APRIL 2023
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Selecting Classes

By Robert LeVine

“What classes should I take?”

“Are these courses ok?”

“To get into the best colleges, which is better: IB or AP?”

We receive so many questions from our clients about course selection. “Should I take an easier class to ensure a higher GPA or a harder class to show that I’m challenging myself?”

Our first advice is relax. Your curriculum isn’t going to get you into a top college. It’s your performance that counts.

Still, there are general principles to guide you in making the right educational choices. For class selection, UCA offers a “rule,” an “exception,” a “tip” and a “word of caution.”

The Rule: You do not need to take all of the highest-level classes. In fact, many of the top private high schools will not allow you to take more than three of the most rigorous courses. Why? More is not necessarily better.

Taking all the hardest courses creates three hazards. First, the hardest courses are the most challenging to achieve top grades, putting your GPA at risk. Second, the hardest courses take the most time for studying, thereby distracting you from the non-intellectual, extra-curricular activities that U.S. colleges covet. Third, because of the extra difficulty and time commitment, taking all hard courses steals your sleep which … endangers both your help and your grades.

Our advice is to challenge yourself with the most robust coursework in areas that are relevant to your interests and/or your future. If you like or care about a subject, you are more likely to learn it easily. If you do not think a subject is important to you, learning the material will be an awful chore. Thus, for subjects that do not inspire you, go ahead and select standard-level courses. It will be fine!

The Exception: Once you make a tentative decision about which classes to take, always check with your high school counselor to make sure that you are not making any mistakes in your schedule. For example, some universities have absolute minimum requirements in core subject areas. Your counselor will know this and warn you against missing something important. Plus, on the reports that your high school will send to your desired colleges, there are rules and thresholds about reporting whether you have challenged yourself with the highest rigor. Your counselor can help you ensure that you qualify for them to “check the best box” on their forms.

The Tip: Before finalizing your course selection, do not assume that a course will fit your interests just because it sounds good. Do some research. Most courses have their syllabi available online. Review the actual material you will study in a course before selecting that course. Compare and contrast courses with similar names. AP Lang is really different from AP Lit! If you cannot find enough information online, ask the instructor(s) about what they teach in their classes. Just be sure you are taking classes that inspire you.

A Word of Caution: Do not take courses just to raise your GPA. You cannot fool admissions professionals. Colleges are very, very, very experienced in evaluating academic records. It is fine to take a dual enrollment course if that subject is not available in your high school. However, if your high school does offer a similar course, it may appear that you have chosen dual enrollment merely to take advantage of a multiplier given to “college” classes. Some admissions professionals consider that tactic to be form over substance and might downgrade you for partaking in the competition to be valedictorian. Education is about learning, not accolades.

In the end, focus on subjects that you like best. Challenge yourself where appropriate, but don’t take hard classes just to take hard classes. And always remember to check with the professionals who have been hired to assist you. Talk with your counselors!

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com

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