Your High School Courses Play A Big Role In the Admissions Process



When planning for college, many students often overlook the impact that course selection – or course rigor – can have on their college admissions chances. It’s important for college-bound students, especially for rising seniors, to take the most challenging courses available to them and to do well in them.

When evaluating college applications, admissions officers look at all for years of grades and courses. They want to see an upward grade trend – meaning as students take more and more challenging courses each year they improve upon their grades to maintain good grades if they’re already “A” students. This is a critical part of the admissions rubric, but often students just think good grades are sufficient on their own. Just like with everything else in the college application, admissions officers are looking for context. If you have great grades, but a relatively easy course schedule when your high school offers a number of advanced courses, they might assume that you’re not willing to challenge yourself.

Many students don’t find out until later in the process that their course schedule could have been stronger. We caught up with one of our pro bono students, J, to discuss his college admissions journey and how his IvyWise counselor’s advice on course selection impacted his senior year.

Q: Tell us a little about your background and interests.
A: I am graduating from high school in 2019. I am interested in physics and math. I play varsity basketball and volleyball. For 3 summers, I have been fortunate to work in university labs to experience different disciplines of three sciences.

Q: What are your college/career goals?
A: My goal for college is to attend an upper-tier university. Based on my academic background and interests, my likely career path will be in engineering.

Q: What have you found most challenging about applying to college?
A: The most challenging task I have had so far is picking an idea for the common app essay. It is difficult to find an impactful topic to fit into only 650 words.

Q: What have you enjoyed the most about applying to college?
A: I enjoy being able to travel around the country and visit campuses. It is great to visit well-known colleges and see what their campus is like. I do get a feel of the culture of a university and this is invaluable as I choose where to apply.

Q: What advice has been most valuable so far?
A: I was stunned to learn that the courses selected for my upcoming senior year were not adequate for my reach colleges. My IvyWise counselor helped me reevaluate my course selections for my senior year and discussed options that strengthened my transcript. This would have been a complete miss if IvyWise was not on top of this.

Q: How has your IvyWise counselor help you navigate the process so far?
A: My counselor has helped me brainstorm ideas for my personal statement and Common App essay. She has also clearly set a timeline to minimize stress during the fall of my senior year. Her admissions experience is invaluable, and her constructive feedback helpful.

During my first consult with my counselor, she wasted no time hitting all topics. It was the most valuable use of time ever. She left knowing so much about me and followed-up with a detailed report that was on target. My first consult was the best advice I have ever received, and my parents were overly impressed with the feedback in her report. She continues to pry and dig and demand which is beneficial to me.

Q: How have you grown/changed since you started planning for college?
A: I have a much better idea of what type of school I want to attend and in which part of the country. I have begun to understand that this is my choice, as I reflect on my own likes and interests.

Q: What advice would you give to students preparing for college?
A: Don’t stress out and overthink the process. The common app is easy. Set a timeline with firm deadlines starting as soon as junior year ends. Do not let the process overwhelm your life. This can be the exciting, positive experience it should be.

Want to learn more about how grades and courses impact the college admissions process? Check out these resources below and download our free Academics and Test Prep Checklist using the form below!