What to Study in High School to Improve Your College Chances

What you take in high school can affect your college acceptances. Read this guide for some help on which classes to choose.

Contrary to popular belief, what you take in high school can make or break your college chances. While every school has different requirements, below is the general consensus on what you should take in high school if you want to be successful at any college you want to go to. After all, you wouldn’t want to wait until that dreaded rejection letter to find out you would have gotten in if only you had taken one more Spanish class.

1. Any and all APs you can handle

No matter what you decide to major in during college, AP credits can only help you. I know these courses sound tough, but stick with me here. Say you liked your regular Biology course sophomore year of high school and decide that you want to major in Biology. If you took AP Biology senior year, you might get to skip the boring 8:00 am intro class (check with schools to see if this is possible).

Or maybe you took AP Biology senior year and did pretty well on the AP exam, but really hated the class and decided not to major in any sort of science after all. Those AP credits can still help you and might get you exempt from the lab science requirement that most schools have.

Look at it this way: for most AP classes, you can either take the class and do the work now (in high school) or later (in college). And, trust me, the college course will likely be much more difficult than the AP course.

Related: Inside Info on AP Courses: Which Ones Should You Take?

2. Four years of foreign language

I’ll let you in on a little secret: introductory foreign language classes in college are the worst. Even level two and three foreign language courses will often be in super inconvenient time slots, in yucky classrooms, with tough teachers. But all has not been lost, you can just take four years of any foreign language in high school to avoid this requirement in college (and probably have an easier time at it).

3. Four years of math and four years of science

I’m really sorry to break it to you, but if you want to get into your dream school, taking at least one year-long math and science class for each year you’re in high school is a pretty good idea. It helps you stand out from other students who decided drop math and science after junior year.

Taking any sort of math your senior year of high school will help you stand out from the crowd of other applicants. And if math really isn’t your thing, see if your high school offers semester-long courses for seniors. For instance, for my senior year math classes, I took Discrete Math my first semester and Statistics my second. So don’t worry if an AP math class isn’t in your future, your dream school probably still can be.

Science APs can sometimes be easier than math, so if you’re struggling as to what science to take senior year, check out a class like AP Environmental Science and see what other students who took the class before you have to say about it. Bonus points because taking any class based on the environment helps your activist cred on your application as well.

4. AP English

College requires a lot of writing, no matter what major you declare. The more polished your writing skills are by the time you get there, the better off you’ll be. A lot of people’s AP English classes teach students how to write college essays after the AP exam has come and gone junior year too. Taking this class really can’t hurt.

Related: Writing Habits to Kick Before Going to College

5. Honors that spark your interest

If you’re a freshman and you love reading, take an Honors English class. Think experiments are really cool? See if you can get into Honors Chemistry your sophomore year. Think of Honors classes as trial runs for your APs.

6. AP US History

As someone who goes to one of the top colleges in America, I have heard this phrase so many times: “AP US prepared me for the workload here.” If you want to have a comprehensive knowledge of United States History for the rest of your life and be less shocked by the workload in college, I would highly recommend taking APUSH. This course not only teaches you how to memorize but also helps you learn how to retain knowledge after the class ends.

Related: 5 Tips to Ace AP US History

7. “Easy” APs

Wondering which AP classes generally feel the “easiest”? Human Geography, Psychology, and US Government are often cited as the easiest AP classes that most US public schools offer. If you need more evidence as to the relative ease of these classes, I once met someone who scored 5s on the Psychology and Government AP tests and he had never heard the term feminism before (AKA, you’ve got this).

For more advice about succeeding in high school and college, check out our Majors and Academics page.

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APs classes college prep high school high school academics high school classes honors languages math science

About Phoebe Bain

Phoebe is a student at the College of William & Mary. She's an avid writer, reader, runner, ukulele player, and user of the passive voice. Her favorite show is How I Met Your Mother, and she loves how giraffes look when they sleep.


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