Which High School Classes Should My Kid Choose?

When a high school freshman starts their first semester, discussion of class schedules should focus on a “four-year plan,” the classes over their high school career that will get them ready for the rest of their lives – including helping them get into college. This plan includes a combination of subjects that a student wants to learn and subjects that they need to learn to attain a high school diploma and college admission.

As each semester passes, that plan is reduced to a 3.5-year plan, then a 3-year plan, and so on – and each time new classes get scheduled, that kind of thinking is important. The College Prep Parent is in position to review each upcoming year with their student and help them decide if they are preparing for college the best they can. Although this conversation also involves counselors and teachers, parents are in a special position to know the goals and aspirations of their kid – and to help their kid compile an impressive “college admissions story” through the classes they choose.

As you schedule next year’s classes, I encourage you and your child to weigh three specific types of classes:

Advanced Classes

Parents often know best how a student uses their spare time, how organized they are, and how they respond to academic challenges. These are all matters that need to be considered when signing up for advanced type classes, be they Honors classes, Pre-AP or AP, etc. Experience has shown me that the students who have consulted with their parents about making this choice are usually the students who personally “buy in” and give the class their best effort.

Your child may benefit from trying a challenging class if:

  • They meet the course prerequisites
  • They are conscientious about completing assignments
  • A low grade makes them try harder
  • They really want to learn the subject

Your child may benefit from taking several challenging classes if:

  • All of the above is true
  • They can keep themselves organized
  • They are able to manage time for schoolwork and extracurricular activities
  • They are ready to seriously prepare for college

There are at least two reasons that a college-bound student takes an advanced class: to learn the material, and to show a college that they can learn the material. Because colleges are rigorous and demanding, they want to admit students who have demonstrated that they are capable of success. Seeing how a student performs in an advanced high school course is one indication of whether a student can do the work required in college. Did they make a high grade, and/or did they respond to lower grades with improvement? Were they able to manage a rigorous course load in combination with extracurricular commitments?

I generally encourage students who qualify for an advanced course to take it. It only makes sense to invest your efforts in something that can help reach your goal.

Now or Never Classes

Several years ago, I was surprised by a student who suddenly decided to play football his senior year. He had never played on a team before but decided to play his last year in high school. When he signed up, he told me he realized that it was “now or never” to have the experience of playing football.

When choosing classes for the upcoming year, a high school student can sometimes be faced with some “now or never” choices. Maybe a class covers an area that the student doesn’t necessarily plan to pursue in college, but is something they have always been curious about – a subject like astronomy or statistics or psychology, for instance. For a student with room in their schedule, he or she may want to consider a course that they don’t specifically need to graduate but may never again have an opportunity to be exposed to in a classroom setting.

Along those same lines, I have heard many stories from students now on the “college side” who are likewise glad they took a few college electives in random, “now or never” subjects. Taking a class because you want to learn the material – not just because you need the credit – is as fun in college as it is in high school!

What’s more, taking a class that “might be interesting” could also bring your high schooler more than they bargained for: a new passion. What once was “now or never” becomes a potential area of study for their college years – leading us to the third type of class to consider scheduling.

The Electives that Stick

We’ve looked at “advanced classes” and “now or never” opportunities.

But another type of class choice turns out to be, for many students, the most memorable part of high school. Those are the electives kids choose in order to follow a developing interest in a certain field.

Maybe a budding scientist takes every science-related course offered (and is the last one to leave the lab every day). Perhaps a performance artist takes every music class, joins every choir, and never misses an audition. Or maybe a student with a tinkering hobby selects a smattering of related classes over their four years – from “shop class” to coding to physics. (And if you’re wondering if it’s wise for a college-bound student to be this “focused” instead of well-rounded, read my tips on building a great college resume.)

Students like these, who fall into the category of “passion-pursuers,” may seek out the help of faculty and staff in organizing clubs, shows, exhibits, research, or field trips. For those types of students, it is easy for me to write their “Counselor’s Recommendation” letter when the time comes! But beyond help from teachers and guidance counselors, these kids’ college prep teams should include supportive College Prep Parents who encourage them as they dive more deeply into their academic dreams.

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