High School Planning #3: Looking Ahead

Jun 18, 2020 | Education

Hey, Educated People! Welcome back to my series, High School Planning where we are discussing the benefits in looking ahead. Please remember that this a blog and vlog series. You will read here first and then be routed to my vlog for Step Three’s video lesson. If you’re new to this series please visit Step One and Step Two first. 😉

Let’s get crack-a-lackin!

Course Plan vs. Academic Plan

I would like to begin by stating that a 4-year course plan is different from a 4-year academic plan (also called a student plan). A course plan is usually outlined on one page (maybe two) where the courses that a student intends to take in each required subject category is presented in high school grade-level headings. It is an at-a-glance view of planned courses for freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year. An academic plan is more than a list of courses. It is a plan that includes the academic direction of that student from course plans to map-to-graduation, extra-curricula activities, employments, community services, volunteerism, travel, scholarships, college-entrance projections, testing (if applicable), and more. I will not focus on academic plans too much in this series because they are weighty and largely individualized. However, it is to every college-bound high school student’s advantage to look ahead.

High School Graduation & College Entrance

It is not enough to only know your (home)school’s/state’s high school graduation requirements, but you should also know the college admissions requirements for schools your student may be interested in. Students do not have to know the schools they want to apply to or attend yet; but they may have an inkling. If they do not, now is the time to think about it. It does not have to be decided the summer before freshman year, so rest easy if you all are not there.

However, do inform your student that what a high school requires for him or her to graduate is not necessarily consistent with what a college requires for admission. This reality needs to be taught as early as freshman year, then he or she will modify their course plan and academic plan accordingly. It is also helpful if a student has some idea of what they may want to major in. They do not have to know. They have time to learn more about themselves and some students graduate high school and still are not 100% sure. This is fine. But, if you do have a student who has some options to work with, he will not just look ahead for admissions criteria but also for program criteria. This information is not always readily available on the school’s website, so a call or an email may be necessary. (There is too much range and nuance here to describe how to do this in a general way. If you need assistance, shoot me an email and I will help you.)

Homeschoolers, you can mirror your course plans to both follow your state’s (or shadow school’s) requirements and your desired colleges’ admissions requirements at the same time. For example, if your student wants to be a veterinarian they will need more science. Look ahead at what certain colleges expect from aspiring vet students and plan the courses as best you can.

Non-homeschoolers, briefly put, some schools requires 3 units of science where a particular college may require 4 units to be admitted. Sometimes, the type of school matters. A tech school will look for more units earned in specific courses than in general ones (though the core will be required). A student’s major or that school’s program can be a weighing factor too. I am working with a high school senior now who wants to major in music engineering/music production. The school she wants to attend isn’t a “music school”; it’s a tech school, but it has a great production program. In reviewing their admission requirements, we know she has to have lots of music units. High schools typically have a certain amount of elective credit a student needs to pass to graduate. This is an great place on a high school transcript for her to gain music experience.

A More Attractive Graduate

Though admissions is important, move beyond it and also consider what would make your student attractive as a potential student. A student with a host of elective music credit applying to a music program can be more attractive than a student with mainly general or non-related music credit. Last, students entering certain programs usually have to include more accompanying documentation or additional tasks with their applications. It is difficult to wait until senior year to accomplish it all. Understanding these matters earlier is better. Do not stress yourself in freshman year if these ideas are still developing for your teen. I am offering a backward design approach where you understand the target before you attempt to throw the dart and make a plan that will land you on the bullseye. The freshman 4-year course plan is a skeleton schedule that can be adjusted as your student figures it out. More so, often times exposing children to collegiate schools and program helps to inspire them about what they may want to study.

More “Other Language”

There is more to consider than just credits when looking ahead. Homeschoolers, sometimes there is a specific sections just for you in terms of the admission requirements and application process. Look for that first. If there is not one, then the school would view all student applications the same. (You can call the school just to be sure.) It is also beneficial to look at testing (if applicable), GPA, and “other language.” We will review GPA later in this series. For now, I want to explain this step using a real example.

