Your list of classes and your accompanying GPA provides a nice summary of your high school academic career, and it’s one of the first things college look at while reviewing applicants.
Almost every college in the country will tell applicants that high school course selection is one of the most important factors in determining admission to college. But how many AP or honors classes should you take? Is it important to take four years of science, language, or math? And what if you’re debating between AP Calc or Statistics? These are kinds of decisions that many students face, so it’s important to be thoughtful about your course planning.
Talk with your school counselor & your teachers
The best course scheduling weighs factors like what subjects you enjoy the most, which ones you find most challenging, where you want to attend college, and other factors that will be unique to you. While the advice we share will help with broader practices, be sure to seek support from your school counselor and from your teachers. It’s a great way to connect with them, reflect on your own interests and strengths, and build a plan that makes the most sense for you. And remember, colleges evaluate you within the context of what’s available to you at your high school, so they won’t penalize you if your school doesn’t offer a ton of AP or IB courses.
Challenge yourself sanely
Admission officers love it when they see that a student has challenged themselves with their course load. But we don’t want you to sacrifice sleep, fun, and sanity to do it. Ideally, we want you to find the balance of a rigorous course schedule, but one that’s not too overwhelming. If you’re staying up until 2 a.m. every night and getting Bs and Cs, that’s not challenging yourself sanely—that means you’re overloaded. If you’re torn between taking AP Chemistry and AP English Literature, but you feel like it would be tough to keep up with both, then choose the one that interests you the most.
Follow your interests & trend upward
Ideally, your level of rigor will increase each year throughout high school—but that doesn’t mean you have to take AP everything including AP Lunch and AP Gym (no, those don’t actually exist – don’t worry!). Colleges treat your high school transcript like a roadmap. They want to see where you started, what you tried along the way, and where you’ve ended up. They want to see the evolution of your academic interest and skills. If you thought you wanted to be a doctor, but took AP Biology and hated it, that’s okay. Maybe that made you recognize that you’re far more excited by your history or English classes. Listen to that, and use that as your guiding light. Always ask yourself where your interests overlaps with the biggest challenge—that’s the sweet spot.
Balance is key
After you consider how your course rigor fits in with your academic interests, find balance in the rigor of your schedule with all of the other things you do. Make sure every waking moment isn’t spent on homework and studying! Find ways to engage those interests outside of your classes as well. When colleges review your application and note that you’ve indicated you’re interested in pursuing a major in psychology, they’ll understand why you chose to take AP Psychology as a senior instead of AP Spanish. But if you’re actually interested in psychology, if you’ve volunteered with homeless kids or done peer counseling or been inspired some other way to learn more about how and why our minds work the way they do, be sure to help shape your academic interests with your extracurricular interests—and make time for both!
Senior year—it’s not for the beach
One final note about senior year: you should be in the most rigorous course schedule at this point in high school. It’s also the year with the most available options to you in terms of course selection and flexibility of your curriculum. More electives! Take advantage of that and challenge yourself in the subjects that excite you, but don’t take your easiest course load yet because of early-onset senioritis.