It’s not a rumor…colleges do care about the classes that your child takes in high school.

Your child’s GPA & course rigor are the two most important components of the application. College admissions officers look carefully at this information when they are making a decision whether or not to admit your child to their school.

So how do you know which classes your child should sign up for each year? Follow the 5 rules below, and your child will stay on the road to success.


RULE #1: Register for the 5 main subjects ALL FOUR YEARS of high school

As a general rule, colleges want to see that your child takes all 5 main subjects each and every year that they are in high school. Yes, that is Freshman, Sophomore, Junior AND Senior year. Think of this as non-negotiable.

Make sure that your child is enrolled in each of these 5 types of classes every year that they are in high school.

  1. Math
  2. Science
  3. History
  4. English
  5. Foreign Language


RULE #2: Take challenging courses whenever possible, but only if your child will perform well

Colleges prefer to accept candidates who have challenged themselves throughout their time in high school. Colleges want to see that your child chooses to take challenging classes, and that they can handle a rigorous course load. If your child wishes to attend a selective college, this means that they should choose to take Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or honors classes whenever they have the option.

But what if your child will do poorly if they take all of these challenging classes?

As a general rule, if your child can maintain their current GPA while taking the more challenging class, they should sign up for that class. Can your child handle 3 rigorous classes each year? If so, great! They should take 3 higher level classes. Would your child excel in AP history, but flounder in an AP Chemistry class? Then they should sign up only for the AP history class, and not AP chemistry. Every student is different, and should play to their own strengths.

Do colleges have a preference between AP, IB or honors classes?

The short answer is: no. Every high school offers different courses, and colleges do not view AP classes as better than IB classes, for example. Simply put, your child should take whichever of the three options are available to them at their particular high school. However, if your child is choosing between an AP or IB class and honors class, I recommend the AP/IB route. Your child usually has the ability to receive actual college credits if they perform well on the official AP or IB tests, and colleges will see that your child is capable of excelling in college level courses.


RULE #3: Take electives in ADDITION to the 5 main subjects, NEVER in place of any of these courses

Electives (such as art, music, photography, yearbook, etc.) are great. Your child may have a great passion for one of these creative outlets, and this is wonderful. They should absolutely sign up for a class in one of these areas if they have an interest (yearbook was my jam). However, electives should NEVER replace any of the five main subjects (math, science, history, English or foreign language) that we discussed in rule #1. Electives are encouraged, but they should only be taken in addition to these five main subjects, never in place of the five main subjects.


RULE #4: Stick to the traditional courses vs. nontraditional courses

Parents often wonder whether or not their child should take nontraditional courses. For example, a high school may offer economics or psychology in the place of traditional history classes. While colleges love to see unique applicants, they prefer students to stick to the traditional classes in high school. So my advice? Stick to the traditional five main subjects we talked about in rule #1. You may be asking a question such as: “What if my child knows that they would like to study business once they get to college? Should they take the economics class?” It’s still not necessary to take that economics class in high school. Your child can (a) begin taking economics classes as soon as they get to college (b) take the economics as an elective in addition to the five main courses or (c) take a summer economics class at a local college or an online course if they are truly passionate about the subject. In the meantime, make sure your child always takes the traditional, five main subjects each and every year.


Rule #5: Individual classes won’t make or break a decision

I have parents reach out to me asking questions such as: “Should my child take AP Chemistry or AP Biology? I think AP Chemistry will look better on a college application, but my son wants to take AP Biology.” At the end of the day, college admissions officers do not care so much about the specific, individual classes that your child takes. Remember: the most important factor is that your child takes each of the five main subjects all four years of high school, and that they should take AP, IB or honors classes whenever possible (if they will do well in that class). Of course, colleges do want to see that your child pursues their passions. Will your son write an essay that he wants to become a marine biologist because that’s his true passion in life? If so, then AP Biology would certainly make more sense to take than AP Chemistry. The overall point of rule #5: it does not matter which AP science class or which AP English class your child takes, for example. The most important factor is that they chose a rigorous option within that subject.


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