Just like the Olympics are a demonstration of athletic superiority, so is senior year of high school for college readiness. Colleges want students who take their academics to the next level. Senior year of high school should be a time for mastery, of exploration and of rigor.
Below are several tips to help guide students through this key process, as the rigor of a student's high school experience is a core factor in the college admission's process. Please remember that colleges are looking for academically committed and passionate students and that senior years should be the peak of their high school experience, not a plateau or downhill slope.
1. Take an exciting and powerful senior year. Colleges worry about students who take easy senior years with only a few core classes and fewer activities. Design a schedule that shows your commitment to learning and your willingness to take advanced courses and explore new areas. Colleges want you to come in academically hungry.
2. Do not abandon more than one subject area. This means if you are not taking a foreign language anymore, you must not give up history or science. If you dislike science, then take a foreign language and social science. Remember, you have to take math and language placement tests. If you don't take those content areas senior year, those tests will be harder for you and lead to even more classes in those contents when you are in college.
3. Take at least four core classes, not including electives. Five cores plus one elective are ideal. Colleges want to see academic interest, not abandonment.
4. Take as hard a year as you can. If you took some AP and honors classes in 11th grade, then take more senior year. If you didn't take any, try one honors or AP class. Even though some public universities don't see your senior year grades during the admissions process, they do count the number of AP and honors classes you take during senior year. The majority of other colleges ask to see first semester grades. Moreover, if you get wait-listed or deferred, colleges may count all of your senior year grades.
5. Follow your interests. Senior year is often the only time in high school that you can take more than one elective. If you are interested in medicine or sports, take anatomy and physiology. If you're interested in teaching or helping people, take psychology. If you're an artist, take another field of art. Try new content areas.
6. Pick classes in which you can do well. Private colleges see your fall grades. Wait-listed or deferred colleges may ask for spring grades. All colleges you decide to accept ask for spring grades. If your grades drop, they often drop you.
7. Use your summers to take more classes. Classes you take during the summer before senior year can enhance your GPA. They can help you clear away Ds and Fs. College classes often count as AP level classes. Classes you take during the summer can also enable you to take more electives senior year.
8. Plan to take one community college, college classes or MOOCs during the summer or fall. If you have an academic interest, take a community college or college class during the summer and/or fall. They add to your GPA. They show how much you want to go to college. Also if you don't need the academic credit, take free MOOCs at Stanford or MIT that help you push your academic curiosity. Colleges are looking for students with academic passions and interests and often ask academic questions in their applications.
9. Remember, colleges want students who like to go to class. If colleges see that you abandon classes and/or choose a really light senior year, they will worry about your approach to school once you go to their college. In college, you usually only take four classes at a time. Look forward to that.
10. If you do take an easier schedule, then you must fill your time with a job, volunteer work, or internship. Colleges want students who use their time productively. If you have a lighter senior year, then dedicate the amount of time you would have been in that class to an activity.
I emphasize with juniors who want to include free periods and early dismissals in their senior year schedules, but parents, teachers, and counselors need to be strong in helping seniors see the power of a strong senior year.