Four-Year Plan: Smart High School Scheduling

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As high school students start scheduling classes for the coming year, college-planning guru Lisa Mader encourages them to think hard about their long-term goals and plan accordingly.

Think Ahead

Whether you’re one, two, or three years from graduation, it’s a good idea to sketch out what your remaining high school course schedule will look like. Start by making certain you are meeting all graduation requirements. Then look ahead to junior and senior year. At that point, you should have more freedom in your scheduling, and you’ll want to pay close attention to prerequisites for advanced courses.

I once worked with a high school freshman who wanted to continue to pursue Spanish and band and take dual-credit engineering and computing classes later. Once everything was “plugged in,” he realized he would have to choose between the two electives in order to get the classes he wanted to take junior and senior year. He decided to move some required classes he had planned to take later in high school to 10th grade to make more room. Then he ditched band and settled for just one more year of Spanish. Doing so put him in a position to enter college as a sophomore. That’s but one example of how thinking critically now can be optimal later.

Consider Appropriate Rigor

Students usually fall into one of two categories: those who are hesitant to pursue more rigor and those who think they can do it all. The key is choosing the rigor that’s appropriate for you. Use these tips to decide:
• If you’re a student who is getting straight A’s in college-prep classes and enjoying the glow of a 4.0 GPA, challenge may be what you need. If you are hesitant, ask your teachers what they think you can handle. Your PLAN (pre-ACT) and PSAT scores can also help predict your success in AP classes.
• Don’t take on too much. Heavy course loads will require a lot of outside work. AP U.S. History, AP Biology, AP English along with AP Calc and Physics–that’s one demanding schedule! Ask current AP students and teachers how much work you can expect. There are only so many hours in a day, and colleges don’t expect you to take every AP course offered.
• Remember your outside demands. Your after school hours–which might include a job, community service, and social life–will also compete with your coursework.

Prepare Yourself for College

I’m often asked for input on senior schedules where there is more wiggle room. A good piece of advice I often give (even though it’s not always what students want to hear) is to elect a writing course. You’ll do more writing in college than you can currently wrap your mind around, so honing these skills in high school will make that future path easier. Advanced composition or creative writing are good choices to this end. Practicing writing is particularly important if you put yourself in the math/science camp and don’t enjoy writing.

As you approach your schedule for next year, be sure to start with the end in mind and a clear understanding of your wiring.


This article was written by Lisa Mader

Lisa Mader relies on extensive teaching experience, a master's-level education, and affiliation with some of the industry's most important accreditation boards to help college-bound students maximize their performance and find their best-fit college. Through her company LEAP, Lisa has helped countless families in the areas of test preparation, college selection/application, choosing a major and future career, and much more.


  1. Monica

    Hi , I need to know how many AP courses are required in order to get into a reputed university. I’m doing the research on behalf of my son who is going to grade 11 this year . He did one AP in environmental science but just got 1 . He is a very bright student but I guess he didn’t put in his best effort during his AP .

  2. Monica

    Hi , I’m doing the research on behalf of my son who is going to grade 11 this year . He did one AP in environmental science but just got 1 . He is a very bright student but I guess he didn’t put in his best effort during his AP. Do u think he needs extra tuition as he is giving his AP in statistics , calculus and English next May .

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  5. Student

    I’m currently a junior taking six AP classes and I’m starting to contemplate whether or not I should drop out of AP biology next semester (2 semester per year). Do you think colleges will look poorly upon my decision because I feel as if I took more than I could chew. The class does not cater to my career path in the technology industry, but I have heard it may look horrible on your transcript.
    PS I’m currently enrolled in bio, statistics, English language, US History, and Computer science all APs. Plus I’m starting my sports season next semester too with about 3 hours of practice every school day.
    Any advice on what I should do?

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