What to Consider When Choosing High School Courses

One of the perks high school students enjoy is having a say in what classes they take. Here’s what high school students should consider when choosing their courses!

1. Required curriculum. From the start, it’s important to keep in mind that there are certain classes you will have to take (no matter what). Most school districts have to follow predetermined requirements for graduation. These are usually determined at a state or local level, which is an easy way of saying “there’s no getting around it.” As an example, the state of California requires all students to complete the following, regardless of what school they attend:

  • 3 years of English
  • 2 years of math (including Algebra I)
  • 3 years of social science (history, geography, government)
  • 2 years of physical education
  • 1 year of foreign language

We recommend that all students speak to their academic counselor each year to determine their best course arrangement. Ultimately, students will have to find a way to fit these “core” classes into their schedules.

2. Consider college. Many students have plans to attend college or university after graduating high school. However, colleges often have requirements that are not consistent with your high school’s graduation requirements. For instance, whereas a high school graduate may only need to satisfy 1 year of the foreign language requirement, 4-year universities will often require 3 years. Make sure to speak to your school’s college counselor to ensure you are taking the courses you need in advance!

3. Advanced classes. Speaking of college, many students specifically take AP (Advanced Placement) courses with the goal of receiving college credit. As an example, “English 101” is a requirement at nearly every college – however, students can often be exempted from these courses if they achieved a passing score on an AP English exam during high school! The same can be said about math classes (AP Calculus will often satisfy college math prerequisites). Although AP classes are challenging, passing them (and their corresponding exams) will save you a ton of time – and money – in the future!

4. Physical education. PE classes have always been a requirement at most high schools, but students are often given a choice of activity. Many schools offer PE classes that focus on particular sports or athletic activities, like tennis or weight training. Students should see what PE classes their school offers and pick one that sounds the most appealing to them!

5. Extra-curricular activities. Additional classes – often called “electives” – are generally needed for students to meet their overall unit requirement for graduation. Most high schools have a wide selection of elective courses, ranging from journalism to musical theater to photography. In addition, extra-curricular activities are highly impressive to include on any college application – especially if you stick with one for an extended period of time!

6. Scheduling. Some students enjoy taking summer courses to “free up” their schedule during the year. As an example, many schools have requirements for health education and life skills courses. However, health education is generally one semester, and life skills are also one semester – often with different teachers and classrooms (in other words, these classes are completely separate from one another). As a result, some students choose to take smaller courses during the summer (including PE) so that they can focus on core requirements during the school year. This is also how many seniors enjoy “half days” during their last semester, which we all can agree is a well-earned payoff!