It’s easy to think about the short-term pros and cons behind the class choices you make in high school.
And it’s always easier to lean toward taking those easy classes once you have your requirements for graduation covered.
But, that is short-term thinking, indeed! These classes stay on your high school transcript and send a distinct message to the people who will eventually decide whether you get into a certain college—or not.
The Princeton Review has provided some aspects to academic planning that you’ll want to think about over the course of your 10th-grade year:
One mistake a lot of students make is to fill their schedules with easy electives as soon as they’ve fulfilled their school’s minimum academic requirements.
Let’s take a random student named Joe, for instance. Joe satisfied most of his graduation requirements during his freshman and sophomore years.
That’s fine. In fact, that’s what he should have done. Unfortunately, he started enrolling in easy classes as soon as he entered his junior year. And he didn’t stop at an easy class here or there.
He loaded up on the least challenging classes he could find. Classes that are meant to supplement—not take the place of—an academically challenging and intellectually stimulating high school career.
Never mind what Joe’s grades were in those classes.
Even if he got all As, big deal. At least that’s what admissions officers at most colleges are going to say.
Grades don’t mean everything, like you might think.
In fact, there isn’t an admissions officer in the country who wouldn’t look at this transcript and think something like: “Joe decided to take a year off his junior year.” Joe’s college prospects will be even bleaker if he decides (as he probably will) to put together a similar schedule for his senior year.
The top college candidates in the country won’t have transcripts that look anything like Joe’s. They’ll have taken courses like AP United States History, AP English, Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, French IV, and so on.
If you can handle high-powered courses like that, you ought to be taking them. In addition to increasing your attractiveness to admissions officers, you’ll get a better education and be better prepared for college.
But even if, like Joe, you don’t feel up to taking (or can’t qualify for) a lot of accelerated courses, you can at least keep your transcript from looking like it belongs to someone whose mind is on vacation.
English: Many high schools still permit students to satisfy English requirements with phony-sounding electives like Film Animation and Psychology of Advertising.
If your school offers an English course simply called “English,” that’s probably what you should be taking.
If you can’t resist taking an elective, be sure the one you sign up for sounds serious. Shakespeare’s Tragedies and Expository Writing are better than The Films of Woody Allen and Writing for Television.
The very worst English electives are the ones that have nothing to do with English, even if your school permits them to count towards an English requirement.
If you take one of these classes, take a solid-sounding English class in addition.
History: It is often somewhat easier to find history electives that sound both serious and interesting. Contemporary European History or The Russian Revolution wouldn’t look bad on a transcript. American History,
European History, and some sort of regional world history (History of the Middle East, History of Southeast Asia) are always good bets, and most high schools offer several courses.
Math: Many students find math frightening and difficult.
They eagerly look forward to the day when they’ll finally have accumulated enough credits to be able to stop taking math courses altogether.
They complain that algebra doesn’t help them in their daily lives, and that it never will help them in their daily lives.
Though they might be right, they should keep in mind that math will be useful—not just for the SAT and for their transcript, but for majors like architecture, engineering, or any science.
Sciences: What we said about math courses also applies to science courses.
And the closer you stick to the basic sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), the better off you’ll be. Science courses in psychology, geology, astronomy, and similar subjects are less likely to seem impressive, though certainly you should pursue them if you have a genuine career interest.
Foreign Language: One year of a foreign language doesn’t look much better on a transcript than no years.
Two years doesn’t look much better than one. No one can learn to speak and read fluently in one or two years.
Taking three or more years of the same foreign language is a good way to add seriousness to your transcript. (Don’t make the mistake of taking one year of French, one year of Spanish, and one year of German.)
A long-term commitment to a language shows not only that you don’t mind studying, but also that you have the gumption to stick with something over a long period of time.
If you took Latin last year, stick with it.