Here’s where I can become a very unpopular person in the discussion. Whether I am speaking to a large group or sitting down with one family, the college planning discussion always comes to the topic of course selection. And with some students my popularity drops.
Everyone knows colleges are looking at academics, part of that is an evaluation of grades, but admissions offices are also interested in the classes a student has taken. We all know the A in AP Physics will be viewed differently from the A in Study Hall. Colleges like to see students who challenge themselves academically.
Most students and parents recognize that AP, IB, or honors level courses are one sign of a challenging curriculum. What many don’t recognize is that there is something even more basic that every student can do to strengthen his or her academic profile – take four years of the core academic courses.
I live in Texas and over the past few years the state has raised the minimum standards for high school graduation to include four years of four core courses: English, Math, Science, and History / Social Studies. But there is another core subject colleges like to see – foreign language and in Texas only two years are required for graduation.
So in any conversation about college planning, I discuss the importance of course selection. Students need to show an interest in learning. Especially junior and senior year when a student has met more graduation requirements and has more room in his or her schedule for electives, students need to challenge themselves academically and look for ways to go beyond minimum requirements.
And I bring in an unpopular opinion. While it may be tempting to take additional free periods, all students should plan to take four years of the FIVE core courses and add additional electives to show talents, interests, and strengths. It might be nice to sleep in until 10 or get out of school at noon, but the message you send colleges when you chose off periods over classes is “No thank you! I’ve had enough learning!”
So take that extra year of Spanish. Sign up for psychology instead of office aid. You will have plenty of off time in the summer to sleep in; take advantage of your limited number of elective choices to show colleges you are interested in your own education.