Preparing for College

Will Admission Committees Notice My Heavy-Duty Course Load?

Question: I have an extremely rigorous high school curriculum. I have been able to take several AP courses that were not intended for my grade level and have been able to accelerate in many areas. Will admissions officers notice this and see it as exceptional, or would it look just like every other student who had the "most rigorous schedule box" checked off by their guidance counselor?

If you are taking AP courses as early as grade 10, colleges officials are likely to sit up and take notice, even without prompting. However, unless at least a handful of your classmates are applying to the same colleges that you are, then admission folks may not be able to view your application in the context of what is considered the norm at your high school, and thus they may not fully appreciate your accelerated curriculum. So, when it comes time for your guidance counselor to write your college references, I suggest that you present him or her with a letter or "brag sheet" that highlights your most significant achievements, academic and otherwise. You would, of course, include your atypically challenging course load. This can be done in a way that comes across as helpful, not boastful. Trust me--guidance counselors are delighted to have this info right at their fingertips. You can imagine how taxing it is for them to conjure up the glories of what can sometimes be many hundreds of students.

At most high schools, counselors write these references at the start of senior year, but--at some places--the counselors get cracking on their letters as soon as the summer after junior year, so be sure to ask your counselor about the practices at your school.

Chances are, if your course selections really stand out from the crowd at your high school, your counselor will know to mention this on in your reference without any reminders from you, but it certainly doesn't hurt to be pro-active here. And, again, rest assured that your counselor should view this as a favor and not as an impediment to the flow of creative recommendation-writing juices. ;)