What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Classes to Take Sophomore Year to Impress Selective Colleges and the Ivy League

Is your profile on track for college admissions?

Our free guidance platform determines your real college chances using your current profile and provides personalized recommendations for how to improve it.

It’s no secret that getting into the most selective colleges in the country is becoming more and more difficult. While the acceptance rate at Harvard in 1998 was 13%, it has now dropped to an astonishing 5.2%. And that’s not even the most selective school in the country. The most selective college in the country now is the little known Alice Lloyd College of Kentucky, which provides fully paid tuition to all full-time students and as such boasts an acceptance rate of just 4%.


It’s no surprise that students who want to attend these schools are thinking about college admissions earlier and earlier in their high school careers. To get into the best colleges in the country, you’ll need to stand out consistently throughout your high school years. Having counseled hundreds of students applying to the Ivy League, we at CollegeVine often hear questions about which courses a student should take in high school to get on the right track. These days, that track starts well before your senior year.


If you’re interested in learning what classes you should take during your sophomore year of high school to get into the top colleges in the country, this article is for you. Here, we’ll outline what colleges are looking for in terms when they review your coursework, and how you can set yourself up for success in the game of college admissions.



What Do Admission Committees Look For When They Review Your High School Transcript?

There are a few simple factors that college admissions committees weigh when they are considering your high school transcript. In order to better understand what classes to take in 10th grade to get into the most selective colleges. you’ll first need to understand what these three factors are. They include rigor, performance, and trend. Let’s break each of these down.



Rigor is the level of difficulty you tackled in your courses. This essentially means, did you take the most demanding track of courses available at your school? Did you challenge yourself at the highest possible level? If not, why?



Performance is how well you did in your courses. Did you ace them all? Did you generally do fairly well? Or was your performance unremarkable?



How did your performance change over time? Were you consistently above average or did you stumble at first and then improve over time? Did you start out soaring and then experience trouble later in your high school years? If so, why?


Once you understand these three factors, you’ll be better able to understand how to select a course track your sophomore year of high school. To do this, be sure that you consider the following things first.

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Consider How Your High School Levels Classes

Because admissions committees are interested in the rigor of your classes, you’ll need to take the track of classes considered most demanding at your high school if you have set your eyes on the Ivy League. Meet with a guidance counselor or adviser if you’re unsure what this track includes.


The most demanding track of classes varies from high school to high school. At most high schools it consists of honors, AP, or IB tracks. At smaller schools, it might just be honors sections of core classes or you might even have no choice over your course track. At larger high schools, you’ll have a variety of different choices.


To learn more about AP classes, see our post How to Choose Which AP Courses and Exams to Take.

To learn more about IB programs, see our post To IB or Not to IB: Is International Baccalaureate Right For You?.


If you go to a smaller school or one where AP/IB classes are not offered, don’t worry. You can still get into an Ivy League if you impress the admissions committee in other areas and stand out academically in the classes that you do take. To learn more, see our post What If My School Doesn’t Offer AP or IB Courses?.



Keep An Eye Towards the Future

When you register for classes your sophomore year, you should also think about which classes you’ll want to take during your junior and senior years. Some classes will have stringent prerequisites that you’ll need to meet before you can register for them. If this is the case, you’ll need to be certain that you take the prerequisite classes during your freshman or sophomore year.


You can plan a preliminary academic track by starting with the classes you’d like to take your senior year and working back from those.


Also consider the overall trend of your grades. While it’s generally okay to stumble a little during your freshman year or early in your sophomore year, your performance should either be consistently high or steadily improving over time. Be realistic about your abilities and careful not to overexert yourself. Taking four AP classes during your sophomore year is only impressive if you do well in them. If you struggle because you’ve taken on too great a workload, your strength as an applicant will suffer.



Will You Be a Specialized vs a Well-Rounded Student?

If you are interested in applying to a specific program within a college, you can specialize your course selections towards this path. For example, if you plan to apply to the engineering program at MIT, it makes sense to load up on STEM-related courses. But be careful not to become overly specialized. Even math and science majors need to be good communicators with broad knowledge of the world. Take time in high school to explore the many paths available to you.


Also remember that there are still three years before you go to college. You could definitely change your mind later and be stuck in a course track you don’t like if you become specialized too early. Sophomore year courses should still represent a broad variety of interests.


Finally, remember that many colleges will require four years each of math, English, science, social studies, and a foreign language. This probably doesn’t leave a ton of room for becoming overly specialized. Instead, it might mean that you focus your most challenging course selections in your areas of interest during the latter part of your high school career.


Other Ways to Highlight Your Academic Skills

There are plenty of other ways to highlight your academic skills outside of the classroom, too.  Summer programs, online college classes or summer classes, and independent studies can also serve as great evidence of your commitment and academic prowess. This way, if you feel that you are limited in your rigor, performance, or trend of your high school grades, you may still impress an admissions committee with academic pursuits outside the classroom.


To learn more about summer programs, see our post Effective Summer Activities.

To learn more about college classes, see Should I Take College Classes Over the Summer?

And finally, to learn more about independent studies, check out How to Plan and Implement an Independent Study in High School.


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


For more information about sophomore year, see these posts:


A Guide to Extracurricular Activities: Grade 10

How to Pick Your High School Courses Freshman and Sophomore Years

Seven Important Tasks to Complete the Summer Before Sophomore Year

An Easy-to-Use College Planning Checklist for Sophomores

A Guide to Freshman and Sophomore Years

Attention Sophomores: What You Can Expect Junior and Senior Year


Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.