Making the Most Out of Your High School Years: What Courses to Take

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By Dr. Gina La Monica

After completing junior high, students enter high school selecting a path that will hopefully give them a competitive edge in securing a spot at one of their dream schools. However, sometimes students are on a track, unbeknownst to them, that is not necessarily college-bound. There are many avenues to completing a high school diploma. Make sure your high school education plan leads to the goal you have in mind, such as attending a university.

High school graduation requirements do not always parallel college admission requirements. This can be a bit confusing, and it often depends on the type of high school and/or program of study a student has selected. Although, private college preparatory high schools tend to align more closely with university requirements as their reputation relies on how many of their graduates enter prestigious universities. On the other hand, a public high school may offer various tracks/emphases which do not fulfill the college admission requirements. Furthermore, a high school can graduate students with courses that are not university-approved, such as a technical math course or an experiential elective course. Lastly, many high schools accept a D as passing allowing a student to meet his/her graduation requirement, whereas colleges do not. 

Therefore, a good start in planning your path to college is to create a high school education plan that meets the requirements of the colleges you would like to attend. Make a list of the colleges you are interested in applying to. The higher the tier, the more competitive and rigorous the high school requirements will be. For example, the Ivy League colleges expect a more complex array of advanced preparatory courses than the average public university. Additionally, private specialized colleges, such as the Fashion Institute of Technology, have their own set of entrance requirements. 

The following is an outline of what courses students should take if they plan on matriculating to a four-year college after high school. Math is becoming one of those courses that can determine a student’s destiny of being admitted to a highly selective college or not. Completing calculus is essential if a student wants to study at one of these more competitive schools.  Doing well in calculus sets a student apart from their peers, especially since standardized admissions exams are now optional or not even being accepted. Since math is sequential, it is paramount that a student knows the proper math sequencing to complete calculus by his/her senior year.

Other important high school courses to complete include four years of English, four years of science, three to four years of a language, two years of history, one year of visual and performing arts, and one year of a college elective. Use the UC-approved course list for your high school as a guide to assist you in deciding which classes to take; only take the ones on the UC-approved course list if you plan on attending a university upon high school graduation.

Start early with creating a four-year high school education plan that meets the requirements of the colleges you would like to attend. This ensures you are on the right path from the start. Late planning often leads to students having to quickly complete courses they should have taken, which just adds more stress and anxiety to the already stressful college process. As stated by Yogi Berra, “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.”


Dr. Gina La Monica has a Doctorate in Education and has worked as a high school counselor, college administrator, and professor at many universities and colleges including the University of California, Los Angeles, California Lutheran University, California State University, Northridge, San Diego State University, etc. She was a tenured professor and an expert in career technical education and adult learning. She currently teaches at a local college and helps students of all ages from kindergarten to the university level with career exploration, college admissions, learning assessment, tutoring, and education plans. 

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a-1616946598 Mar 28, 2021 08:49 AM
Making the Most Out of Your High School Years: What Courses to Take

Why all the down votes? All good observations, except the community college comment. CCs are a great avenue for finishing a degree debt free, and I never noticed professors diverting from the subject matter too much. Adults with the ability to think for themselves should do fine regardless.

Kew Mar 28, 2021 10:23 AM
Making the Most Out of Your High School Years: What Courses to Take

It's only two years debt free (tuition. books) at CC if you complete your secondary education within the SB community College District and enroll immediately after high school graduation, GED completion, or the equivalent. It's called "The Promise." Think paperwork here. You must enroll for a minimum of 12 units, and you must complete your program in two years, maintaining a 2.0 GPA. Otherwise, CC is $46 per unit. For everybody else . . . Generally, a single class is 3 units. So, if you're going up to the Mesa to enroll in ONE class at a CC, it will cost you $138, which does not include books, parking fees, etc. Ergo, CC is only free for the first two years (with 2.0 GPA).

a-1616920780 Mar 28, 2021 01:39 AM
Making the Most Out of Your High School Years: What Courses to Take

“She helps students of all ages from Kindergarten to university level with career exploration, college admissions, learning assessment, tutoring and education plans” Sorry had to chuckle a bit. I don’t know many 5 year olds who are planning their careers or worrying about their chances of getting into the college of their dreams. Maybe we need to teach them some life skills first.

Kew Mar 27, 2021 05:27 PM
Making the Most Out of Your High School Years: What Courses to Take

Good grief! You can't just wake up on the first day of high school and start planning for your academic future. If you can't read at level or understand math in grammar and middle school. you are going to have one heck of a time catching up in high school. This is the fork in the road. Yes, all this is going on while your hormones are changing. Community colleges take all comers. If you can't do the work satisfactorily at a CC, you will be left behind and eventually drop out (even if it's free). Trade schools are excellent, but you still need at level reading and math. It's because you didn't have the guidance in grammar school. These are formative years. Stay off of screens and read books for classwork and for pleasure. Do it and don't stop. Repeat.

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