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College Admissions: High School Classes Colleges Look For

Monday, January 20, 2014

 

Your state's graduation requirements and what colleges value in a high schooler's courseload may vary in important ways. Make sure you understand what colleges want to see. Hint: art classes are good.

At most schools, course selection for next year is around the corner--leaving many families wondering what the best choices are for college-bound students. How many years of a lab science or language are really necessary? What is the right balance of honors and AP courses? And do electives really matter? The truth is that state high school graduation requirements, and what top colleges want

to see, are often two different things. Making the right choices now can affect your college acceptances later. So, here are a few things students should know in order to create a strong profile.

2 Years of Anything is Not Enough

While a state may only require 2 years of a lab science, history or a language—colleges want to see more. Competitive colleges either require or strongly recommend at least 3 years of the SAME language in high school (not counting middle school), 3 years of a lab science (biology, physics, chemistry) and 3 years of history (U.S., World, European, Western Civ., etc.). Many colleges will not consider environmental science, earth science or other sciences as a “lab” science—even if your high school does.

At the most elite universities in the country, top candidates will have 4 years of history, science and a language, in addition to the standard 4 years of math and English. Too many electives replacing these core courses can weaken how course rigor is perceived by an admissions committee-- or discount a candidate altogether.

AP and Honors Within Reason

While it is true that colleges like to see students challenge themselves and take a rigorous course load, you don’t need to be in all honors or AP courses—even for the nation’s top colleges. The general rule of thumb is that if you can get a B+ or higher without struggling, then you should probably be in an honors or AP class. However, competitive colleges still want to see A’s. So, it doesn’t behoove you to take an abundance of honors and AP classes if your grades end up being all B’s. For most students, it’s best to take higher level courses in your areas of strength and regular courses in subject areas that you find more challenging.

Many times, individual teachers in several subject areas will end up recommending a student for an honors or AP class without seeing the whole picture. The result is that the combination of 4 or 5 high level courses ends up tanking a student’s GPA and leaves the student exhausted and stressed. I recommend that strong students start out with one or two honors course in 9th grade, see how well they do, and then add one more high level course per year, if they feel that they can handle it.

Electives Schmelectives

Colleges base most of the academic portion of their decision on your 5 core courses each year (science, math, English, history, language). And while they don’t want to see you take basket weaving, your elective courses are really secondary and don’t usually go into the GPA that many top colleges calculate for candidates. So, don’t spend hours debating whether sociology or psychology will look better as an elective. Take what interests you and what will allow you to focus your study time on your 5 core courses. Colleges love to see students take art, music and theatre. So, if you enjoy those pursuits, by all means take them as electives. Most of all, colleges want to see students exhibit a passion for an academic area or an extra-curricular interest.

Picking courses can be stressful and confusing, but focus on your 5 core courses each year, select a balance or honors/AP and regular courses if you can handle them, and take electives that demonstrate your personal interests and passions. In the end, that will provide you with the strongest profile when it is time to apply for college.

 

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.

Editor's Note: This article was originally run on February 04, 2013.

 

Related Slideshow: New England’s 19 Best Colleges for Food

According the The Daily Meal's 2013 rankings, New England is home to many of the nation's best college dining experiences.  See which schools made the list...

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19. Boston College

Chestnut Hill, MA

National Rank: 59

Home to over 14,400 students, Boston College Boston confers more than 4,000 degrees annually in more than 50 fields of study through eight schools and colleges. Routinely included as one of the best universities in the nation, U.S. News & World Report ranked BC 31st among national universities, and Forbes ranked it 26th in its 2012 America's Best Colleges listing. 

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18. Dartmouth College

Hanover, NH

National Rank: 56

Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and consistently ranks among the world's greatest academic institutions. Home to approximately 4,200 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students, Dartmouth was named by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton as one of the world’s “most enduring institutions” in 2004.

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17. Roger Williams University

Bristol, RI

National Rank: 53

Located in Brostol, Rhode Island, Roger Williams University is a leading independent, coeducational university with programs in the liberal arts and the professions, where students become community- and globally-minded citizens through project-based, experiential learning. RWU offers more than 40 majors, a plethora of co-curricular activities, and study abroad options.

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16. Saint Anselm College

Manchester, NH

National Rank: 47

Founded in 1889 by the world's oldest religious order, the Benedictines—a Catholic order that has endured and thrived for more than 1,500 years—Saint Anselm is located on a hilltop overlooking Manchester, N.H. Named one of the country's "Colleges with a Conscience" by The Princeton Review, Saint Anselm  requires several philosophy and theology courses and the completion of a humanities program entitled "Portraits of Human Greatness.

