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By Mae Mastin, Joliet West

As a junior who is visiting and researching potential colleges and preparing for college applications—while focusing on my high school classes—I always wonder what colleges want to see on my transcript. This is what I’ve found from discussions with my high school counselor, information from college admission officers, and helpful online resources.   

Big Future, a College Board-produced website that gives information on college and careers, suggests taking “at least five solid academic classes every semester” in its resource “High School Classes Colleges Look For.” The article also suggests that these include:

Four years of English

Three to four years of math

Three to four years of science

Three to three and a half years of social studies

Two or more years of a foreign language

One or two semesters in the arts

Schedules may be structured by high school graduation requirements. For example, Joliet Township High School requires its students to take four years of English and three years of math, along with other required courses.  

According to Big Future, high school students can also make sure they are preparing themselves for college by looking at potential colleges’ requirements for admission. Big Future suggests its College Search tool as a way to quickly research colleges’ requirements.

Another Big Future resource, “How to Choose High School Electives,” suggests that students should maximize extra time in their high-school schedule to strengthen their applications. Big Future states, “One of the most important pieces of your college application is your high school transcript…If you choose electives in areas you’re excited about and will work hard in, that interest and effort will show in your grades.” The resource includes suggestions for choosing electives that colleges may recommend (like a foreign language), that allow for enjoyment and schedule balance, and that “show colleges who you are.”

Finally, Yale University offers a reassuring suggestion for high school students in its “Advice on Selecting High School Courses” resource: “The high school transcript is almost always the most important document in a student’s application. But it is hard to conceive of a situation in which the appearance (or absence) of any one particular class on a transcript would determine the applicant’s outcome.”

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