by Peter Van Buskirk

If seniors find themselves walking an academic tightrope at this time of the year, juniors are about to face a moment of truth as well. It will come in the form of course registrations for next year. If you are a high school junior, you can demonstrate a “passion for learning” with the courses you choose for your senior year.

Colleges can infer a great deal about you from the way you make curricular choices. In particular, they want to see evidence that you are continuing to stretch yourself academically. A lot of students enter senior year content with having “satisfied graduation requirements” in one or more of the major disciplines. You’ve no doubt heard the talk among your friends: “I’ve already had four years of language starting in eighth grade,” or “I’ve satisfied my math requirement for graduation,” or “the sciences aren’t for me.” What usually follows next? “So I don’t have to take any more in my senior year.” Before you find yourself saying the same thing, take a moment to think about what the choices you make say to your prospective colleges.

Here is another way to think about it. Each year, as you have moved through the educational system, you have shown that you are proficient in dealing with the rigor of the program for that year. Your reward? Promotion to the next level, where you are given a new set of challenges. These promotions have continued through high school as you have been tracked into the more advanced levels of the curriculum.

At the end of your junior year, though, the tracking ends for the most part and you are able to decide for yourself the courses you would like to take. When planning for senior year, students often ask “Is it better to take an easier course where I know I can get an A or should I take the harder course where I can probably do the work, but it is more likely that I will get a B or a C?” The answer is simple: take the harder course — and get the A!

Think about it. Colleges want you to show your best work. So which impression do you think you ought to leave — that you are content to get by or that you are continuing to seek new challenges? Your best bet is to move to the next logical level of academic rigor. Show that you have the desire to make yourself better in the classroom. In doing so, you keep yourself on the playing field that defines the competition for admission.

Peter Van Buskirk is a former Dean of Admission at Franklin & Marshall College, and he is a noted author, strategist, and motivational speaker.

Source: Peterson’s Student Edge

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