Toward the end of the academic year, seniors find themselves walking an academic tightrope stretched between all their college prep efforts and one or more college admissions offices. High school juniors who want to get into college are about to face a moment of truth as well. It will come in the form of course registrations for next year. If you are a high school junior, you can demonstrate a “passion for learning” with the courses you choose for your senior year.
Colleges will infer a great deal about you from the way you make curricular choices. In particular, they want to see evidence that you are continuing to stretch yourself academically. A lot of students enter senior year content with having completed a college plan that “satisfied graduation requirements” in one or more of the major disciplines. You’ve no doubt heard the talk among your friends: “I’ve already had four years of language starting in eighth grade,” or “I’ve satisfied my math requirement for graduation,” or “The sciences aren’t for me.” What usually follows next? “So I don’t have to take any more in my senior year to get into college.” Before you find yourself saying the same thing, take a moment to think about what the choices you make say to your prospective colleges.
Here is another way to think about it. Each year, as you have moved through the educational system, you have shown that you are proficient in dealing with the rigor of the program for that year. Your reward? Promotion to the next level, where you are given a new set of challenges. These promotions have continued through high school as you have been tracked into the more-advanced levels of the curriculum.
At the end of your junior year, just about in the middle of your most serious college prep, the tracking ends for the most part and you are able to decide for yourself the courses you would like to take. When planning for senior year, students often ask “Which will look better to the college admissions office? Is it better to take an easier course where I know I can get an A, or should I take the harder course where I can probably do the work, but it is more likely that I will get a B or a C?” In good college planning, the answer is simple: take the harder course—and get the A!
Think about it. Colleges want to see the best of your college prep work. So which impression of your college plan do you think you ought to leave—that you are content to get by or that you are continuing to seek new challenges as you prepare to go to college? Your best bet is to move to the next logical level of academic rigor. Show that you have the desire to make yourself better in the classroom. In doing so, you keep yourself on the playing field that defines the competition for college admission. Your reward? Promotion to the next level.