Many high school juniors, preparing to determine their senior year class schedule, are asking, “What classes should I take senior year?” They are worried about getting the senior year class schedule just right. Too tough a course load and grades could drop. Too easy and colleges might not be impressed. It is a delicate balance because college admissions counselors want to see two things: 1) Great grades, especially in core courses, 2) The most challenging course schedule available.
If I could only provide one piece of advice regarding the senior year class schedule, it would be this – Don’t take your foot off the gas. Senior year is not a chance to take it easy. It is more a chance to keep running across the finish line.
Senior Year Class Schedule Considerations for Your Student
- Minimum College Requirements – Make sure you are meeting the minimums for the schools you plan to apply to. This can be easily found on the college websites under Admissions. If you are looking at schools that require 4 years of math, make sure you have 4 years of math. If prospective schools only require 3 years in certain subjects, it is still a good idea to go above and beyond that requirement if you can.
- Advanced Placement (AP) Courses – Even if you aren’t confident about passing the AP tests for college credit, AP courses are often considered the most challenging or rigorous courses offered because they are supposed to be taught at a college level and be roughly equivalent to what you would take in the first year of college. You do need to be realistic though – if you are mediocre in math, you probably shouldn’t sign up for AP Calculus because you are going to struggle and that will most likely be reflected in your grade.
- Honors Courses – An honors class is the best option as long as you are confident about achieving a B or better. Although colleges would prefer As over Bs, a B in an honors course may look better than an “easy A” in a non-honors class.
- Dual-Credit Courses – Dual credit classes are a great way to earn early college credit. These are usually considered to be of a greater difficulty than regular high school classes because they are taught at the college level. You will want to look into whether the colleges you are looking at will accept these courses as transfer credits. This can vary widely by college and between different states.
- Teacher’s Assistants – There are often opportunities for a student to be a teacher’s assistant at his or her school. I would argue that this will be looked at as a “blow off” class period unless the student is planning to become a teacher. If you are planning to major in Education in college, a teacher assistant position will most likely be viewed favorably as a chance to shadow or try out a perspective career.
- Electives – Try to fit in an elective in an area you may be interested in studying in college. Electives should always be a lower priority than core classes. Make sure you have enough high-quality core classes first.
- College Competitiveness – What types of colleges are you planning to apply to? For Ivy League or other top-tier colleges that are very competitive and very selective in their admissions, you will definitely need to show top grades, preferably As, in the most rigorous classes offered by your high school. If the schools you are looking at are slightly lower on the competitiveness scale, being a well-rounded student will carry more weight and you will have more flexibility to balance your senior year class schedule. That will give you a little more room to explore electives.
- What Fits in Your Schedule – Juggling the needs of a hundred to a thousand seniors is a daunting task for any high school. Sometimes schedules just don’t work out the way you want them to. Especially at smaller schools, they may not be able to make everything you want to take fit together into a school day. In this case, explore other options like online high school or online college classes to supplement your in-school schedule. Your high school’s counseling office should be able to help you figure this out.
There are no easy answers when it comes to selecting your senior year course schedule and even experts on college admissions disagree as to what extent students should push for the most challenging courses. There is a great college admissions podcast called, “Getting In.” In a recent episode, the host, Julie Lythcott-Haims made the statement, “You have the right to enjoy high school.” She was talking about the topic of what to take senior year and she was advocating for getting some opportunity to explore topics you are interested in and take some enjoyable classes rather than pushing 100% for the hardest classes offered. I couldn’t agree more. Above all, you need a balance and you need a realistic schedule so you have time for college applications, scholarship applications and the things you want to participate in senior year.