When applying to colleges, which is better – a higher GPA or harder classes (rigor)? What are colleges really looking for and how do they decide who to admit?
Of course, having good grades AND rigor in your courses is the best goal. But if the choice is between a challenging class (like AP or IB) and a class that you know you will ace – go for the challenging course! Taking a more rigorous course load is your chance to stretch your abilities and show the college (and yourself) what you are capable of. You should be preparing yourself for college-level work, not coasting by with the easiest courses.
Use the following guidelines when choosing classes in high school to be competitive when applying to colleges. Be sure to check your graduation class requirements. (For example, California public colleges require 1 year of Visual or Performing Arts.)
- 4 years of English
- 4 years of Mathematics
- 3-4 years of Natural Science (including a lab science like biology, chemistry, or physics)
- 3-4 years of Social Science (US or world history, government, geography, etc.)
- 3-4 year of a Foreign Language
- Any number of years of electives, as they fit into your schedule including Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Athletics, etc.
Special classes that are not college prep, such as Student Council, Mock Trial, etc. can be counted as activities on your college applications.
Taking college classes online. or at a local college or community college while in high school, is an additional way to add rigor to your high school courses. Colleges like to see you strive academically. Often 1 semester of a college school class = 1 year of a high school class. Transferable college classes often count the same weight in a GPA calculation as an AP.
Use the course plan survey in GuidedPath to list your 4-year plan for classes in high school. The course plan organizes classes by subject matter, so you can track the number of years you are taking each subject. This comes in handy when you are applying to colleges as a senior too!