College Admissions Planning: Insider Tips

 High School Course Planning – AP vs IB vs AICE?

Dual Enrollment?

College Consultant Bonnie Rabin, PhD explore GPA and AP vs AICE vs IB

Greetings High School & Middle School Students & Families

It’s Time for Course Planning 2023-24


School Academies,


At this time of year, students and parents are focused on course selection for next year. There is always a bit of uncertainty about the value of “Academies”, AP classes (too many or too few?), AICE vs. IB diplomas and whether “Dual-Enrollment” classes are appropriate. Middle school parents may also be exploring high school choices – and wondering how to handle the disappointment of missing the lottery for limited spots within “choice” or “charter schools”.
Regular readers of my newsletters and blog posts undoubtedly read about the changes in standardized testing formats — including the elimination of SATII tests in spring 2021. That change will continue to impact HS course planning because selective universities that required /recommended these exams during the college application process will be interested in seeing your AP exam scores- currently these are NOT a part of the normal college admissions process. I do NOT see this as a good thing- students are already stressed and pressured to over-enroll in AP classes. More below….

The University of Colorado Boulder Campus

Whether your dream college is a highly selective university, the Ivy League, a liberal arts college, your state’s flagship – or any one of several outstanding academic institutions throughout the country (“FIT”??l) – – please consider the following points as you prepare to select your coursework for next year:
  • One of the most important aspects of your high school academic experience is taking coursework that prepares you to succeed in subsequent and increasingly complex courses. This is your EDUCATION!! Please follow your heart- not the crowd. As you’ll read about below, the importance of having a foundation in STEM coursework cannot be overstated (even if you aren’t a STEM student!). Please don’t ask me “what looks good on my application?” – the question you need to be asking is “what courses do I need to be successful in the anticipated educational path? What concepts do I need to learn?” Students should take the most challenging and relevant coursework that they can comfortably manage. (Sometimes that means requesting to override teachers’ placement recommendations if you’re really truly going to put in the work for the more challenging option.)
  • In addition, your courses should allow you to explore and discover beyond your comfort zone. Why should any 14 to 17 year old young adult be 100% certain of a path – take interesting electives!!
Don’t waste your available spaces on courses that teach little and electives that will likely be removed from your calculated GPA by college admissions officer (yes, that’s right- those none core courses are removed in most situations!!)
  • Finally- your coursework should always be challenging but not more than you can comfortably manage. I lost track of the number of parents and families that thanked me for talking them out of enrolling in seven AP classes! (Read my Google Reviews)
This is often a busy time of year for my practice serving families of students in all academic levels and majors. This past week I received several phone calls from 8th grade families beginning to explore their high school options. I also spoke to new rising seniors beginning to feel concerned about college applications (we begin the process now – looking at majors and colleges), summer plans,  next year’s courses. College admissions and college applications do take on a sense of urgency for juniors (this is especially challenging with all the changes taking place during the pandemic – and the missed opportunity to visit most college campuses).
If I can convince you embrace the reality that there’s truly no life-changing choices that can be made in high school – and that every student will enroll in a quality post-secondary educational setting — you will begin to feel a ton lighter. That said,
It is never too early to begin taking steps to ensure your student has a long-term strategic educational plan fostering a love of learning, building solid time management skills and establishing a directed path towards the undergraduate experience. This starts with selecting courses that students ENJOY, MANAGE and DISCOVER ACADEMICS more fully.
Today I will focus on high school course planning.


Beyond the high school graduation requirements in your state (20 to 24 credits), the classes you select serve some important roles:
  • Courses, and in particular-your electives- can help each student explore, develop and deepen an academic interest. Select wisely. There are some high schools offering robust choices -and others are somewhat limited- but can be enriched (not supplanted) thru external opportunities.
  • Core/required and elective courses allow students to better prepare for subsequent academic success. Sequencing is important as are appropriate challenges. For example, a foundation in math is essential for STEM fields and Business curriculum. AP Art can develop core skills and expand a portfolio. Completing courses in high school is essential for proper academic placement as undergraduates — but even more important– the ability to hold your own when arriving on a college campus rests squarely on the quality of courses taken in high school.
  • Most universities list their expected requirements for admissions as four years each of high school English and Social Studies, a minimum of two years of foreign language, three of mathematics and three of science. STEM and Creative Arts students have unique high school requirements. Knowing these ahead of time will save moments of catch-up later. With few exceptions, all undergraduates also have distribution requirements- students will not “escape” these – and it’s the reason we take a “college prep” curriculum now – so that you don’t spend time in remedial work later.
  • As discussed in depth below, the transcript reveals a student’s ability to succeed as a undergraduate and has a direct impact on the likelihood of college admission. Avoid following the crowd!

