It’s registration time…what courses should your child take?

It is the time of year where high school students and 8th graders are planning their courses for next year. Based on the questions we are receiving, we thought we would compile a list of tips and advice that might help.

No two kids are the same, so often our advice is “It depends” because it does. You need to think about your child’s academic potential, how busy they are with sports/extra curricular activities/work, what type of career or college they want to attend and the requirements for those programs, your child’s mental health and what can they truly handle.

Is it better to take challenging classes or have a high grade point average? Colleges will look at both–did the student challenge themselves in high school and did they do well? No college wants to see a student taking honors or AP/Dual credit and getting C’s or D’s. The student should take the most challenging classes they can handle with a B or better. Also think about what other classes and activities they have–will they be able to balance it all? Loading up on a very challenging schedule plus playing multiple sports or having a job can lead to time management challenges. Make sure you child has the capacity and time to get the school work completed well, but can also have some activities and interests to help them be well-rounded.

How many years of a foreign language does my student need to take? Most states have minimum requirements for their high school diplomas. So first check your diploma requirements. It is usually 2 years for a basic college prep diploma and 3 for a more challenging diploma. Most colleges want to see at least 2 years but there are some that want to see four. Take a look at some of the colleges your student wants to attend and see what their requirements are (we list how to do that at the bottom of this blog). If your child is wanting to do something with an international focus, having strong language skills or multiple languages is a plus. Start your foreign language as a 9th grader. Don’t put it off incase you do poorly and need to retake it, or decide you want to change languages.

What’s the difference between Dual Credit and Advanced Placement courses? Dual credit is a college course that is taught in high school and is affiliated with a specific college. You receive college credit from that college/university. For example, many Indiana high schools offer Indiana University’s W131 composition class. If you take a dual credit class and get a C or better, you typically receive the college credit for that class. You will need to get an official transcript from the college that offered the course and send it to the college you are attending for the credit to be applied to your degree. Not all colleges accept all credit. As you met with the admissions officers on your college visit, share what you are taking and ask what you will need to get credit. For example, if you take an engineering course for dual credit but attend a college that does not offer engineering, you may not get credit.

Advanced Placement are courses designed by the College Board. You then take an exam at the end of the school year that is scored on a scale of 1-5. Some schools require a 4-5 to get credit, some give credit for a score of a 3. Most colleges will publish a list of scores needed to receive credit for an AP class. Not all colleges accept all AP classes, so again its good to check before you register. Some AP classes are worth more credit at certain schools. Its frustrating that it is different at every school, but schools are allowed to determine what credit they accept. You will also need to check if you have to have official College Board scores sent to get credit or if schools accept self-reported scores (a screen shot or photo copy of your score).

What electives should my child take? There are several different strategies that you might consider. If your child is applying to a highly selective program, the college may want to see subjects related to that major–advanced math, science, engineering for example. Check the college website or speak to an admissions officer to better understand what they want to see. If you student is an artist or performer, taking advanced art or music might be critical to succeeding at auditions. If your child really dislikes a subject and wants to get it out of the way in high school, taking dual credit or AP in that area will give them college credit and free up space during college to take classes they enjoy more, do an internship or study abroad. Or you child might just take things they like now to have a few things on their schedule at which they will excel. Its also a chance to explore–trying something they are curious about or think they might enjoy but don’t have much current exposure (like business, coding, career and technical courses).

Should my child take summer classes to get ahead? Summer can be a great way to challenge yourself, explore interests, and strengthen college applications. Summer classes are one way to take additional coursework. There are many intensive programs offered at colleges where students can take courses with faculty in a wide array of subjects–sometimes for college credit. If you child loves writing, forensic science, art, etc you could probably find a program that matches their interest. These are typically several days, involve staying on campus overnight and have tuition costs. There are many summer camps around the country that also have an academic scope from immersive spanish experiences, theater and music, or robotics. Some students just need to work and make money, or help with younger siblings, so they can’t do camps or residential programs. That need can be explained in an essay.

How do I find requirements for certain colleges? While every college website is different, most have an admissions section. Within admissions look for first-year admissions (or transfer if you student is transferring between colleges). Some colleges have a section called requirements, or high school courses. Some might say applying and under that have information about your high school transcript and what courses are required. Every school will say something about the high school preparation they want you to have, if they require an SAT or ACT, and deadlines. If you can’t find it, reach out to admissions. Always get your answers from the college where you are applying.

What is a typical schedule? There really isn’t a typical schedule because everyone has their own interests. There are 7-8 periods at most high schools each day, unless schools are utilizing block schedules. Taking 5 academic courses is typically looked at by admissions as a college prep schedule. Most colleges want to see at least:

Four years of English. It is also helpful to have Speech or Public Speaking.

Three to four years of Math. Students will want to take four if going into a science or math field or applying to a highly selective college. Typically the fourth year should be pre-calculus or calculus for highly selective colleges. Dual credit courses like Finite Math or Statistics are also a good option depending on the college.

Three years of science with two years of lab sciences (Biology, Chemistry or Physics are lab sciences)

Four years of Social Studies including US History, World History, Government and Economics.

Two to Four years of a foreign language. Students can do two years of two different languages. American Sign Language is considered a foreign language. Students applying to highly selective colleges, international studies or international business should consider taking four years.

2-3 challenging electives or academic electives. These could include performing or fine arts. They could include career related coursework such as business, education, computer science, healthcare, or other technical classes. Many states require physical education. Taking weight lifting each semester is not considered an academic elective.

Please send us additional questions through facebook messenger or the contact form on our website and we will answer them in future blogs.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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