A colorful infographic of core subjects: english, second language, social studies, mathematics, and science

Planning Your Senior Year Schedule

May 24, 2024
A post by Beth Anne Spacht, Associate Director of Admission

This one’s for you, juniors.  

I’m going to go ahead and start off by elucidating two (perhaps unwelcome) truths:

1.)    If you’re doing it right, senior year IS just as hard – if not harder – than junior year.
2.)    Your academic progress in the last hurrah of high school DOES count.

I write this not to scare you, but to prevent you from falling into the trap that I hear time and time again from seniors who are midway through their year: “No one ever told me senior year would be so hard!” Well, the fact of the matter is that you’ve worked for 12 long years to prepare yourself for a strong finish; you have one more year to plan wisely to show colleges your mastery of material, so why let off the gas pedal now? We’re not saying you can’t have fun in your last year of high school.  Of course, we encourage you to make the most of your time with your classmates. But we also want to help you to find success in the college process. We hope that these tips prove helpful as you sit down to select next year’s coursework. Stay strong, seniors - you're almost there!

Challenge yourself with a strong senior year.  Focus on your core.

Admission committees toss around the phrase “weak senior year curriculum” regrettably often. What exactly does this mean? Most colleges and universities quantify rigor based on your core coursework in math, history, English, science, and foreign language. These subject areas serve as a foundational platform to predict how successful you might be in college, especially in an overarching liberal arts curriculum like Richmond’s. We worry about students who downgrade to fewer core classes and fewer activities in their senior year – this can be a red flag that a student is checking out of senior year. Since high school really is an exercise of the mind, be sure to focus on your core.  Take at least four core classes, excluding electives. Five core courses are preferred; ideally, we’d like to see you uphold this threshold throughout your senior year. Finish strong with classes that challenge and excite you.

Follow your interests

But do not abandon more than one core subject area. If Spanish is not in your cards, replace it by doubling up with an AP science. If math isn’t your thing, why not try your hand at that Honors History course? If electives fit in your schedule without making you feel overextended, by all means pursue photography, public speaking, or that business elective you’ve had your eye on. But don’t do so at the detriment of your day to day performance. When it doubt, do without.  

Step it up to the next level

If you entered junior year with AP’s, IB’s, and/or Honors courses to your name, keep up the momentum in senior year by adding a bit more. If you didn’t take any, perhaps this is the time to try one honors or AP class next year (if offered at your school). Stepping up can also translate to enrolling in summer coursework at the local community college, or exploring online coursework to push your academic curiosity. Stay engaged with meaningful activities. The importance of research, jobs, internships, volunteer work, etc. will not be discounted in the process.

Don’t go for the easy “A,” but pick classes in which you can do well.

I’ll clear the air now. Many colleges and universities do consider spring grades from senior year – even if you are admitted.  So be sure to choose coursework that will not make your GPA plummet. Even if you aren’t admitted, strong third quarter and final grades may be a determining factor that leans in your favor when it comes to securing a spot off the waitlist at one of your top schools. Challenge yourself, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Balance is the key!

Take your placement tests

Having the “AP” or “IB” designation next to a course is great, but it’s also helpful to see the result of that coursework.  If you are able to swing it, take the AP or IB exam and show us what you’ve learned! Sitting for exams can benefit you as well. Check out our credit by exam policy to see how you might score transfer credit or exemption from equivalent college coursework.