A Balanced, Yet Challenging Curriculum
Choosing a plan of study that appropriately prepares students for college means balancing a practical workload with the level of rigor colleges look for.

Once students enter high school, they need a curriculum that will challenge them, prepare them for college, and perhaps get them some college credits too.

Parents should work with their student to figure out what their ultimate goal is. Then they can help pick the appropriate four-year curriculum.

While most high schools do have requirements across several areas of study, its best practice to pursue a course load that is as well-rounded as possible. If your child expresses particular interest in a subject, encourage him or her to take a diverse selection of courses within that field, or to take honors or advanced placement classes that they could leverage for college credit down the line.

The goal is to strike a balanced, challenging curriculum. You don’t want your child to be overloaded, nor do you want them to float through school. Otherwise, they’ll hit a wall in college. I typically recommend that kids take honors classes and have a strong core of English, math, science, history, and foreign language.

The biggest difference between a regular class and an honors class is speed. It’s important for students to challenge themselves with more difficult curriculum, and advocate for themselves if they need help.

I suggest that kids take:

  • English: I recommend that my students take college English before they get out of high school. That can mean a dual-credit class or an AP English language or AP English literature class. Starting in ninth grade, I recommend English 9 and English 10 honors, followed by AP English language and AP English literature in 11th and 12th grades, respectively, or dual-credit English 101 and English 102. (A dual-credit class gives a student one credit for high school and three credits for college.)
  • Math: Students should plan to go all the way through calculus, since many majors require this course. So that means making sure students are in pre-calculus by 11th grade. They also want to be in pre-calc then so they are ready for the SAT’s and ACT’s.
  • History: Prepare students to have four credits of Social Studies. That can be world history, European history, civics, US government–-whatever the student wants.
  • Science: Colleges love biology, chemistry, and physics—especially chemistry. Ideally, chemistry should be taken after Algebra 2 so the students have the math they need to get through. For kids who like chemistry, that’s a career indicator. There are a lot of professions where being proficient in chemistry is a requirement.
  • Foreign language: Students should take as many years of a language as they can. A lot of medical schools and many professions want kids to take Spanish, in particular. Being proficient in Spanish is going to help them, since we continue to have much more of a Spanish-speaking population. Mega-selective schools look for students who followed through. A second language looks good on the college application and it will be beneficial down the road in their career. Students should get used to a more difficult degree of curriculum to be ready for college. Colleges look at GPA, of course, but they also look at the rigor of the curriculum.

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Independent Educational Consultant specializing in college admissions and financial aid, motivational speaker, business coach and owner of Jamie Dickenson, LLC., IEC Advisors, and Yoga Power, LLC

Jamie Dickenson is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. Hartford Funds has separately contracted with Ms. Dickenson to provide additional insight about college savings issues.