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How to Pick Classes in High School

It's that time of year again. You know what I'm talking about...picking classes to take next year with your high school counselor. Depending on what grade you are in, you may have different questions. Let's tackle some common scenarios I see from my students at my process to help you as you pick a schedule you can thrive in and enjoy.

I should take easier level courses because it will help me maintain a higher GPA.

While it is definitely important to maintain a high GPA, it is equally, if not more important in some cases to take courses that challenge you. If you are getting A's in a class and it is fairly easy for you, you may want to consider taking a class that is a level up. It could be an honors or AP class depending on what you are currently taking now. Not only will you hopefully be more engaged and interested in learning more challenging material, but colleges will also recognize your efforts. In fact, colleges may wonder why you didn't take a more challenging level if you were getting really great classes in it. I often advise that if you can get away with a B+ or higher in a more advanced class, then take it.

How is taking AP/IB classes viewed by college admissions officers?

To further expand on our point above, let's also cover how colleges view those challenging classes you take through your transcript. Taking more challenging classes not only demonstrates your desire to challenge yourself, but if you perform well, it is reflected in your weighted GPA, which may also result in a higher rank within your school (if your school ranks). These are all factors that go into the admission decision.

What's the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA?

While we're on the topic of GPAs, let's clarify the difference between the two GPAs. Both are an average of the grades you receive throughout high school. The unweighted GPA is out of a standard 4.0, meaning if you receive an A in a class, regardless of the level, it would be a 4.0. A weighted GPA takes into account the difficulty of the courses you are taking and "rewards" you accordingly. For example, if you get an A in an honors class, you might get a 4.5 and an A in an AP class might be a 5.0. Throughout your years of high school, all your final grades are averaged out to yield either or both of these GPAs and submitted to colleges on your transcript. Click here for CollegeBoard's GPA conversion resource.

I have C's and D's in my current classes, but I want to take honors and AP because everyone else is doing it.

We also need to discuss the flipside. While it is "cool" to take challenging classes, know your limits, which can also mean time management and organization limits. If you are not doing well in a class, especially if it is a more challenging level, you should talk with your guidance counselor about what the options are to take a less demanding or challenging class for the following year. College admissions would much rather see you thrive in classes that are suitable for you than get C's and D's in classes that are too hard for you.

Is it better to take math, science, English, social studies, and foreign language every year or double up on areas I’m interested in pursuing in college?

This is one of my favorite questions and it can be difficult to answer as it depends on the student. In most situations, it is better to make sure you at least satisfy 4 years of those basic classes. Some students consider dropping a foreign language, but many colleges will consider students that have taken 4 years of a foreign language to be more competitive than those who do not. Similarly, try to pick electives that enable you to explore your academic and personal interests. For example, if you are considering pre-med in the future, it might make more sense for you to double up on science and take anatomy (if offered), rather than take a history class, once you’ve already satisfied the requirements. To learn more about the required and recommended classes and the years you should take, you can check out the Applying section for the college’s CollegeBoard profile.

I don’t have enough room in my schedule to take everything I want. What should I do?

I always recommend that students understand the requirements for graduating from their high school. Oftentimes, required classes can be taken online or over the summer. You can check with your high school guidance counselor on the different options to try and optimize the schedule you want. If you are unable to get a class you really wanted and you are a senior, consider leveraging the additional information section to explain that you had tried to also fit in the additional class but that it conflicted with your schedule. Lastly, consider taking the class elsewhere if that is an option.

Were these the types of questions you had? Did this help? Let me know in the comments.


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