Your high school transcript is one of the most important parts of your college application. Colleges want to see that you earned the highest grades possible in the most challenging classes. But there are many options to choose from when it comes to high school classes. How should you decide which courses to take?
Most high schools will require you to take, at minimum: four years of English, four years of math, three years of science, and three years of social studies. In the same vein, many colleges will expect you to take this required number of classes, no matter what program you apply for. That is just the bare minimum, however. Even if you do not have an intended major, your academic strengths and interests will guide you as you choose classes. For example, students interested in majoring in the humanities and who have pursued advanced English or Social Studies classes might choose not to proceed to the highest level math classes. Students focused on STEM should make sure to take the most rigorous math and science courses available, including pre-calculus and calculus if possible.
The general rule of thumb is that colleges prefer you to get a B in an honors class than an A in a class that did not challenge you. You want to present yourself as someone who is not afraid to work hard. Use your high school transcript as a way to show off your abilities. If you are a strong writer, take honors English classes to prepare yourself for the essays you’ll write in college. Push yourself, but be realistic. If you struggled excessively in Chemistry, you may want to think twice before pursuing AP Physics.
Speaking of which, what are AP classes? And what about IB? All these acronyms can get confusing, so let’s review.
AP classes, or Advanced Placement classes, expand on material learned in regular courses, but are more rigorous, tend to require learning or memorizing more information, and will represent a more significant time commitment. You can take as many AP classes as you like, and you should focus on AP courses in subjects in which you already are strong. Because they are so difficult, it is best to take a mix of AP and regular courses. At the end of the year, you will sit for the AP exam and then receive a score out of five. Many colleges will offer credit for scores of three or higher, or will allow students to place out of introductory courses.
The International Baccalaureate program, often called IB, is an educational curriculum for high school students that is widely respected by universities. In order to qualify, students must attend an IB School, which are located in every state of the US and almost 150 countries worldwide. The coursework is not only academically challenging but stresses the importance of research, problem-solving and independent thinking. At many schools, you can choose to take a few IB courses in addition to your regular classes. Some students, in their final two years of high school, will complete the IB Diploma Programme, which means taking six classes in different subject areas; a course known as “core” that emphasizes creativity, passion, and research; and then passing all your IB exams. Earning an IB Diploma is a tremendous achievement; it is not an easy process and you should not take it on lightly. Although IB courses will be extremely impressive on your transcript, it is not common to receive college credit for them.
All in all, high school is a time to explore your interests and get a strong foundation for college. Don’t be afraid to check out intriguing electives alongside your more rigorous classes. Above all, you should be proud of the classes you took in high school. Go above and beyond what is required, and colleges will recognize that.