Your class schedule affects so many aspects of your life: how much you enjoy school, how late into the night you're up doing homework, how often you see your friends, and how college admission boards think of you. That said, choosing classes is no easy feat. There's no formula for a perfect schedule, but you can do your best with these eight tips.
1. Check out requirements
Before you get caught up in fantasies of dropping gym class forever and loading up on four different art classes, check your school's requirements. Most schools require a certain number of core classes – math, science, English, and history – per year. You might also have to work with other requirements, such as world language, gym and health, or if you go to a parochial school, theological classes. Drop by your guidance counselor's office to see which classes you're expected to enroll in and how many credits you're required to take. These requirements might also be outlined on your school's website or in your student handbook.
Once you've determined what you absolutely must take next year, you can figure out how much free space you have to take the classes you're interested in. At this point, it's also a good idea to map out a general picture of your time left in high school to ensure you can fit in all your required classes. You don't want to wait until senior spring to realize you haven't finished your art requirement.
2. Ask your teacher for class recommendations
If your school has multiple levels of classes – for example, standard, honors, and Advanced Placement – your best bet is to talk to your teacher for each subject about which level you'll thrive in. Take advantage of their knowledge of your academic performance and next year's courses, and let them guide you towards the right level.
“My teachers usually give course recommendations at the end of the year, and then I decide what classes I want to take and bounce those plans off my parents,” explains Allison Piazzoni, a student at Folsom High School.
While it might be tempting to slide by with easy classes, consider challenging yourself. If you're on the cusp between standard and honors English, give honors a chance (with your teacher's approval, of course). You might surprise yourself with your ability to keep up!
“I like to take more advanced classes, because I feel the teachers respect you more and give you less busy work,” says Taylor Wyllie from Seaholm High School.
Colleges love to see students challenge themselves, and it's usually easier to drop down a level a few weeks into the school year than it is to move up when the work is too easy.
3. Don't overwork yourself
Let's take a minute to clarify something highly important: yes, colleges love to see you challenging yourself, but unless you have Einstein's IQ and Hermione Granger's Time Turner, it's not realistic to balance six AP classes with two sports, the musical, and an after-school job. Do yourself a favor and push yourself to a comfortable limit... and no further.
“I will only be taking one AP class next year because I don't want to suffer through piles of homework in a class I hate,” says Zoe Nixon, a student at Robert A. Millikan High School.
No one – college admission boards included – will blame you for taking an easy class or reserving one period for study hall. A pre-collegiette has to breathe!
4. Start thinking about college
If you're heading into your senior year, college should play at least a minor role in your schedule choices. Even though you don't know exactly where you'll end up yet, you might know which field or major you're interested in. If you have a general idea, try to pick classes accordingly. If you're considering a STEM major (science, technology, engineering, or math), opt for challenging math and science courses. More of a humanities girl? Add that creative writing workshop you've been dying to take to your schedule.
Many colleges offer credit for high AP test scores, so keep that in mind when selecting your AP classes. Policies vary from college to college, and even from department to department, so there are no guarantees. But, for example, if you score well on your AP Spanish exam, you may be able to skip your college's language requirement.
5. Ask around
Is the sophomore Geometry teacher known for her GPA-killing tests? Is the Marine Bio elective known for its awesome field trips to the aquarium? Ask friends, upperclassmen, and older teammates what the scoop is on next year's classes and teachers. The more you know, the better informed you'll be to make a decision!
6. Pick electives
Most of your classes will probably be pretty standard from year to year: core classes, a language, and gym. But you might have one or two spots for electives, which is where you can get creative. Your guidance counselor, school website, or student handbook will be able to provide you with a list of electives. Keep in mind that some require pre-requisite courses in order to enroll, like taking Graphic Design I before Graphic Design II.
Chances are good you've probably heard of a few popular electives you're dying to take. If not, ask your friends or older students about which electives they've enjoyed. Keep in mind that electives often change from year to year due to budget cuts or teacher availability, so avoid postponing your dream class if possible.
Lastly, remember to have fun! Electives can brighten up a string of otherwise dull classes, so opt for something you can truly enjoy.
7. Talk to your parents
Sure, it's your class schedule, but your parents might have a few opinions on it, too. Before you submit your final schedule, talk over your choices with your parents. Working through your decisions aloud might help you make a choice between Stats and Calc. Your parents might also have their own ideas about your course load... like pushing you towards AP English when you're not quite up for the challenge.
If neither you nor your parents are willing to back down on a scheduling decision, consider talking the issue over with your guidance counselor. Your parents will respect his or her authority as a professional, and you'll get the benefit of an insider's perspective to guide you towards the right decision.
8. Talk to your friends... but don't rely on their decisions
Having a friend or two in class can be awesome. You'll have a friend by your side all year, and come exam time, an instant study buddy. But unless you and your best friend have the exact same interests and abilities, beware of signing up for identical classes. It's tempting to let your friends influence your class choices, but you'll get the most out of your academics if you do your own thing. Besides, you can always see them in the hallways, at lunch, and after school.
What factors are important to you when you put together your schedule? What classes are you looking forward to next year?