What should you do if your high school doesn't offer advanced classes?
Look outside of your high school to find classes that 1) will challenge you, and 2) you will excel in. But the bottom line is to make sure your primary efforts are made toward excelling in the courses that are available to you in your high school. Colleges will take into consideration the fact that your courses are limited, but they will want to see that you have exceled in the courses that were available to you.
If you have exhausted all of your academic college prep, honors, and AP options at your high school, check into taking a strong academic course at the local/regional community college or four-year college/university. This looks great on your application – assuming you receive a grade of B- or better (unless you are only applying to highly selective colleges, in which case it should be an A).
Colleges want to see that students have challenged themselves – reasonably. In other words, if you sign up for a ton of extracurriculars, and your grades suffer as a result, you will probably be denied admission.
Likewise, if you take challenging classes at a college in order to bolster your application, approach that challenge with a realistic attitude. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are you able and willing to put in the time-per-week that a college course requires for success?
2. Will you have to take the college course over again when you get to college? Many college curriculums require that certain fundamental courses be taken within that department – they won’t accept the credit from another institution. So would you be better off taking a different course that would actually count for credit?
3. Will the course you want to take enhance your application? In other words, is it a strong academic course, such as a 100 level math, English, science, or language course? Is it a course that builds on learning you have already received in such courses in high school? Is it a natural progression in a strong area of interest?
4. Be careful about taking college arts courses as extras in high school. If you are an arts major and you feel you are headed for a conservatory program in college, they most likely will not accept the transfer credits. They may accept music theory or something fundamental like that, however, most conservatories have their own departmental philosophies and training structures that they want you to be immersed in from day one.
Another option for students seeking a greater challenge than is offered within their high school is working at a part-time job in an interest area they wish to pursue in college. High school cooperative internships, externships, and volunteer opportunities in professional areas are a great way to learn as you are assisting professionals within fields such as pharmacy, veterinary medicine, industry, etc . This can count for a lot in an application.
But I cannot stress enough the importance of achieving great grades in the courses that you have available to you at your high school. If you are a student who pushes him or herself beyond your capability in terms of grades in order to “overachieve” and impress an admissions office, but this self-pressure results in average or poor grades, it won’t matter if you have taken college courses in addition to your high school academics.