Preparing for College

Segue to Senior Year

Attention high school juniors: Don't let your senior schedule segue into senioritis. (Were there enough "s"s in that sentence?) If you haven't already done so, soon you will be consulting with your counselor to select your senior-year classes. Don't fall into the GPA Trap by thinking that easier courses can help bump up a faltering grade point average. No doubt, you're probably also thinking about your upcoming college admissions process and may have already planned some college visits this spring or summer.

Try to see things through the eyes of a college admissions officer who will be looking at your high school transcript. Think of your high school career as a kind of race. Maybe at this point it may be feeling like a marathon. Even if it has only a 10K kind of feeling, you have to be prepared to finish strong. Many races are won at the end with the runner squeezing the last once of energy and speed from his or her body's reserves. That's why you have to show those admissions folks at the schools where your applications will end up that you have run a good race and have not eased up your pace during the home stretch. The effect of your senior year on admissions decisions should not be underestimated.


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So, what exactly should you be thinking about when you and your counselor sit down to plot your move from junior to senior year? Allison Matlack, writing in the the Milford Daily News, has some pertinent thoughts about this very situation. Take note.

Admissions heavily weigh course choices in senior year

Over the next several weeks, high school juniors may be asked to choose their classes for next year, and they should give careful thought to their course selections.

The most important piece of the college application is the transcript. Admissions officers look closely to see what classes the student chose, at which level they took the class and what grade they received.

While students might be tempted to bulk up on electives and avoid honors and advanced placement courses in an effort to raise their grade point averages, that is usually not the most prudent decision. The most impressive transcripts show a student who has maintained a strong GPA while taking appropriately rigorous classes.

Most colleges require applicants to have taken four years of English, three years of math, including algebra I and II as well as geometry, two years of social science or history, two years of the same foreign language and two years of a lab science. Yet it is important to bear in mind that these requirements are minimums and students should strive to take courses in each of the five major disciplines for as many years as it is appropriate.

These five subject areas are the backbone of a solid transcript, and electives should complement those classes, not overshadow or replace them. For many students, is probably a better choice to take a fourth year of a language or an advanced level math class than to pick up ceramics, if the choice is between the two classes.

Generally, colleges are more impressed with the student who tackled a demanding course load and received B’s than the one who went for the easy A. Seniors who continue to seek academic challenges are the types of students colleges seek.

However, students need to avoid over-extending themselves by taking classes that are too challenging. If keeping up with the coursework for a class means the student has to cut back on extracurricular activities or cannot maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting plenty of sleep and exercise, the costs of taking that class probably outweigh the benefits. If this is the case, the student should consider switching to a class with a workload that is more manageable.

Elective courses provide an opportunity for students to broaden their field of study and pursue specific interests. Elective choices reveal emerging talents and interests and can add dimension to an applicant beyond their academic profile. For students who are particularly interested in the visual or performance arts or music, it makes sense to have a transcript rich with these electives.

The strength of the student's curricular choices and their achievements are the most heavily weighed factors in college admissions and should be kept in mind during the course selection process. Teachers and guidance counselors can offer excellent advice about appropriate course choices.

As always, the most important thing is to maintain balance, which means working hard but still allowing time for outside interests and extracurricular activities.

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So, keep your running shoes on and take another Power Gel or two. This coming fall, you'll be able to catch a glimpse of the finish line. All the academic training you've done so far will now kick in for your final surge. Good luck, and don't foget to smile when you break the tape as a winner in the race for the perfect college!

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.