College Application Tips: Course Selection

Hello everyone, today in the College Application Series I will be talking to y’all about high school course selection. In my personal experience, my school guidance counselor was very helpful in scheduling my classes and choosing which courses to take. I know not everyone has a good relationship with their counselor, so I’m here to help.

The first thing you need to know about selecting your courses is what your graduation requirements are. At my school, I had these shoved in my face from the day I registered for the school in eighth grade. Here were mine:

Tamalpais High School graduation requirement

At my school the requirements were pretty simple and pretty strict: 4 years of English, 3 years of math, 4 years of social studies/history, 2 years of science, 1 year of art, and 2 years of PE. Luckily, in some ways, the requirements were fairly straightforward: you must take freshman and sophomore English, after that there were elective options. The same was true with science. Other parts of the requirements were more broad: for art you could choose photography or ceramics or drama, amongst other things.

My school based their requirements on the University of California and California State University admissions requirements, which was great for anyone interested in applying to our state school system. This is the second important thing to know for choosing courses, what the schools you’re applying to require or advise. Of course, when you’re a freshman selecting your courses, you won’t know (most likely) where you really want to go to college, so it might seem irrelevant to plan your courses around those requirements. A secret: pretty much every college has the same standards, but the University of California system seems to have the most detailed requirements, so you can look to those for guidance:

University of California Course Requirements

Schools in the Ivy Leagues and of similar stature also have pretty tough requirements, so you can also look into their standards as well if you’re interested in applying.

Once you are aware of the courses you’ll need to take to graduate and have a successful college application, you can start thinking about elective courses. One of the main things people worry about with course selection is whether their academic record should show focus or breadth. I have talked with many college admissions officers, college counselors, and guidance counselors, and one thing is for sure: there is no right answer. Recently I know that colleges are looking to admit and produce well rounded students, so breadth may be the best choice.

When I say breadth, I mean a variety of subject types and subject matters. Subject type refers to history, English, math, whereas subject matters refer to Ancient Greece or poetry—the description of the course. Additionally, I refer to the honor and difficulty level of the class, whether it is standard, honors, AP, IB, or another system your school has in place.

Taking a variety of different types of classes will not only make your academic record look interesting, you’ll learn a lot of interesting things in different fields. This will help bring more value to all of your classes, both current and future, by allowing you to draw on that knowledge to strengthen arguments and deepen your understanding of the course material.

I highly recommend taking honors and AP classes if you have the opportunity. It gives you the opportunity to go deeper into the material and just learn more than a standard class. It looks good on college and job applications and it can boost your GPA. More than that, you can receive college credit for passing grades on AP exams. That being said, don’t overload yourself. DO NOT take all AP and honors courses. These courses have a much heavier workload and taking more than 3 can be incredibly stressful to a point that it will harm your grades and your own mental health. At the end of the day, your health is more important than your coursework. Additionally, colleges will look more favorably upon a student with all A’s in all standard courses than a student with all D’s and C’s in all AP courses.

My last bit of advice for this post is to take courses that interest you and that scare you. My senior year I took European History and Calculus. I was super excited to take European History and though it was going to be incredibly interesting. It absolutely lived up to that, but I also had an amazing teacher and learned a lot of things I had no prior knowledge of. With Calculus, I was really nervous because I had not done so well in pre-calculus the previous year. Even though it was incredibly hard, I found the class fascinating once I got into it. Remember that classes can surprise you!


Last Post: My First Rocksbox Unboxing / Related Post: College Application Tips: Establishing Interests and Goal Setting

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Disclaimer: This post was originally published on Cleverly Caroline on January 24, 2019.

College Application tips

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