Many seniors in high school will learn that great power does come with great responsibility if they find themselves with an increasing amount of liberty when choosing their classes.

While the course requirements in the first three years of high school can often seem relatively straightforward, it is common for seniors in high school to be given a bit more leeway as they build their schedules. However, in this case, freedom does not necessarily lead to unadulterated bliss. In fact, it presents several complications.

If you find yourself planning your senior year curriculum and wondering which subjects you should study, how difficult your classes should be, or how many courses you can fit into one course load, read on for our advice to building your senior schedule!

Subject Matter

If you already have an inkling of what you want to study at college—even if your plans are vague—now is a good time to start thinking about how you can begin to lay the groundwork for these studies.

Your high school’s course could be a good litmus test for determining if a subject is one you might want to continue pursuing on college. If, for example, you think you’d like to major in computer science, it would not be a bad idea to take a computer science course in your senior year if your high school offers one.

If you’re certain of what you want to study,  taking specific courses related to your prospective major can strengthen your application. If  you plan on applying to a business school or business program within a larger school, it might look strange if you forego the opportunity to take economics in your senior year of high school.

Another thing to keep in mind, amidst the possibilities of taking new courses, is continuity. There is certainly something to be said for showing that you are committed to a language or art form that you have been studying for a while. If you’ve taken french since eighth grade or started studying music theory at the beginning of high school, you should think carefully before dropping these courses in your senior year, especially if you plan to pursue their subjects in some capacity in college.

Level of Difficulty: Advanced Placement, Honors, Standard, etc.

As we’ve mentioned before,, you should aim to challenge yourself in your courses while also setting yourself up for attainable success. While elite colleges will expect you to have taken a full course load of the most rigorous and fast-paced classes offered at your high school, it is important to keep in mind that an A in a standard level math class is better than a C in AP BC Calculus.

If your school offers AP or IB courses and you are looking to apply to an elite, extremely selective university, you should aim to take as many of these as is feasible. This will vary from student to student as well as from school to school. Look at precedents—if students in the past have only taken 4 AP courses per year and successfully been accepted to elite colleges, that is likely what you should aim to do as well. If you find yourself taking much fewer or many more AP or IB classes than the norm at your school, you should reconsider your choices. Taking too many advanced classes can also prevent you from spending your time in more valuable ways, such as developing your college applications or extracurricular activities.

Some schools do not offer AP classes for a variety of reasons. If you find that this is the case, you need not worry. Part of the adcom’s job is to understand how to read a student’s application by placing them in the context of their high school; thus, if your school did not offer AP or IB courses, you simply will not be expected to have taken them.

In many cases, schools that do not offer AP or IB courses will nonetheless offer classes of varying difficulty (i.e. a “basic,” “standard,” and “honors” version of the same class). If this is the case at your school, you should discuss with your teachers the possibility of sitting for an AP or IB exam at the end of the year. Often, honors level classes will end up teaching much of the same material covered in the AP/IB, allowing for students to score high on the final exam without having necessarily taken a standardized course.

Course Load: How Many is Too Many?

This will vary from school to school. In general, the most important thing to do is to make sure that you challenge yourself within reason. Because the college application process is so time-consuming, it is not uncommon for students to drop a course in their senior year of high school. That said, you should not do this unless your course load going into senior year is already heavy. In other words, if you are a student who took a heavy course junior year, then it might be wise to drop one class in your senior year. However, if you did not take a heavy course load junior year, it may be unwise to drop a course going into your senior year.

The best resource you have in this scenario is posterity—look at what students in previous years at your high school have done. Often, it can be helpful to talk to students who applied to or were accepted at the schools to which you plan to send an application. See how many classes those students took and ask them how they found the workload. Most likely, they will graciously answer any questions you have if you reach out to them respectfully.

Ultimately, though, your course decisions should reflect first and foremost your academic interests. While continuity and rigor are two good aspects to strive for in your course load, in the end you should plan to take the courses that excite you most. Truly, it is in those classes that you will do your best work.

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Lily Calcagnini

Lily Calcagnini

Lily is a History and Literature concentrator at Harvard University who is doing her darnedest to write a thesis about all of her favorite things at once: fashion, contemporary culture, art journalism, and Europe. A passionate learner, she cares deeply about helping high school students navigate the process of college admissions, whether it be through private essay tutoring or sharing advice on the CollegeVine blog.
Lily Calcagnini