By Tonya DuBois
It’s February, which means it’s probably the time that your high school is having you register for next year’s classes. As you decide in which courses to enroll next year, there are many things you should consider – related to how the admission office will view your application. Here are my top 5 tips when registering for your high school classes:
1. Rigor of coursework is the SINGLE.MOST.IMPORTANT factor on your college application. Take the most challenging course load you can handle – AP courses, dual enrollment, AICE, IB – are all (generally) weighed equally in terms of rigor.
2. Take 4 years of all core subjects, including foreign language. The biggest mistake I see students make is not treating foreign language like every other core subject. To be truly competitive at the most highly selective colleges, you must take all 4 years of foreign language.
3. If you are planning to be a STEM major in college be sure you take Physics; some colleges are now requiring Physics for STEM majors. Please don’t overlook that important subject.
4. Particularly if you are an under-classman as you read this, consider the scope and sequence of courses at your school, so you set yourself up for success. For example, if you are deciding between pre-Algebra or Algebra for your freshman year, which course do you have to take freshman year to be eligible for Calculus senior year? You don’t want to make a decision in 9th or 10th grade that will prevent you from taking the most rigorous coursework later.
5. Consider your major. If you KNOW the major you plan to declare in college, then your coursework should reflect your interest in that subject area. The most challenging courses should be in your area of future study and your electives should be in that area, as well, whenever possible. This will send a clear message to the application reader that your interest in the field is authentic.
The single most common question I get asked about registering for courses is this… “Is it better to get a B in an AP course (or IB, AICE, Dual Enrollment), or an A in a regular course?”
The answer is that, mathematically, they are identical. Colleges typically re-configure your GPA based on their own internal system. A common way to do this is to count only core subject classes, and give a full point of “weight” for AP, AICE, IB, Dual Enrollment, and a half point for Honors courses. So, basically, a B in an AP course becomes an A on your re-configured GPA. Here’s the thing…with all else being equal, the colleges want to see that you’ve challenged yourself, so I’d recommend selected the more rigorous course, even if you might get a B.
Lastly, colleges often give each applicant a rigor “score” when they review your application. Let’s say they give you a score on a 1-5 scale…don’t give them any reason to give you a score that’s less than a 5. If you take only 2 years of foreign language, then you’ve just hurt yourself. If you take a science elective (say Marine Biology for example) instead of an AP science (like AP Physics), you’ve just hurt your rigor score again. Having said all that, you know your limitations – if English is just not your thing, you may not end up taking AP Literature as a Senior – and that’s OK. Play to your strengths, and show rigor everywhere that you can. At selective colleges and universities, there is no factor on your application that is more important than rigor of coursework, so course enrollment decisions should be done strategically and with great care. If you would like to review your course selection options for next year, in the context of future college admission consideration, please set up a 1-on-1 consultation with me.