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How to Choose the Right Courses for Next Year

10 tips from Senior College Counselors Carrie Jorgenson and Andrea Satariano that will help you maximize the impact of your course choices.

Faced with seemingly endless options for next year's classes and not sure where to begin?

This week, Carrie Jorgenson and Andrea Satariano—two of ESM's most experienced Senior College Counselors—are sharing their wisdom to help simplify the process and maximize the impact of your course choices.

If you'd like to opportunity to discuss your course options for next year one-on-one, you can schedule some time with Carrie or Andrea by emailing directly.

1. Be aware of course prerequisites.

Often AP and Honors courses have more challenging prerequisites. Many high schools require students to earn certain grades in a college prep course in order to qualify for an AP or Honors course (i.e. earning an A in English I qualifies students for English II Honors). Don’t shy away from taking advanced courses in areas that are not in your comfort zone. (Highly) selective colleges expect engineering students to know Shakespeare and humanities students to know physics.

2. Discuss a 4-year plan.

Keep in mind your end goals as you discuss your 4-year plan with your parents and counselor.

Say you want to major in pre-med. 4+ years of science is a good idea for college admissions. Can you use an elective spot for an extra science course? Can you take a science course over the summer?

Thinking about the end goal and the big picture will help you carve out the best schedule for you. Keep in mind other obligations as you map out your 4 years. Leadership roles, athletics, and performing arts often have significant time commitments which should be considered when planning your academic schedule. There are only so many hours in a day!

3. Crunch the numbers.

Do some research to figure out the average amount of homework you’ll get per course and see if your schedule will allow it. Create a homework calculator and calendar so you’re prepared.

4. Follow the course bulletin.

Your high school likely has a comprehensive course selection guide. Read this cover-to-cover so you are aware of graduation requirements, prerequisites, and all course options.

5. Follow the 5!

There are 5 core subjects colleges look at most closely: English, Math, Science, History, and World Language. Whenever possible try to take each subject every year of high school and pursue AP/Honors courses in these disciplines. High schools have graduation requirements, but many colleges expect applicants to go beyond the minimum expectations in order to be competitive in the review process.

6. Challenge yourself.

Colleges look for the strength of rigor on an applicant’s transcript. Be sure to challenge yourself but in a healthy way. Talk to your counselor about what your college goals are and how/where you can steadily build in rigor—the most rigorous course selection available to you within which you can be the most successful. Overreaching or overloading doesn’t pay off if you struggle to maintain your level of achievement.

7. Plan for fun!

Take electives that are fun and interesting to you. Elective courses are called electives for a reason. Select something that interests you but also complements your academic story. Interested in pursuing political science in college? Take that journalism elective or argumentation and debate class to further demonstrate why a poli sci major is a good match for you.

8. Stick with it.

World language is a common course students drop once they’ve met the graduation requirements, but if a student is doing well - getting an A or B - they should continue in the sequence. (Unless doubling in something specifically to build a stronger profile - ie, math or science.)

9. Use your summer to get ahead.

Many high schools offer summer courses of their own for students to move ahead in a particular subject (typically math, summer geometry in particular). If you look at your 4-year plan and senior year isn’t ending with the courses you hoped for, ask if there are opportunities to advance in a subject.

10. Your course selections are important but not everything.

Didn’t get a course you were hoping to? Don’t sweat it! You can supplement your course selections with online summer courses to round things out.