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High School Course Selection Tips

It’s much easier to have these needs laid out ahead of time than scrambling to organize them at the last minute.

Francesca Kavalir

February 05, 2015

High School Course Selection Tips
Many high schools have just dipped into or ended that one wonderful time of the year when the guidance office resembles a zoo more than it does a student counseling center: the beginning of second semester. Lines of students desperate to switch into or drop out of classes extend out of counselors’ doors, looping around the guidance center filled with cries of “I don’t think I can make it through another day with this teacher” and “I can’t believe how much I’ve regretted not taking that course” and “Why did I sign up for this?” Trust me, you don’t want to be caught in that chaos. Luckily, this season also marks the start of many schools’ course selection periods for the following academic year.

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Make the right scheduling decisions in the first place to avoid sticky situations later with these tips.
Make a Long-term Plan
In the beginning of freshman year, it might seem like graduation day is light years away.

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Conversely, those four years often slip by in what seems more like four seconds, nearly always leaving less time than expected for the classes you want. First, make sure that you leave room for enough classes to at least fulfill requirements. Every school has some mandated credits that students have to obtain, whether they be in broader categories like English or more specific requirements like a health course. It’s very improbable that you will choose your whole academic path early in the process.

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However, as soon as you have some sort of idea of what major or kind of college you want to pursue, make sure that you leave room for enough classes to at least fulfill requirements for applications to a particular university or field. For example, many colleges expect students to have taken science courses in chemistry, biology and physics by the end of their high school career, but my school requires geoscience instead of physics, so I have to budget time in my senior year for the latter course.
It’s much easier to have these needs laid out ahead of time than scrambling to organize them at the last minute.
Consider Non-Academic Factors
Unless you’ve decided to move into the janitor’s closet and hang around the school 24/7, you probably want to set aside time for commitments of your classes. To improve both your college applications and your well-being, you shouldn’t focus on just academics anyway. Students should balance out classes with extracurricular activities, part-time jobs or volunteer work, all of which could influence what classes they take next year. The main limit that outside activities have on course selection is simply time. Trying to survive five AP classes when you’ve already committed to a daily shift at the hardware store just won’t prove worthwhile. Additionally, some activities can provide alternatives to courses that you can’t fit in. If you really want to take woodshop, it might be difficult to find the resources to pursue that on your own instead. If you want to try theatre, though, keep in mind that there are probably local acting groups that you can join if you can’t free up a period in the school day.
Know What’s Ahead
Course selection guides are useful, but they will never give the full picture of a class on their own. Even if a course sounds appealing on paper, it probably won’t work out so well if its only teacher is notorious for his or her appearances in students’ nightmares. Don’t be afraid to directly ask teachers about their courses. Bring them specific questions during any curriculum nights or free periods and get a feel for both them and for the course. If you can’t confront a teacher now, it won’t be easy trying to ask him or her for help when you need it during the next semester. Teachers are usually the ultimate experts on a class, but be sure to also get some ideas from students who are taking or have already taken the course. They can give you honest and accurate assessments of aspects of a course like the daily class routine and homework load.
Treasure Teacher Advice
Schools often require teacher recommendations for higher-level classes, and this system was developed for a clear reason. Teachers have overlooked your study habits and assessed your capabilities from the beginning of the semester, so they know the course level you’re prepared to handle. If your school does not require their input for course selections, ask for it yourself. However, some teachers’ advice will be more valuable than that of others. As shown by the often frustrating practice of favoritism, teachers are not devoid of bias, so be sure to take into account that their views are subjective. Just one semester might also not be enough for some teachers to fully assess you. If you are fortunate enough to have had a teacher that you like for more than just this past year, his or her advice will probably be the most helpful.
Follow Your Heart
Most importantly, by no means should a student enroll in a class just to impress someone, whether it be a parent, friend or college admission officer. Your education is meant to circulate around your interests and your dreams- not those of anyone else. What your heart says will most often trump all of the other advice you receive. If your teacher recommends you for advanced calculus, but you have no desire to sit through hours of derivative calculations, already have three or four other honors classes to take and do not plan to pursue any STEM subjects, just stick with the academic course or find an alternative to calculus. The ultimate goal is for each student to be happy and feel confident for whatever academics or careers lie ahead. This goal does not only mean that you should sign up for courses aligned to your intended major, but also that you should stick with that band class that has always been a positive outlet and try the web design class whose content you’ve already loved exploring from your home computer. Sometimes it’s hard to determine just what course will offer the clearest path to your happiness, and that’s okay; just try your best and leave no stone unturned in course investigations. Set a sizable block of time aside to whittle your schedule down to what seems best for you, because little can hurt your academics more than trudging through the upcoming school year with a heavy load of regret.

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