Choosing the Right High School Classes

Academic rigor matters. That’s because college admission officers want to see a solid foundation of learning that your child can build on in college. To create that foundation, your child should take at least three solid academic classes each semester, starting with the basics then moving on to more advanced classes.

Here’s what we recommend: 

English and language arts.

  • Your child should take an English or language arts class every year to help improve writing skills, reading comprehension and vocabulary all things that are important for both college entrance exams and college success.


  • Algebra and geometry classes are also important. Encourage your child to take these classes early, especially if he or she is interested in science, technology, engineering or math. That way, there will be time for more advanced classes, which are a great way for students to demonstrate they are ready for college. 


  • Encourage your child to take three years of laboratory science classes, such as biology, chemistry, physics or earth/space science.

Social studies.

  • Colleges seek students who understand local and world events; geography courses or courses in U.S. or world history help demonstrate this. The arts. According to research, students who participate in the arts often do better in school and on standardized tests, so encourage your child to take art, dance or music classes. 


High school electives are a great way to impress college admission officers. These five tips can help:

  • Ask for help. Guidance counselors are a great resource for helping students determine which courses and electives to take.
  • Focus on strengths. Students are more likely to excel by choosing electives they enjoy—and are good at. However, they should never go overboard on easy classes.
  • Use time wisely. Some schools offer elective courses in journalism or band that correspond with extracurricular activities. This not only reduces a student’s after-school time commitment, but it also provides more time to study.
  • Get art smart. Students who take fine and performing arts classes often perform better in school and on standardized tests, so encourage your child to take classes that get those creative juices flowing. 

Think outside the high school. If your child’s school doesn’t offer the right mix of courses, local colleges and universities might. You may also be able to find courses online at

Seek Help. There are many resources to help you and your child choose classes wisely, including your child’s teachers or school counselor.


Senior Year

  • Download early-decision or early-action applications.
  • Complete and submit the applications.
  • Request letters of recommendation from teachers.


  • Follow up with teachers to make sure they’ve submitted their letters of recommendation.
  • Create a backup plan by submitting regular-decision applications.
  • File required financial aid forms.