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Improving Your College Competitiveness: What Classes to Take Each Year of High School

It's no secret that honors and AP courses look great on college applications. Here are some other ways to maximize your class schedule each year of high school.

Choosing classes in high school is a major milestone in your academic career. Those honors and AP courses you may be dreading? It’s no secret that they will earn you major brownie points in the admission marathon. While everyone is inclined to express bias toward a certain subject or two, you should keep in mind that stepping outside your comfort zone can prove immensely beneficial as well. It’s also good to note that no one can tell you exactly what to study: only you can determine what courses will be beneficial to your future. Still, here are a few tips on what to study each year of high school in order to boost your applications and improve your college competitiveness.

Related: What to Study to Improve Your College Chances

Freshman year: get an idea of your future

Freshman year can either be a laidback year or a trial period. If you feel like you already know which career you’d like to enter following college graduation, take the courses that will be beneficial in building a foundation. For example, a student who would like to go into a science career would benefit from taking advanced courses in sciences and mathematics.

If you don’t have an idea yet as to which career you’d like to enter, try a “sampling” of each subject. If you feel comfortable enough, take honors courses. If you find yourself doing well in certain subjects, then make a note for your sophomore year. Remember: stepping outside your comfort zone, even a tiny bit, can open your eyes to new experiences!

Tailor your elective courses to this as well by opting to take finance, art, or other non-traditional courses. You could find that you have a niche in film studies or computer programming.

Related: Should I Be Worried About College as a High School Freshman?

Sophomore year: zeroing in

Sophomore year is the time to start getting your mind in college mode. While most high schools typically have AP courses available to juniors and seniors, there may be a few courses open to sophomores. If you find that a course you took freshman year, such as computer programming, interested you enough to learn more, don’t be afraid to talk to the teacher to see what would be involved with an AP course.

This is a time to really focus on taking honors courses. They are typically more fast paced and in-depth. Use what you learned about your interests from freshman year to choose your courses. Reflect on your experiences, grades, and overall feelings to zero in on what would be most beneficial to you.

Another tip: even if your school requires only one year of a foreign language, take the initiative to push yourself to learn more as you progress through high school. Yes, that first year of a language can seem like a drag, but you never know what you will experience beyond that!

Junior year: a friendly mix

Junior year is where it all matters. College admission committees will really hone in on your junior year transcript, as you’ll be in the middle of your senior year by the time admission decisions are released. In other words: make junior year the best and brightest.

Tailor your schedule to your choice. Don’t take as many AP courses as you possibly can. It’s better to focus on courses that resonate with you rather than stretch your focus and wind up burnt out by the time the AP exams roll out.

Related: Getting Ready for Junior Year: Where to Begin?

Senior year: say no to senioritis

Despite the whispers you hear, senior year is not a time to slack off. Admission counselors can spot someone who is truly ready for college from a mile away simply based on their senior course load.

Build upon the AP courses you took junior year, and if you feel ready, upgrade a previous honors course to AP status. Choose electives that complement your AP courses and potential future major if possible.

Personally, I was someone who wanted to “sample” subjects freshman year, so I took honors courses in every subject up until sophomore year. From there, I zeroed in on English and history to take AP courses in, and I kept my interest in math and science alive through honors courses in those subjects.

Related: College Prep for Each Year of High School: What to Do All 4 Years

Choosing your courses is extremely important in high school. Don’t feel down if you find that an honors course isn’t working out for you. Certain subjects may resonate with you better than others. High school is a time of exploration, so use your time wisely.

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About Emily A. McKeon

Emily A. McKeon

Emily A. McKeon was raised in a small town on the Jersey Shore, located precisely between two major cities. This offered endless opportunities. On top of countless AP courses, she spends her time doing freelance editing and working on her own numerous works in progress. She is extremely excited to join the CollegeXpress team!


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