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How to Choose High School Classes for College Benefit | College Admissions Playbook

The early years of high school, when students must fulfill basic academic requirements and prerequisites for advanced classes, do not tend to afford students very much choice in their class schedules. Options, if any, may be limited to one precious elective per term.

Seniors, however, often have more space in their schedules for courses that genuinely interest them. Here are four goals for seniors to consider before choosing their last round of high school classes.

Think About Your Future

Arguably the most common approach to senior-year course selection is to register for courses that complement your intended career path or college major.

For example, enrolling in additional math classes would certainly benefit a prospective physics major, especially if they prompt the student to use core skills in a new way. For the same student, a computer science course could serve to expand creative thinking and problem-solving capacities.

If you are considering a liberal arts major, seek out electives with a theme, such as African American poetry or Renaissance art. No matter how seemingly specific, such courses will prepare you for a comprehensive liberal arts education.

If your high school does not offer targeted electives, investigate dual-enrollment options available through local colleges. Alternatively, you can find out if your high school has an independent study option, which would allow you to work with a teacher to build a curriculum that demonstrates your interests and abilities to colleges while furthering your skills in those areas.

In short, avoid taking basic survey classes during your senior year. Your main goal is to prove to colleges that you are delving into your preferred fields as deeply as possible.


If you are not certain about a future career or major, use senior year to sample classes outside of your known strengths. In other words, step outside your comfort zone.

Perhaps you are wavering about a science specialization. In such cases, think outside the box and take a class in an unrelated discipline, like business. Doing so can bring you clarity, as the outcome will likely be twofold: either you unearth another passion or confirm your affinity for science.

Art classes, too, can add depth to your transcript and provide you with the chance to explore new fields. If, along the way, you discover that you love both biology and drawing, for instance, you may be led to a career in the burgeoning field of medical illustration.

The practical benefits of exploration extending beyond broadening your horizons. The courses you take throughout your high school career can demonstrate to prospective colleges that you are a well-rounded student with an active and curious mind.

Challenge Yourself

Senior year also provides you with the opportunity to step it up a notch. If your high school offers Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual-enrollment classes and you are not already enrolled in them, this is your last chance to take on the challenge.

Enrolling in advanced courses can be especially beneficial if you struggled early in your high school career and need to demonstrate academic improvement. Remember that college admissions officers look favorably upon students who showed significant improvement as they progressed through high school.

As a bonus, AP, IB and dual enrollment can help you obtain college credit before you even set foot on campus.

Taking these challenging courses is often worth the sacrifice, as they can save you significant time and money later. Furthermore, they serve as legitimate practice for the more rigorous coursework you can and should expect in college.

Go the Extra Mile

State or school policies may allow students to discontinue their studies in a field after a certain term. For instance, you may be able to drop foreign language or music once you conclude sophomore year.

While it may be tempting to abandon a discipline you have struggled with or are not particularly fond of, the decision is worth some contemplation. College admissions counselors view it positively when applicants go beyond meeting the basic requirements. In addition, certain types of courses can benefit you in the long term.

Language courses, for instance, can equip you for an internship with a multinational company or a study abroad experience. Note that study abroad programs in English-speaking nations like Ireland and Australia rarely involve foreign language requirements, but this may not be true for countries in which other languages ​​are spoken.

However, even if you never study abroad or complete an international internship, competence in a foreign language is known to make your job applications more competitive and can even result in a higher pay grade.