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Doing High School Right

Welcome to our ongoing blog series we call “Doing High School Right”. Over the course of this blog we will address a number of topics pertinent to underclassmen including discussions about summer plans and activities during the school year. This week we want to take a few moments to talk about course selection.

Now is time that many schools are preparing to have students select courses for next year, and there are a few things we hope you will think about as you start to make your class selections.

Of all the things that colleges consider in the admissions process your transcript will be the single most important factor. As colleges assess your transcript they will consider three key components: How are your grades? Were your course selections appropriately rigorous? What kind of pattern is seen in your grades over your four years in high school? (Did you start strong and stay strong? Or if your early grades were not as strong as you wanted did you continue to improve over the four years? Or conversely---and negatively---did your grades drop as your classes became harder?) Thoughtful course selection can help you gain the best education to prepare you for college and help you build a transcript of which you will be proud.

As you progress through high school there are factors to consider at each grade level.

For rising Freshmen:

You will likely not have a lot of options in your course selection as you will be meeting some of the core requirements for your high school this year. There are some things you can think about though:

--You are making a big change, so you want your courses to be appropriately challenging. There may be areas where you should be taking a more advanced course, but loading up your schedule with the hardest classes offered can lead to disaster. That means that you want to listen to your 8th grade teachers and their recommendations. Remember, freshman grades count.

--You will probably have the chance to choose at least one elective course. This is a great time to explore an area or subject in which you have an interest. Journalism, maybe? Always love Mythology? Want to explore your artistic talents? This is the time to start finding a real passion, and elective classes can be a great way to do that. This means you might not be in the same classes with your friends, but that is okay, this is also a time to make new friends.

For rising Sophomores:

Now you have a year under your belt, and should have a better sense of academic areas in which you excel and ones where you want to move a little slower. You also may have a better sense of the elective areas in which you are interested. Consider the following:

--You will have more more flexibility in your core courses this year so be sure you are choosing the courses right for YOU. Signing up for an advanced math course because your friends are taking that course can lead to disaster if you are really an English nerd.

--On the other hand if a teacher recommends you try an accelerated class consider taking on that challenge. This is a good time to add some rigor to your curriculum. It is surprising how often we find juniors or seniors who passed up the opportunity to take an advanced class and now regret that decision.

--Most of us don’t know what we want to study in college when we are sophomores, but there are a few of you out there that do have a sense of what you would like to do. If this is the case you might want to talk to your college counselor about what colleges might be expecting to see on your transcript. (If you are thinking about Engineering, for example, you want to position yourself to take some upper level math classes.)

--Elective classes can enhance your high school experience. If you discovered something you loved during your freshman year like dance or visual art or computer science it makes perfect sense to pursue this interest in your elective selections.

For rising Juniors:

You are now an upperclassman, and your course selections should reflect that. Here are a few things to consider:

--In your core classes you should be taking the most rigorous course level that is appropriate for you. This is definitely a balancing act, and as we have said over and over, here is where your teachers are your best resource. If you would like to move up a level be sure you have done the best work possible your sophomore year, and then ask your teacher what her recommendation is.

--Sometimes things happen and you have to move down a level in a core class. If that is the case make sure that you have good reason for that choice. (“The teacher is hard”, “No one I know is taking the class”, “I don’t want to work that hard” are all bad excuses). Be sure to talk to your counselor before you go down a level in a core class.

--Continue to use your elective courses to enhance your academic experience. If you love working on the newspaper you might try a class in film analysis or broadcast journalism. If art is a huge part of your life you might want consider a portfolio class so that you can take AP Art your senior year. What you never want to do, however, is sacrifice a core class for an elective. Colleges will want to see that you are taking your five core courses each year of high school.

For rising Seniors:

You finally made it to senior year! Now is the time to stretch yourself academically and show colleges that you are ready for the next step. Here are a few ways to make the most of your senior course selections:

--Colleges see your senior year as the best predictor of how you will do in college. Therefore you want to make your course selections appropriately rigorous. As much as you want to have senioritis you really need to be taking the most demanding course load of your high school experience.

--One way to demonstrate your commitment to your academics is to take all five core classes even if your school does not require that you do. You may have a three year requirement for world languages, or a three and a half year requirement in science. Avoid the senior trap of dropping courses for an easier schedule. Colleges will pay attention to your course selection, and it is not uncommon for colleges to request senior grades. Make it count!

--Consider academic electives. A course in Marine Biology or Middle Eastern History will provide rigor on your transcript and will be great preparation for college coursework.

--Finish what you started both in your academic classes and your elective coursework. You want to finish with five core courses, but you also want to consider that your elective classes tell a story as well. If you took Yearbook for the past three years don’t drop it so that you can go off campus during a free period. If you have two of three elective courses in Engineering schedule the third class instead of a study hall. Show colleges that you stick to something you start.

A couple of thoughts in closing:

Your primary job in high school is to be the best student you can be. This does not mean you have to take eight Advanced Placement courses and night classes at the local state college. Nor does it mean that you take the easiest classes and the most study halls available. Work with your teachers and counselors to create a schedule that is appropriate for you and will help you best prepare yourself for college. This is how you do it high school right!


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