Preparing for College

6 or 7 Classes for Rising Juniors?

Question: Does it matter to the highly competitive colleges whether a junior takes 6 or 7 classes? I am an independent college advisor working with several sophomores who would like to take 2 APs and 4 other 'solids', versus 7 classes of similar make-up. My sense is that they won't be able to compete in these admissions pools. How should I advise the students and their parents? Thanks!

The number of classes (6 vs. 7) isn't really important. What does count is their rigor. For instance, in the eyes of admission officers, all Advanced Placement classes are not created equal. Are your advisees’ AP courses in American History or psychology? Calculus or statistics? Physics or economics? (In each of these cases, whether justified or not, "elite" college admission folks are likely to view the first in the pair as a heavy hitter and the second as more "fluffy.")

When it comes time for your students to apply to colleges, their applications will ask the guidance counselor to indicate if the academic program is "Most Demanding," "Very Demanding," "Demanding," (and so on), when compared with what is available—and the norm--at that high school.

The highly competitive colleges typically admit applicants who have earned the "Most Demanding" designation or, sometimes, “Very Demanding”—depending on various factors (such as their ability to throw a football ;)) Before signing on the dotted line to confirm class choices, your advisees (or their parents) should check with the guidance counselor to see if their putative programs put them on "Most Demanding" turf.

Admission committees are largely focused on an applicant's "core" academic subjects. So whether a student tacks on one extra elective (e.g., band) or a couple (band, journalism), it really will make no difference at admissions-verdict time. One key to their success will be the level of challenge of the main academic courses and how this stacks up with what the high school offers and with what their fellow students will be choosing.

(posted 2/5/2011)