College Consultant Bonnie Rabin, PhD explore GPA and AP vs AICE vs IB

In my practice, I meet families who seem unreasonably misguided about how course choices impact class rank and yes, I also hear unrealistic notions about the value of the weighted GPA.  It’s short and simple- you need to earn the highest GPA possible.
Students with higher unweighted GPAs, also have higher weighted GPAs. Parents — if your student has a 3.2 unweighted GPA and you are thinking that their weighted GPA will some how compensate/balance- it doesn’t work like this. Other students with higher unweighted GPAs also have higher weighted GPAs.  Please don’t be super excited by your weighted GPA – your place in line is the same.
Colleges will be looking at your transcript – all of it- courses taken and both the weighted and unweighted GPAs.
 Accordingly – don’t fret– there is a college fit for every student- C, B or A! Some students find their stride later or in non-traditional ways.
Families should aim to select a high school and a curriculum that encourages learning and discovery within a community that provides the support for your student’s continued emotional development.
Let’s get some facts straight:
  • The single most important factor for academic success as an undergraduate and in the college admissions process, is taking the most challenging and relevant curriculum a student can comfortably manage.
  • Foundation courses in high school are important to subsequent undergraduate studies. Understanding the potential impact of taking AP Lang or getting off the “calc-path” to your undergraduate experience is essential. For example, if you have an aspiring physician–there is a required set of undergraduate courses for success as a medical student/admissions and high school can prepare you for success in those courses. As an undergraduate, this will include Biology, 2-3 Chemistry courses, Physics and Calculus. If you avoid science in high school you will start behind — and struggle against your peers who have the foundational coursework. Considering an MBA? — you need to know statistics and have a year of Calculus behind you. Taking pre-calculus is in your path- either now in high school or as an undergraduate.
  • Your transcript matters most! The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual State of College Admissions report confirms (yet again) that universities continue to indicate that the high school transcript (your curriculum and GPA) is the single most important factor in the college admissions process. If you feel interested in reading the entire report:
While a student’s GPA and transcript are a significant determinant of admissions and academic success, there are as many as five to seven qualified applicants for every available space in the freshman class. As a former admissions committee member and a current Cornell alumni interviewer, I can assure you that admission committees seek to create a freshman class that is diverse in intended majors, geographic origin and personal interests.
Let’s keep some perspective– students in the 3.2 to 3.6 GPA range have many more college acceptances than students with 4.0 GPAs. Both the B and A student will receive a fine undergraduate education, be accepted to graduate school and find a meaningful career path.  What’s different is that nearly every qualified applicant to the most selective colleges has a very high GPA and has taken the most challenging courses. That’s insufficient to earn a spot. I meet many students as late as the senior year with a 4.0 but many who didn’t take all the other necessary steps to prepare for college academic success, personal joy and college admissions. I hope you read my previous newsletters on the importance of extracurricular activities and competitions and contests in shaping the academic interests – essential in college admissions.
Students who are successful not only in admissions, but as actual undergraduate students, are those who have well defined interests, nurtured as early as middle school and further developed throughout high school.
Having an academic niche or a personal passion outside the classroom builds motivation, focus and academic success.
What inspires your student?
The single most important goal of high school is for each student to develop a love of learning both within and outside the classroom – often accomplished by creating meaningful connections with others — collaborating on projects at school, in community organizations, and in extracurricular pursuits.
Learning about the types of problems and innovations taking place in a variety of potential fields can be inspirational. Inspiration if you’re lucky happens at school- but more often than not it’s beyond a textbook or classroom.
Having an opportunity to intern, solve problems, take an EdX course or explore in a collegiate summer program can help to develop a very specific interest area – your niche!
Discovery is sparked within the classroom – but it’s nurtured in hands-on activities- sometimes this takes planning to find that opportunity.
I have so many ideas- let’s talk!