There are many things to keep in mind as you help your child plan his or her high school classes. While you want to be sure that your child meets the high school's requirements, you also want to assist him or her in showing the best possible work to potential colleges. The following are some items to be aware of when choosing your child's high school curriculum while staying focused on college prep.
Dual-enrollment programs can be part of your college plan
These programs allow students to take some courses on a college campus for credit while they remain enrolled in high school classes. Admission officials are always pleased when students take advantage of challenging opportunities. However, while they will credit your son or daughter with making a wise choice, their institution may not necessarily award college credit for the work.
Some classes sound like they wouldn't be able to go to college
You may have grown up in the sixties, when there weren't as many opportunities to take Advanced Placement or IB (International Baccalaureate) classes or to head to a local college for high school credit. But what you might remember from your era is that some schools abandoned courses like Biology II for those with a more "relevant" ring, like The Ecology of the Okefenokee. And while, in some schools, such selections still live on, their jazzy titles may be misleading.
A tough and very serious class with a funny name may have trouble helping you get into college. It might appear to admission officials to be what some dub "fluffy," "flimsy," or "lightweight." Overall, though, most understand. Older admission officers may even smile with appreciation or sigh with nostalgia when college-prep English turns up on such transcripts as Utopias and Dream Worlds, or science as Were Wilbur and Orville Right?
Some parents have to become more active in the college admissions process
As your child chooses classes, it may be up to you to point out the difficulties of benign-sounding offerings. Sometimes good guidance counselors will alert colleges to great classes that masquerade as filler classes, but if Angie's A in astrology was her finest hour, let admission officers know—via parent letter or supplementary essay, etc.—just what it took to land it.
More common are cases like Cassandra's. She was serious about her college planning. She took a heavy schedule through her junior year and worked hard to knock off graduation requirements in order to "enjoy" her first senior term. She chose long-awaited electives like ceramics and photography in place of math and science. Her top-choice college viewed her transcript with disdain. Many families dwell on the importance of junior year without realizing that senior-year courses are just as crucial.
Every year counts for college admissions, in and out of the classroom
Although the overall GPA is important, colleges realize that it is calculated on the basis of all four high school years. Class ranks are typically cumulative (based on three- or four-year records). Admission officials tend to be believers in what they dub the "rising record," and may be willing to forgive freshman (and even sophomore) foibles when a student has shown impressive improvement as a junior and senior—the two years that get scrutinized most closely. They may also be willing to overlook one awful grade or an entire catastrophic semester if followed by a strong rebound. This is where an explanatory letter or essay can help.
Colleges are impressed by students who have been serious in their college prep and sought enrichment opportunities outside of their school, both during the academic year or in the summer. Make sure that these are noted on the application.