*I will review program information in the video lesson below. Please watch for program details especially if your student already knows he or she will be enrolling in a specific school within the college. For example, the school of business, education, or a special technology or art program. I will use Howard University as my example in the video lesson. Homeschoolers, I will also give a specific example for you in the video lesson as well. (I will use the University of North Carolina @ Chapel Hill in my example.)*

College Example: Hampton University

At this point, we have a highlight-ed list that includes both required courses and courses of interest (in the specific and elective courses categories). Now, visit the websites of colleges that your student may be thinking about (or already know about). I will use Hampton University as my example. Let’s imagine that your student wants to attend this school. Let’s look at the admission requirements:

“High school students must complete at least four units of English, three units of college-preparatory mathematics, two units of foreign language, two units of social science, and two units in the natural sciences. The University recommends that candidates take the most rigorous academic program available in their schools, including at least five academic courses each year and AP, IB, and honors courses whenever possible.”

Hampton considers English, Math, Foreign (World) Language, Social Studies, and Natural Sciences “academic courses.” They would like to see (at minimum) these 5 each year (even though they only require 4 units in one subject). My son’s high school already requires 4 units in each core subject to graduate, so we are good there. But the other language continues to include that they would like to see AP, IB, and honors courses wherever possible. This is good to know as you are course mapping. I would have my teen leave some room in his plan to possibly take some of these kinds of courses later in high school.

My GPA School List

Hampton also has a test-optional policy that students may employ depending on their GPA or ranking. My son does not like taking standardized tests. For example sake, let’s say he is only applying to test-option and text-exempt schools. He should understand the grades he needs to earn to apply to a particular school without having to test for the SAT or ACT. I record these requirements or considerations as part of the the 4-year plan in a page (or pages) called “My GPA School List.” Students can begin with only two schools if they are unsure or still thinking it through. Two to four schools is a good start. It looks similar to this:

I intentionally left the confidence level blank to wait until we cover GPA in this series.

More On Looking Ahead

Not all schools require an admission essay; but since you are already skimming, see if any of the interested schools requires it and if so make note. Around junior year, you can review it more closely, make any updates, and then begin to writing plan for completing essays. Revisit this plan and GPA/essay list as grades post or as the teachers share academic progress. In other words, stay on top of it.

If your student has no clue to school options post-high school, it is good practice to have them look at least three public schools in your state. (And if you are pro-HBCUs, as I am, add one of them in too!) They do not have to apply or attend those schools. It is simply good practice throughout this process to “look ahead” for the exposure. When they know their schools this information is easily transferable.

With this information, revisit the highlight-ed course list. Ask your student if there are any courses he wants to drop or add, and make any changes. Also, if your student is interested in any specific schools or programs within the college (as mentioned above), please have them peruse their high school course offerings to see if they are any similar or related courses to that specific program. For example, if a student is interested in a business program, they should take business or business-related courses in high school for their elective coursework. If this is the case, assign a new highlighter color (or a new symbol) “special courses.” These are the courses your student are considering to either meet any college admissions requirements or to have a more attractive set of courses on his or her transcript.

This process is complete once you and your student have:

  • Thought about the schools or the kinds of schools he or she may want to attend for college.
  • Browsed through college website for admission requirements and “other language.”
  • Made a GPA list for the schools who list their required or desired GPA requirement.
  • Read school/program-specific language and allowed it to influence high school coursework as applicable.
  • Revisited the high school course list (with new highlight-ed courses, if applicable).

Colleges and their programs alter their requirements as they deem fit. Reviewing admissions information for the entering freshman class of 2020 could be different by the time your high school freshman graduates in 2024. So, continue to monitor it each year (every spring). It is a good idea to subscribe to the school’s newsletter if your student is really interested in attending.

Download a Freebie!

I created this High School Planning: Looking Ahead download for you to support you in planning and organization, and to mark the end of this step. It includes a student worksheet, a My GPA List, and a parent checklist. The second sheet asks about GPA confidence. Only have your student complete that portion (at this time) if he or she already understands that a grade point averages is and how it is earned. If your student does not know that yet, save this part until after the GPA lesson in this series.

Video Lesson

Love, Light, and High School


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