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15. University of Connecticut

Storrs, CT

National Rank: 46

Home to, over 22,000 students, the University of Connecticut is the state's flagship institution of higher learning. Founded in 1881, the UCONN includes 13 Schools and Colleges at its main campus in Storrs, separate Schools of Law and Social Work in Hartford, five regional campuses throughout the state and Schools of Medicine and Dentistry at the UConn Health Center in Farmington.

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14. Brown University

Providence, RI

National Rank: 44

Founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate  and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership and the IE Brown Executive MBA. In 2010, Brown was named  by the 2010 Princeton Review as the #1 College in America for Happiest Students.

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13. Colby College

Waterville, ME

National Rank: 40

Founded in 1813, Colby is the 12th-oldest independent liberal arts college in the nation, and in 1871 it became the first previously all-male college in New England to admit women. Home to just over 1,800 students, undergraduates can choose from 55 majors and 31 minors, or design their own independent major. 

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12. College of the Atlantic

Bar Harbor, ME

National Rank: 39

Founded in 1969, College of the Atlantic is a small, liberal arts college on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine. At COA each student designs his or her own course of study in human ecology. Whether observing whales from the college's research vessel, pursuing an independent photo-journalism project in the Yucatan, studying international treaties, converting a campus building to solar power, or volunteering on one of COA's organic farms, students at COA learn from experience both inside and outside the classroom.

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11. Connecticut College

New London, CT

National Rank: 38

Founded in 1911, Connecticut College is a diverse school with 1,900 students hailing from 45 states and 72 countries. Forbes ranked the school 102nd in its 2013 overall list, and 78th among private colleges. U.S. News and World Report ranked Connecticut College 41st among the top liberal arts colleges in 2012. The school offers more than a thousand courses in 29 academic departments and 7 interdisciplinary programs.

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10. Boston University

Boston, MA

National Rank: 36

Founded in 1839, Boston University is home to more than 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 140 countries, and 10,000 faculty and staff. It features 16 schools and colleges, and 250 fields of study across two campuses. U.S. News & World Report ranks BU 41st among national universities for 2014.

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9. Bates College

Lewiston, ME

National Rank: 32

Home to over 1,700 students, Bates College is a private liberal arts college, which was founded by abolitionists in 1855. It is the oldest oldest continuously operating coeducational institution in New England. The school was ranked 22nd in the nation in the 2014 US News & World Report Best Liberal Arts Colleges rankings. Home to roughly 2,000 students, Bates offers 32 departmental and interdisciplinary program majors and 25 secondary concentrations. 

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8. Wesleyan University

Middletown, CT

National Rank: 29

Known for the excellence of its academic and co-curricular programs, Wesleyan University is home to about 2,900 undergraduates—and some 200 graduate students—from all around the world. Founded in 1831, the school 40 undergraduate academic departments and 11 graduate departmental programs in the sciences, mathematics, computer science, music , and psychology. 

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7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, MA

National Rank: 25

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6. Middlebury College

Middlebury, VT

National Rank: 22

Founded in 1800, Middlebury College is home to 2,500 undergraduates from all 50 states and over 70 countries. It offers 44 majors in the arts, literature, humanities, foreign languages, social sciences, and natural sciences. Middlebury became one of the first all-male liberal arts colleges to become coeducational when it opened its doors to women in 1883.  

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5. Harvard Universtiy

Cambridge, MA

National Rank: 21

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, is home to over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world. Eight U.S. presidents have graduated from Harvard and 150 Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the school.

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4. Yale University

New Haven, CT

National Rank: 10

Home to more than 11,000 students, Yale University comprises three major academic components: Yale College (the undergraduate program), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the professional schools. In addition, Yale encompasses a wide array of centers and programs, libraries, museums, and administrative support offices. U.S. News & World Report ranked Yale 3rd among national universities in 2014. 

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3. Tufts University

Medford, MA

National Rank: 9

Home to nearly 11,000 students, Tufts is a private research university founded in 1852. Tufts is organized into ten schools—including two undergraduate programs and eight graduate divisions, on four campuses in Massachusetts and the French Alps. In 2013, Forbes ranked Tufts 17th among Research Universities.

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2. University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Amherst, MA

National Rank: 7

The Commonwealth's flagship campus, UMass Amherst is a nationally-ranked public research university offering a full range of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Home to 28,236 total undergraduate and graduate students, the school offers 108 bachelor's degree programs, six associate's, 76 master’s and 52 doctoral programs in nine schools and colleges.

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1. Bowdoin College

Brunswick, ME

National Rank: 1

Founded in 1794, Bowdoin is home to 1,775 students and 190 full-time faculty members, 99% of which possess a Ph.D. or the highest degree in their field. It was listed as the fourth-best liberal arts college in the U.S. in the 2014 U.S. News & World Report rankings. 

 
 

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