College Prep Begins with High School Course Selection
Iowa College Access Network Offers College Planning Advice
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA – March 1, 2011 – As students prepare for the future
advice seems to flow in from all angles: get good grades, be active in the community, visit
different colleges and apply for scholarships. Each recommendation is a good step towards
being admitted to college; however admission is only the beginning of the college journey.
To truly succeed in college requires a bit more effort and dedication in the area of course
Course selection in high school is the foundation for not only college admissions but
college success. While grades are of value, the courses a student chooses to take may have
more weight. Students with perfect grades in basic classes are not as adequately prepared for
college-level learning, or as favored in the admission process as students who challenge
themselves with more rigorous classes.
College-level learning traditionally includes two-years of general education
coursework. This means no matter what area of study of student intends to major in; they will
have to succeed across multiple disciplines to graduate. Laying a solid foundation for college
begins in high school with the core course subjects. "Experts recommend that every high
school student, no matter their intended course of study or occupation, take at least one
course per academic year in the following five core subject areas: English, math, science,
social studies and foreign language. “Core subject courses are extremely important no matter what future a student is
planning,” explains Erick Danielson, senior outreach representative for the Iowa College
Access Network. “Subjects like English, math and science provide the basic skills needed for
any occupation, and they provide a solid foundation for college-level courses as well.”
English classes should be taken every year of high school. These courses enhance
communication skills, both verbal and written, a requirement for almost any profession. In
addition to communication skills, advanced literature coursework improves comprehension
and vocabulary as well.
Most colleges look for students who have taken at least three years of high school
math and science, but highly recommend four. Traditionally this includes algebra I and II,
geometry/trigonometry and calculus. Laboratory sciences are a focus of admission review so
it is recommended that students focus on biology, chemistry, physics and earth science.
“Math and science are fundamental to problem-solving, teaching students how to
analyze situations. These courses are also a main focus of college entrance exams,” said
Danielson. “More selective institutions have higher expectations, preferring to see advanced
level coursework included in a student’s high school transcript.”
Core courses in social studies typically focus on U.S. and world history courses, as
well as government and economics. “Social studies courses provide students with a better
understanding of the history and culture that are shaping current events, giving them a better
understanding of the world around them.” Said Danielson.
Many institutional admission requirements include at least two years of foreign
language, though often three or four years is preferred for admission and even required for
graduation from the college or university. “When it comes to foreign language it’s best to
contact each school and ask about their individual requirements,” said Danielson. “To be on
the safe side take at least two years. If a student takes foreign language in high school,
chances are they will fulfill the college level requirements. If they don’t they may have to
take college-level foreign language courses once they reach campus. High school is a much
better road, especially for students who really aren’t interested in foreign language and are
just fulfilling the requirements.”
In addition to the five core areas, Advanced Placement Programs (AP) and PostSecondary Education Opportunities (PSEO) are additional programs sometimes available to
high school students. AP courses provide college-level coursework and expectations within the high school classroom. According to the Collegeboard, studies show that students who
score a 3 or higher on an AP Exam typically experience greater academic success and college
graduation rates than students who don’t take AP. PSEO programs allow high school
students to take college classes while earning both high school and college credit.
In planning ahead for college it is important for students to work with their high
school counselor and map out a high school course plan. “Four-year plans are extremely
beneficial in ensuring that students can fit in the required course work for high school
graduation, and laying a solid foundation for future college work.” Said Danielson.
Students and parents can work through the four-year planning process for high school
with the help of the web tool I Have A Plan Iowa (www.ihaveaplaniowa.gov), a free resource
for education and career planning provided by the Iowa Student Aid Commission and
endorsed by the Iowa Department of Education.
For more college planning information visit www.ICANsucceed.org or call the Iowa College
Access Network (ICAN) at (877) 272-4692.