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College Admission: What Courses to Take In High School


As a long time college administrator, high school counselor, tenured professor, and career technical education dean, I have advised many students and families on college admission. One of the questions that is always asked is what courses should my child take in high school to ensure admittance to a good college.

College admission counselors look at how rigorous the high school curriculum is that the student has completed in high school. For example, a student who has a GPA of 4.0 with regular college prep courses will not be as competitive as a student who has a 4.0 or higher comprised of AP and honor courses or courses taken at a community college. College admission counselors want to make sure students they admit will be successful with college level courses.

High school students in general should take 4 years of English with some courses being at AP level or taken at the community college. Math should be taken every year with the goal of reaching Calculus by your senior year, and again, taking some at AP level or at a local community college. Science should also be taken all 4 years with their associated science labs including such courses as physics. Most colleges would like to see a couple years of history including U.S. History, U.S. Government, World History and/or Geography and Political Science. Taking foreign language courses for at least 2 years also demonstrates rigor of study. Colleges would also like to see a couple semesters of art or music courses. Private colleges might have other high school requirements depending on their focus area and entrance requirements. Make sure to review those requirements.

In my experience as a college dean, the biggest “road block” in graduating in 4 years is the level of English and math your child assesses into when entering into college as a freshman. If you child has not taken English and math at the local community college or taken it as an AP course and passed it with a 3 or higher, your child then will be assessed at the college they are admitted to and will have to take the level of math or English course based on the assessment results of that college regardless of what they took in high school.

I have had so many upset parents contact me because their child was assessed at a lower level English or math and now has to spend a year or two retaking the math or English sequence. Unfortunately, high school math and English courses do not matriculate or articulate with comparable college level courses unless they are AP courses or dual enrollment, which means you are taking a course that you not only obtain college credit, but high school credit too. In a nutshell, to avoid taking unnecessary math and English courses as a freshman, have your child take either AP courses for these subject areas or a community college course offered at their high school as dual enrollment or just enrolling at a local community college. The best secret of all is that all community college courses in the state of California are free to high school students! You do though have to pay for the books.

In summary, the more rigorous your educational experience is in high school, the better chances of getting admitted to your college of choice. Take AP or community college courses when you can especially in the areas of math, English, science, and foreign language. The more general education courses you take at the community college, the less you will have to take when you enter into college, and they also count for high school credit. A win/win situation.

Link of the Week

Article of the Week: “What Matters Most to Colleges”

[ABOUT: Avenues is a full service college and career advisement firm for young students as well as adults looking for a career change. Services include college admittance assistance, international student assistance, educational planning starting as early as junior high to college graduation, career planning, scholarship and financial aid advisement, college success counseling, and tutoring for all ages. To set up a FREE 20 minute phone consultation or contact the firm for an appointment, please email at or call (818) 359-0859. You can find us at the following web site:]


October 9, 2015

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