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Choose Your High School Courses Wisely

It has long been a basic tenet of public policy in the United States that children are to be educated at public or, if preferred by the family, private expense from elementary school through four years of high school. However, as we all know, not all high schools are equal with respect to the quality of the academic experience or the level of knowledge that they impart. This affects even the best students — those who aspire to attend elite colleges and universities.

College admissions officers work hard to understand the full qualitative range of high schools so that they can better evaluate data such as grade point averages. Students seeking admission to elite schools should understand that not only their high school itself but also the strength of their curriculum, i.e., the courses that they took, is factored into college acceptance decisions. In fact, strength of curriculum is considered as important as your grade point average or test scores. For this reason, you, as a student bound for an elite college, are well advised to give course selection the attention that it deserves. You should devise an effective course selection plan early in your high school career. Your IvySelect college admissions consultant excels in guiding you through this critical process.

This post includes a few of the general guidelines that IvySelect private college admissions counselors incorporate when developing the ideal course strategy for you, one that is grounded in your individual preferences, aptitudes, and abilities within the context of the curriculum of your high school.

First, we recommend that, if available at your school, you take three to four Advanced Placement (AP) courses junior year and four to five AP courses senior year. At some very rigorous college prep schools, the number of AP courses that you should take is less than that, given heightened curricular demands. Your IvySelect college consultant will help you find the proper balance of AP classes based on the individual aspects of your high school.

Successful completion of AP courses in subject areas in or related to your planned major demonstrate that you have been engaged in your areas of academic interest and that you’re proficient at an academic level close to that of colleges. Ivy League and other highly selective schools consider high grades in AP courses to be key factors contributing to positive acceptance decisions.

Even though most high schools require only three years of math and science for graduation, IvySelect advises that you take a math and a science course in all four years of high school. We do so for the simple reason that highly selective colleges strongly prefer that you have four years in these subject areas. By choosing to take math and science for four years, you show colleges that you’re willing and able to accept the kind of challenge that will be demanded by their rigorous requirements. Moreover, four years of math and science has proven to be predictive of academic success in college, a research finding that is well known to admissions officials.

In choosing among your high school’s electives, we recommend that you register for those that are most relevant to your planned major. This will show that you’ve already explored your main academic interests. However, if no such electives are available, we advise that you enroll in challenging, useful electives rather than just signing up for the easy A’s. The electives that you choose allow you to showcase your talents and abilities. In addition, they prove your willingness to learn more about those subjects that you anticipate may be part of your college curriculum.

Our final point of advice is the most vital to your overall success — be careful not to exceed your ability to produce good results. This is a pitfall that may result from enrolling in too many difficult courses simultaneously, especially AP courses. Although AP courses are impressive college admissions credentials, they’re negated by poor grades. Avoidance of overly aggressive course selection is among the aspects of your admissions strategy in which the sound advice of your IvySelect consultant is most essential.