundations in order to prepare you for the more challenging college-level courses they offer. Most high schools will require four years of math and English, and three years of science and social studies in order to graduate, and most colleges will also require these for acceptance. Harvard, for instance recommends four years of math, science, English, and two (but preferably three) years of history. These courses will make you into a diverse and talented student in the basics for any major you may choose later in your college career. If your high school does not require these for completion, don’t slack! Complete the requirements necessary for the future you want.
- If your high school offers AP classes or IB courses, take them! If an admissions official sees that your high school offers AP or IB courses and you have not attempted to take any of these classes, it can affect your chances of acceptance. Typically, colleges want to see about two AP courses your junior year and 2-4 your senior year, again depending on what your high school offers. If you have been taking your core courses since freshman year, you’ve set yourself up for a better chance to succeed in these more challenging classes. Some students are hesitant to take these classes; they question whether it’s better to get an ‘A’ in a less difficult class than a ‘B’ in AP/IB courses. While it’s hard to say what’s right in this type of situation, typically admissions will look more kindly on students who challenge themselves—and reward them for their effort.
- One foreign language for all four years is recommended. A foreign language on your transcript is a great way to add some distinction and flare. Knowledge in another language can open all sorts of doors and give a broader sense of the world. As such, we have been seeing many colleges trending towards asking their applicants to have some foreign languages under their belt. Looking again to Harvard, for instance, one can see that admissions strongly recommends that their applicants have a full-four years of one language completed by the time they graduate high school. Northwestern, requires a two year minimum of one language for most of their schools applicants. We stress the importance of foreign language to most of our clients, knowing that top colleges value it, but also knowing a second language can add to a student’s life in ways outside of academics.
- Choose electives that interest you—but give them your full effort. While trying to complete your core courses, keep in mind that having a nice selection of electives is also an important piece to your transcripts. Electives allow you to experience things outside of the basics, and possibly inspire your interests in college. It’s important to balance your core classes still—a lot of students tend to think after they have completed their graduation requirements, they can take an easy, elective-filled senior year. Remember though, senior year transcripts will still be sent to colleges, and they do not care to see a student who seems to have not worked hard the full four years. Treat your electives as embellishments, and as a way to add that extra something to your transcript, but make sure you give them the same effort as your core courses. Remember, negative trends in your grades can be a glaring problem for admissions.
- Keep a balance. Taking all the courses necessary at higher, more challenging levels can be a stressful juggle for most students. We understand how hard it can be to manage your time when not only your academics are important, but also your extracurricular activities and athletics. It’s up to you to find the balance that works for you, utilize your best judgment and time management skills. Think about your schedule as a full picture, know where you need to spend the most time and effort, and also understand that you may sometimes have to make small sacrifices. These skills will ultimately continue when you begin your college career, so it’s a great time to start perfecting them. Our best advice is to seek a tutor or help if you are not balancing the coursework and getting the results you know you should be getting.
What you do in high school is your best preparation for college and life beyond. “You’re ability to challenge yourself and take courses that set you apart from your classmates is what admissions will be looking for,” says Timothy Parros, Parros College Planning. In order to better your chances of admission into your dream school and achieve your goals, what you do to prepare is almost as important as what the outcome is!