AP, IB, Honors, and More: High School Course Selection

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Choosing high school coursework requires thoughtful, year-by-year planning. This is important, because selecting the right courses for yourself will ensure that you are engaged and challenged and that you enjoy your work. In addition, the courses you take will directly impact your college planning.

Your transcript — that is, your academic record — traces the overall arc of your high school experience. It reveals key details about your high school experience and illustrates your progression over time. A transcript details your GPA, your grades, and the individual courses you have taken each year. All of these details are important because they combine to create a picture of your academic journey.

College counselors near and far share this opinion: colleges consider grades as the principal factor in the evaluation of an applicant. Additionally, they also assess the depth and rigor of your curriculum. Put another way, both your grades and the difficulty of the courses in which you earned your grades are critical factors in how admissions officers assess and compare candidates.

There’s a bit of a contradiction here: you want to keep yourself healthy and grounded, but you also want to show success in taking rigorous courses. That is, you want to take the most challenging classes you can without overdoing it.  Your goal is to find the sweet spot that keeps you balanced.

To start, research your high school curriculum and find out what is offered. This may well include some mix of AP courses, IB curriculum, magnet program, special diploma designations, dual enrollment, and/or honors courses. Talk to your school counselor, teachers, educational advisor, and your parents. Their input is key, because you don’t want to go either too light or too heavy. The expert advice you receive will help you shape your personalized path through high school.

In addition to thinking about your academic direction, consider the difficulty of and likely performance in each course as well as your time management skills. Plan for appropriately rigorous coursework while you also lay out the rest of your extracurricular activities. Selecting the right classes for you will allow you to build your academic skills over your four-year high school life and ensure that you have time for activities and family life. In addition, carefully selecting advanced courses and electives will allow to pursue your specific interests and strengths.

Some high schools offer a wide variety of coursework, while others (usually smaller schools) offer fewer options. Keep in mind that colleges will see you in the context of your high school curriculum, so colleges are aware of what courses, opportunities, challenges, or support might have been available to you. They will not expect you to take courses that are not offered at your school. On the other hand, if your school is limited in offerings, you can independently reach out, expand, and pursue your interests through outside endeavors. Consider signing up for a summer program, internship, classes at a nearby community college, or online coursework that offers college credit.

During the winter and early spring, you will be shaping your schedule for the following year. So, use this time to review your grades for the year so far and reflect on what may be right for you next year. Talk to your teachers and ask for their recommendations for you. Learn about prerequisites that may be required for certain courses. Talk to older kids and consider their comments, testimonies, and self-reflection. In addition, keep current on school deadlines for submitting your schedule, and be sure to note the date for making any later updates or changes. And here’s one last very important thing: Don’t forget to check your graduation requirements and make sure that you are checking the boxes for a timely and successful graduation!

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