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Why the Road to College Starts Before Freshman Year - Part 1

Fall is back-to-school time. For many parents and their newly minted high school students, it can be a stressful time of the year. This period is fraught with questions such as the following -  What are some classes to pick? What honors classes can your child qualify for? Are there AP courses available in the first year? Are AP classes advisable in the first year? Throw in a high school counselor who has his hands full and the "lost-at-sea", rudderless feeling is yours for the taking. 

Alternatively, you could be a more educated, organized, parent and student duo, who begin planning for high school, on the cusp of freshman year. If college is on the radar and a family has no history of applying to US universities, or it's a family with no college attendees at all, a little homework will go a long way to shush the anxiety.

This series of posts by's founder Naazish YarKhan, should help you get started. In this blog, we will cover 3 essential areas of focus that you should know about as a high school freshman. 

1. Freshman Year – Begin Laying the Foundation

Some high schools offer credit courses in the summer to rising high school freshmen. Explore the possibility of taking those so you can make room in your schedule, if needed, for a more demanding class in the school year. There are bridge classes, too, that some high schools offer as a refresher to combat the inevitable summer slide.

2. Choose Coursework Carefully

Besides courses that are high school requirements for graduation, speak with your counselor to ensure that your courses align with the career path you're leaning towards. Know your end goal even if it’s kinda, sorta, perhaps. What do we mean?

In Illinois, for instance, taking three years of high school math meets graduation requirements. However, to pursue engineering, universities often require four years of high school math. So if you know you want to pursue engineering or the sciences, let your high school counselor know. For many competitive universities, four high school years of a second language are often the requirement. In states such as IL, however, only two years of a second language are required for high school graduation. To attend a California school, you need an extra arts credit compared to states such as Illinois. 

Bottom line – think of high school as college preparatory years and be sure to consult early with your counselor so they can guide you as to classes to take.

3. AP and Honors Courses

Another aspect you should consider is the difference between weighted Grade Point Average (GPA) and the GPA for regular classes. The former is like receiving extra credit for taking on the academic heavyweights, like AP and Honors. It's the school's way of saying, "Hey, you're not just coasting through. You're tackling the tough stuff." So, if you do well in those harder classes and bag some good grades, your GPA gets a boost. 

Colleges do take into consideration the rigor of your high school coursework when evaluating your application. They understand that honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes are more challenging, and they often weigh them favorably in the admissions process because they want to see students challenging themselves academically.

However, balance is crucial. Taking too many challenging courses at the risk of compromising your GPA might not be in your best interest. 

Have some idea, even if it’s a vague one, as to what kinds of colleges you’d like to attend. There are community colleges, state schools, top tier schools and extremely selective schools such as the Ivy League’s. If a selective school or competitive program at any school is even a blimp on your radar, not taking Honors or AP Classes, if your school offers them, can be a strike against you. It's in your interest to find out what prerequisites you may need, if any, to be able to take AP classes. 

Besides showing you are capable of the rigor, taking AP's has economic ramifications. In instances where universities accept AP credits, you may shave off time spent at the university by skipping those courses in college. Not only does that mean you could potentially pay less in tuition, but  you could graduate sooner and perhaps even start earning a living that much quicker.

Alternatively, you can check out this blog on online courses that offer college credit here

That said, not all universities accept AP course credits and even when they do, it may not be worth skipping certain classes. The curriculum covered in an AP class may or may not  cover all the ground that a university class does. 

You may want to consider whether a class is a building block to your major before deciding to “cash in” the AP Credits and skip it in university. 

Well, this is quite a lot to absorb and consider, but a conversation begun early is better than the stress associated with playing catch up. 

We'd love to hear your questions and feedback. Stay tuned for our next blog post in the series! 

Disclaimer: All information on this blog should not be used as the sole source of information on a subject. It is valid at the time of its writing but may have changed since.  

At, founded by Naazish YarKhan (Writing Coach & Essay Consultant), students build their personal brands and their confidence as much as their writing, analytical and critical thinking skills. Naazish is also a college application essay consultant with acceptances at the Ivy Leagues including Princeton, Cornell, Columbia, MIT, Duke, Vanderbilt and other prestigious universities.



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