February/March is “prime time” for helping high school juniors pick their senior year schedules. Colleges are looking for academically committed and passionate students. The senior year schedule should take the shape of a peak, not a plateau or downhill slope, when looking at a student’s academic experience in high school.

Understanding that the rigor of a student’s high school curriculum is a core factor in the college admission process, below are several tips to help guide you and your students through the scheduling process. Tips also include how to help students make the most of their academic experiences throughout the senior year.

Create powerful senior year schedules. Even though the University of California and Cal State campuses do not see their applicants’ senior year grades usually until the end of senior year, these colleges do require students to:

  • Complete their A-G requirements with Cs or higher. They no longer allow students to make up any missed or failed classes the summer after senior year.
  • Take as many AP and honors classes as they can do well in. Universities award credit for the number of AP and honors classes taken, including those taken during senior year.
  • Do well senior year, as some UCs are now asking to see grades from the fall semester of senior year.

Take challenging classes, as colleges are seeking students who will academically thrive on their campuses. We often get asked if it is better to get an A in a regular class or a B in an AP class. Admissions officers usually say they want the A in the AP class. Seriously, colleges want students who will engage actively in their academic communities.

Drop at most one class, if any at all. We all know of students who complete their math or language requirements in 11th grade and are finished in their minds with these classes. Remind them that:

  • Colleges want students to have a rigorous senior year schedule, so if they drop one subject area, they should pick up another. Most will look unfavorably upon a light senior year schedule.
  • Students will need to take placement tests at most colleges in English, math, and foreign languages. So, if they do not take a class senior year in that field, it will be even harder for them to take the placement tests–which ultimately means that the one class they don’t take senior year can lead to two or more classes of that subject in college.

Follow academic interests and passions. Senior year is a great time to take electives and explore some content areas in greater depth. This is a great time for students to go deeper in fields that intrigue them, so they can then write about these experiences in college application essays.

Take college classes. Some students may want to experience classes at the college level. They can take college classes during the summer after junior year or even take MOOCS from MIT or Stanford. Universities value students who take college classes (even those for no credit), as they demonstrate intellectual vitality. Students who run out of math or science classes can take higher level classes at community colleges for free in California; they only need to cover their book expenses.

Get an internship or job. If students do not have a full schedule, encourage them to find a senior year internship or job, especially if their school days end early. Many organizations and companies will hire high school seniors, and colleges really value students with these kinds of experiences.

Make up any earlier failures or missed courses. Many students mature later in their high school years and need to make up for 9th or 10th grade classes they failed or missed. Many ESL students need to finish all of their English classes or other college readiness classes. Any such students should ideally take or make up these classes up before senior year, so they will need to plan their summer school classes very strategically. If they cannot fit everything into the summer, these students need to include any remaining classes in the senior year, so that they can prove to colleges that they will meet all academic requirements.

Have any other suggestions? Please share your ideas with the group by commenting below!

By Rebecca Joseph