HomeArticlesCourse Selection: Striking the Balance Between Challenge and Overwhelming

Dear Estelle. Next week my proposed schedule for senior year is due. I am considering very selective colleges and want my record to show a strong commitment to my academics. My course plan includes 7 APs . You will scoff at this wondering whether this is manageable but I enjoy learning and like the challenge. My only concern is whether it is prudent to exchange AP Speech and Debate for French 5. My interests lie in the humanities and literature but math and sciences are included in my selections.Your confirmation would be invaluable.
DBB, East High School Junior

You are so right to be concerned about your senior year course selections  because what you decide to take will put you into the appropriate competitive position for college. The strength of your academic record will place you among other students vying for spots in the most selective colleges and universities. Good planning throughout high school is the key to achieving the type of profile you would like to attain to make you a standout among your peers. The more selective a college, the more important to maintain a strong academic focus.

A recent survey conducted by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) “Top 12 Strengths and Experiences Colleges Look for in High School Students” listed as #1: A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes**. Less selective schools will obviously not require the same academic vigor.

Some tips on course selection for all students:

  • Don’t be content with the standard courses where you know you can get an “A” or “B”.  Challenge yourself and show colleges you are capable of higher level work.
  • Know your limits. Taking numerous AP classes sounds impressive but are you able to complete the work satisfactorily, receive an “A” or “B” and not neglect other classes because the AP work is overwhelming and excessively time consuming?
  • If your school offers them, try to take courses that cover the breadth of the curriculum in all disciplines. If dropping an AP course, try not to substitute it with a survey course of less rigor.
  • Your high school requirements are important to fulfill but don’t limit yourself to the minimum. Challenge yourself. It will contribute to you becoming a stronger student academically and a better college candidate.

*Is it better to take an easy course where I can receive an “A” or challenge myself with an AP class in the same subject and likely get a lower grade? My answer would be always try to challenge yourself, if possible, but selective colleges don’t like to see “Cs” or “Ds” on your transcript.

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