Diverse high school students sitting in circle with Black male teacher

What You Should Study in High School to Improve Your College Chances

The subjects you take in high school can affect your college acceptance depending on where you want to apply. Here's some help on which classes to choose.

Contrary to popular belief, what you take in high school can make or break your college admission chances depending on where you’re applying and what you want to pursue academically. 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 attend. 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.

Stick it out with math and science

I hate to break it to you, but if you want to get into your dream school, taking at least a year-long math and science class each year is a good idea. It helps you stand out from other students who decide to drop them after junior year. Taking any sort of math in your senior year of high school will help you. And if math really isn’t your thing, see if your high school offers semester-long courses for seniors. For my senior year math classes, I took Discrete Math my first semester and Statistics my second, giving me a broader set of math skills. So don’t worry if an AP math class isn’t in your future, your dream school still can be.

Related: Writing Habits to Kick Before Going to College

Challenge yourself with Honors that spark your interest

If you’re a freshman, you love reading, and you think you can handle the challenge, take an Honors English class. Think experiments are cool? See if you can get into Honors Chemistry your sophomore year instead of waiting until junior year. Honors courses take what you love about a subject and dive deeper into them—forcing you to think in ways you haven’t before. Think of Honors classes as trial runs for the AP courses we’re going to talk about next.

Take any APs you can handle

No matter what college major you choose, AP credits can only help you. Say you like your regular Biology course sophomore year and decide that you want to major in Biology. If you take AP Biology senior year, you could skip the boring 8:00 am Biology 101 class and into the more interesting courses in the major. Or maybe you took AP Biology senior year and did well on the AP exam, but really hated it and decided not to major in any sort of science after all. Those AP credits can still help you avoid the lab science requirement that most schools have. 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.

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 AP English classes teach students how to write college essays after the AP exam has come and gone. I strongly recommend taking this one regardless of what you want to study in college.

AP US History

As someone who goes to a top national college, I have heard this phrase so many times: “AP US History 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 highly recommend taking APUSH. This course not only teaches you how to memorize but also how to retain that knowledge long after the class ends.

Related: 5 Tips to Ace AP US History

AP Math and Science

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.

“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 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 (this is not a joke).

Take a foreign language all four years

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 times, in the worst 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 altogether. (Unless you want to major or minor in that language—in which case, good luck to you!)

Related: 6 Tips for Retaining a Foreign Language After High School

With a little forward thinking you can easily set yourself up for high school and college success at the same time with a little intentional planning. You’re capable of a lot more than you may think, so don’t be afraid to challenge yourself academically and get excited about college now.

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

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About Phoebe Bain

Phoebe Bain is 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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