While I typically meet families only somewhere in 10th grade, and many students only “wake up” to the process of thinking about applying to colleges in 11th grade, it is important to note that colleges will be looking at you from way back, since your 9th grade! The most important area of the application, and the very first thing that admissions looks at, is the choices of courses that a student chooses. I get asked very often about which curricula colleges prefer or what is considered the best? Given the large number of International Baccalaureate high schools that have opened, many families believe that this is the best choice. The fact is, colleges view you within the context of your school, and do not compare you with other students from other schools. So unless your school offers two different curriculum choices, you need not worry about what is “better”. That said, understanding the choices and philosophy of curricular choices and what might be best for a particular child is a good thing to do when the student is in the 8th grade.
In this article, I will briefly describe the IB program and the Cambridge International Examinations (IGCSE and A-Levels). Each of these can be researched in more depth by going to their respective websites. More important are course choices in 9th through 12th grade regardless of what curriculum you are in. There are two things that admissions focus on when reviewing the academic history of a students besides the grades: 1. Has the student had a breadth of preparation while also developing strength in a specific area as it relates to potential interests in the college major? 2. Has the student challenged him/herself with the most rigorous courses and taken full advantage of the academic resources available to him/her?
1. Breadth and Depth: Universities want students to explore a broad range of subjects to explore the connections between disciplines. It is also felt that future generations will likely switch complete career paths. Therefore, a student is served well to have a broad foundation across the disciplines more than simply being “trained” in one niche area. Colleges like to see that in your high school choices, you have prepared for this breadth, but also honed your skills to have a strong base in the area that you want to study. For instance, if a student is interested in Engineering, the college would like to see that the student has consistently challenged him/herself with higher and more difficult choices within math and science, culminating in the highest possible level by 12th grade. In very specific terms, for breadth, these would be the preferred minimum that a college would hope to see in 9th through 12th grade: