Many questions surround the college application process. Where should I apply? What should I major in? Do I want to be in a city or in a college town?
One of the most important questions—and one of the hardest to answer—is the issue of which aspect of the actual application itself is most important. Does your GPA matter most? Test scores? Commitment to extracurricular activities?
According to Conor Brosnan, M.Ed., a guidance counselor at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts, the high school transcript is the piece most closely examined by the university. “When [an admissions officer] looks at an application, the number one thing is the transcript."
But it’s not all about taking as many Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible. Instead, admissions offices want to see students challenging, but not overwhelming, themselves. “The classes you take and the grades you earn are certainly important; however, you don’t want to take an AP course in chemistry if you’re going to have trouble keeping your head above water. It’s about striking a balance," says Brosnan.
So how can you strike this balance—challenge yourself and keep good grades? It’s important to consider where your strengths and your interests lie.
If English is your strength, be sure to challenge yourself with higher-level writing and literature classes. However, you don’t want to stretch yourself thin. Colleges would rather see you do well in a college preparatory chemistry class than earn a D or worse in an AP course.
And yet there’s a paradox embedded in this logic. You don’t want to protect your GPA by taking only easy courses. Colleges recognize a hard-earned B or C as being more valuable than an easy A.
Finally, it’s important to plan ahead. Try to work with your guidance counselor to create a schedule that caters to your strengths without making them a crutch. Lean on your counselor to map out course choices that will challenge you in a way that’s constructive, not crippling.
Of course, grades are important; however, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that high school is not just a stepping stone to college. Instead, it’s a time that students can spend educating themselves about the world around them. It’s a time to better one’s self. “For anyone looking at the big picture, ask yourself what the end goal is. If you’re not sure, that’s fine. Doing well in your classes now will provide you more options later."