As school starts back up after winter break, it’s already time to start thinking about your schedule for next year! Before you stress about what's in store, it's important to know that your school-based counselor will be there to help you and to provide you with the details of the course scheduling process at your particular high school. As you get ready to make your course decisions we want to share some big-picture planning tips - that go beyond the school-specific requirements - which can help you build a great schedule that allows you to get the most out of your academic experience in high school, and help you build a strong transcript for your college applications.
TIP 1: Look Ahead - Make a 4-Year Plan
When considering your courses, don’t take it just one year at a time. Take some time to read through all courses available. Note what you may want to take in future years and what the requirements/prerequisites are for them. Do you plan to take AP Calculus as a senior? Then you'll need to be sure to fit all prerequisite math courses in through your junior year. Does your school require a specific math course in order to take Physics? Build that into your plan. Are you an artist who wants to take the highest level art course offered? Plot out your art courses so that you fit in all of the requirements to take it. Revisit this plan each year during scheduling time and adjust it as needed based on your changing interests or course offerings.
TIP 2: Balance Rigor With Reality
Colleges want to see that you are challenging yourself. As a general rule the more selective the college, the more emphasis they put on rigor in evaluating applicants. However, you need to balance the need for rigor with the reality of your strengths, abilities, interests, and time commitments. We call it the “C threshold” - if you can maintain an A or B in an Honors or AP course, you should consider taking it. If you are likely to get a C or lower, you would be better off not taking it.
In addition to each individual course, it is also important to look at the combination of your courses all together. Consider your current courseload. Is it manageable? Could you step it up a notch and add another difficult course and still perform well? You may also have commitments outside of school; maybe you are involved in sports, music, theater, community service, or have a job. Do you have the time necessary to dedicate to additional AP courses? If the answers to those questions are yes, then do it! But if the answer is no, then it’s okay to keep it at your current level. Being challenged is good; being overwhelmed is not.
TIP 3: Consider Your Interests and Possible Major(s)
You can’t take everything; you are going to have to make some choices. Let your interests guide you in both your core course and elective choices. Are you considering engineering? Physics and Calculus should be on your schedule, and if you have Robotics or intro Engineering courses available as electives, take those as well. If you are considering Nursing, Human Anatomy would be a great science choice.
If you know that taking an Honors or AP level course in every subject is too much for you (see “balance rigor with reality” above!), choose to take them in the areas that are most relevant to you. If your interests lie in STEM fields, an AP math and/or an AP science course is going to benefit your college applications more than an AP English or Social Studies would. If you love to write and plan to major in English or Journalism, AP English Lit or AP English Lang would be more beneficial than an AP math or science course.
TIP 4: Look at Recommendations From Colleges You are ConsideringMany colleges publish their recommendations for applicants on their admissions website (for example, here is information from Stanford and here is information from Ohio State). Spend some time looking through the admissions information for colleges you are considering and make sure you are meeting their requirements. While some things (i.e. a 3rd or 4th year of a language) are “recommended” rather than required, you should plan to meet those recommendations if the courses are available to you. “Recommended” is often code for “we expect most students to have completed it, but we’ll consider you without it if there’s a good reason (like your school doesn’t offer the course).”
If you are interested in majors that are direct-entry at some colleges (particularly Nursing, Engineering, and Business), look at both the general admission requirements and the major admission requirements; there may be specific math or science courses required or recommended for those majors that aren’t listed as general university admission requirements.
TIP 5: Keep Going Strong Senior YearIt can be tempting to ease off senior year and take easier courses after you have met a number of your graduation requirements. Colleges see your senior schedule on your application, and they expect that it is at least the same level as previous years, or even stepped up in rigor if possible. Continuing to take core courses and exceeding the minimum requirements is important to having a competitive application.
BONUS TIPS/REMINDERS: Now that you're ready to begin your scheduling process, it's important that you attend any required meetings scheduled by your school counselor. Be sure to pay attention to all deadlines and keep track of them in your planner/calendar. Finally, take advantage of resources (like course guides or handbooks) available to you at your school. These tools will be helpful to you as you look ahead to the next year and beyond. You've got this!