Now that college acceptance letters are gracing mailboxes across the country with life-changing news for high school seniors, it’s time for you to think very carefully about what your high school transcript will reveal when your turn comes to apply to college. These five elements of your high school life to date should guide your planning now:
- Rigor – If your list of colleges includes some of the 100 or so most competitive, then you must have a good complement of AP (or IB or AICE*) and Honors courses. That’s because the most important factor in college admissions is your academic record, highlighted by the rigor of your courses. Whether you’ve got UF, FSU, or Harvard on your college list, be sure to take anywhere from six to twelve (or more!) AP/IB/AICE courses over your four high school years – and perform well. Selective colleges do not value Dual-Enrollment courses the way they do nationally recognized AP/IB/AICE courses – unless you have exhausted the curriculum in a particular subject area at your high school. And if your high school doesn’t offer much by way of AP/IB/AICE courses, take the most challenging ones you can there, and consider taking a few AP courses elsewhere, even online.
- Continuity – Are you continuing through a recommended sequence of study? Do you have the right math course that builds upon previous years? Selective colleges encourage students to take a math course every year, even if they want to major in English; similarly, such colleges recommend taking two years of AP English, regardless of your potential major in college. Are you taking that third or fourth year of a foreign language? If not, you need to replace foreign language with another academic core course. Hate science? Too bad, because selective colleges want to see biology, chemistry, and physics – preferably at the Honors or AP level. Show continuity – and progressively more challenge – in your high school program.
- Exploration – Are you headed for a journalism or communications? Theater? Bio-medical sciences? Dentistry? Compile high school courses that reflect your direction, assuming you know what that will be. Not sure yet? Take your best guess and select some high-school courses that will thematically reinforce your choice of major on your college applications. Don’t worry; the colleges do not hold incoming students to the major indicated on the admissions application. Rather, at college you’ll experience a wonderful, exploratory period around which ideas about your future can change and then coalesce.
- Balance – 24/7 academics does not constitute balance. Colleges want lively, responsive, curious, mature teenagers who display a desire to learn about lots of things both inside and outside the classroom. Don’t kill yourself with seven AP courses at the same time (unless you’re headed to a university that admits fewer than 15% of its applicants), or even three AP courses if that’s not within your capabilities. Don’t select 3-4 AP courses that require tons of reading unless you love to read. Frankly, it’s more important to be a happy, healthy, well-adjusted teenager who can comfortably balance school, extracurriculars, hobbies, family, friends, and relaxation. So seek out only as much challenge as you can comfortably handle! Remember, there are over two thousand colleges, most all of which offer a fine undergraduate education.
- Enjoyment – If you have a favorite teacher or subject, do yourself a favor: incorporate that teacher or subject into next year’s course selection. You’ll be really happy you did, and your positive feelings will spill over more easily into the rest of your curriculum.
Ready, set, plan!
* Given the choice of AP vs AICE, choose AP because some colleges don’t recognize AICE as the rigorous equivalent of AP (e.g., UCLA) and others don’t recognize AICE at all (e.g., USC).