senior-year coursesYou’re midway through your junior year and working harder than ever. After all, if you plan to go to college, junior year is the most important for college admissions, right? You may be thinking that you’ll lighten your course load and take easier senior-year courses. But before you rush to register for ceramics, yoga, and a free period of study hall, consider this: According to research by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, admissions officers consider “strength of curriculum,” or how hard a student’s courses are, second only to grades when considering an applicant for admission. The reason is simple: High school students who challenge themselves with rigorous classes tend to fare better in college. So, when selecting your senior-year courses, reconsider that respite from rigor. Instead, think of your final year as your last chance to show off your academic talents!

How do you choose meaningful courses that impress colleges, satisfy your academic passions, and maintain balance? Follow these tips.

Pump up the rigor in your senior-year courses

Colleges look for students who aren’t afraid to challenge themselves, so don’t be tempted by the path of least resistance. Work with your counselor to select rigorous coursework, especially in the subjects you excel in. As long as you can find a balance between schoolwork and activities, and maintain strong grades, move ahead to Honors or Advanced Placement (if offered) in one or two more classes. For instance, if you’re acing Honors English 11, bump up to AP Literature and Composition instead of Honors English 12; If AP Calculus AB is a breeze, try Multivariable Calculus and AP Statistics. Estimate the amount of homework each class requires and balance more challenging courses with one or two “lighter” courses. Of course, you’ll want to leave time for sports practice, debate club, rehearsals for the school musical, and completing those college applications in the Fall.

Keep the core courses AND choose classes that align with your goals

Core courses include English, math, science, social studies, and world language. Be sure that you select coursework in at least four of these five areas, and keeping all five is even better! Most high schools require four years of English and, to be a competitive college applicant, we recommend continuing with a fourth year of math, too. With other core areas, you may have a bit more wiggle room. Embrace this flexibility by choosing classes that inspire your curiosity and spark your passion. For instance, if you’ve taken at least three years of foreign language or social studies, and you’re excited about becoming an astronaut, an environmentalist, or a computer engineer, then dropping foreign language or social studies your senior year to fit more science into your schedule, like AP Biology, AP Environmental Science, or AP Computer Science, would be wise. On the other hand, if you diligently follow local, state, and national elections and the workings of Congress, you might think about sacrificing foreign language for a AP US Government class. Do you have an ongoing fascination for all things historical? Consider taking AP European History or Human Geography. Maybe foreign language is your thing. If so, move up to the next level and even flirt with bringing another language into the mix.

Fulfill graduation requirements AND college requirements

Don’t assume these are the same! What your high school, county, or state requires for graduation may not always reflect what some selective colleges expect from applicants. Work with your school counselor to be sure you’re satisfying what you need to wear that cap and gown at the end of high school. At the same time, do your research into college requirements. Pick a handful of colleges you may be interested in, and search their websites for their minimum high school course requirements. You might find that some colleges require only two years of the same language but recommend three years, or some that require a fourth year of math, science, or social studies. Remember that the most competitive college applicants will exceed the minimum requirements. With a bit of planning, you can stay competitive and avoid surprises later.

Think outside the box when choosing senior-year courses

Don’t just rely on regular school hours to explore topics you’re passionate about. Instead, consider devoting time to super-curricular courses—those that take the subjects you enjoy further, beyond what’s available to you at school. This can include online courses, summer courses at your local community college, and summer pre-college courses. Think Coding, AI, or CAD for computer science nerds; Marine Science or Intro to Medicine for biology fans; or US Foreign Policy or Introduction to Law for aspiring lawyers. The options are endless, so be sure that your choices reflect your genuine interests or even new topics you’re curious about.

Become your own best advocate

Once senior year rolls around, you might find that your schedule just didn’t turn out as planned. If that Microeconomics class you’d been eyeing is filled or conflicts with your Calculus class period, don’t just shrug your shoulders and call it a day. Instead, politely inquire with your counselor and teachers to see if they can accommodate you or if they can suggest an alternative course. Perhaps the Econ teacher can add another seat to the class. Maybe there’s another Calculus class you can take that’s offered at a different time. You may find that the solution is simple, and if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Besides, speaking up for your wants and needs is a skill you’ll rely on more and more in college and beyond. So the sooner you cultivate your self-advocating skills, the better.

We’re here to help you choose senior-year courses

Choosing senior year courses can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re here to help. If you have questions or concerns about courses that best prepare you for college, please contact our college counselors at Moxie.