The high school courses students need for college
My guest today is college admissions consultant Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md.
By Bruce Vinik
It’s that time of year again. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training and high school students are puzzling over which classes to take next fall. The choices students make do matter. Outside of grades, nothing is more important in college admissions than the classes kids take in high school. “Strength of Program” is a big deal.
Let’s start with the basics. Colleges expect students to take at least five core academic subjects every year of high school -- English, social studies, science, math and foreign language.
In a perfect world, students would take each core subject every year. But the world isn’t perfect and colleges don’t expect kids to be. As long as students take each core subject through eleventh grade, they should feel free to pursue their particular academic interests in greater depth during twelfth grade. There’s nothing wrong with dropping social studies senior year in order to double up on science.
Speaking of senior year, there’s a dangerous rumor making the rounds in high school corridors everywhere --that twelfth grade is a time to coast and that all students need to do in their final year of high school is take the minimum number of required courses to graduate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Colleges pay careful attention to the classes seniors take and the grades they earn. Senior year is actually a time to step up.
Beyond the basics, most colleges expect students to challenge themselves in the classroom by doing advanced course work when it is available in their schools.
For ninth and tenth graders, this typically means taking honors courses or the occasional Advanced Placement (AP) course; for eleventh and twelfth graders, this means AP or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes.
Colleges like honors courses but love AP and IB courses. There is no substitute for a strong academic program in high school. As a rule, students who intend to apply to the most selective colleges should plan on taking five or more AP/IB courses during their last two years of high school. Those who intend to apply to less competitive colleges can take fewer.
But a challenging academic program in high school is helpful in college admissions only if students are able to manage their lives successfully. There’s no reason to load up on advanced courses only to earn poor grades and suffer through piles of homework and sleepless nights.
The high school years should be far more than a race to get into college They should include plenty of time to hang out with family and friends, go to movies, museums and ballgames, and sleep until noon on weekends. Balance is essential. After all, kids need to be kids.
Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md., worked for 25 years in schools. At private Georgetown Day School, he served as director of college counseling, director of admissions and financial aid, and as assistant middle school principal. He was the high school principal at private Barrie School in Maryland, and has taught history, English and math at the middle and high school levels.
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| February 22, 2010; 11:57 AM ET
Categories: Bruce Vinik, College Admissions, Higher Education | Tags: college admissions
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