Episode 004 Transcript:
How to Best Select Your High School Courses
February 25, 2021 by Ruchi S. Kothari
Hey guys, welcome to the episodes Be Collegebound with IvyBound! I’m your host, Ruchi S. Kothari. I’m super excited that you’ve joined me.
It’s that time of year! Yes, it’s that time of year where you meet with your high school counselor to decide your next year’s classes. So, today, I’ll be discussing with you how to best select your high school courses so that you portray yourself as a competitive candidate for admissions. — I’ll be going over all that and some more in a few.
Be CollegeBound with IvyBound is a series designed for people like you– high schoolers and their parents, where I advise, guide and support you through your college admissions journey, offering you admissions tips, tricks, and secrets to stand out and present your “best self” on your college applications. These strategies are easy to implement yet very impactful, helping you to get admitted into the college of your dreams, and create a future that you would love.
Do you want to get your dream school? Of course you do. Well, stay tuned.
All high school students choose their academic classes with the direction of their high counselor, which is a good thing, but without really thinking through how these classes may affect their college admissions strategy and ultimately their college admissions. Today, I’ll discuss what colleges expect of you in terms of the choices of your academic courses. I will go on to discuss five things to consider before selecting your classes for the next year, while providing you admissions tips, tricks and secrets on what you should do specifically if you are applying to a highly selective college. This is some really important information, so stay tuned. Remember, We’re going to get through your college admissions journey together. Yes, we’re in it together.
And at the end of each episode, I offer live office hours with myself, Ruchi S. Kothari, where I answer three college admissions questions that high schoolers or their parents post. Today, I answer the following questions:
- Is it better to get a B in an AP class or an A in an Honors or regular class?
- It isn’t easy getting an A in an advanced class. Can you suggest resources that I can use so that I can strive for that A?
- If I do not plan to major in Spanish, do I still need to take it for four years?
If you have any college admissions questions, please leave it in the comment box, so I can answer your question next time. I’m so thrilled to help you in any which way I can.
Just so you know, each other week I release an episode as a podcast. And, the following week the same episode as a YouTube video. So I encourage you to go check it out if you need a visual example of the topic being discussed. You can find my YouTube channel by searching up Ivybound Consulting. Feel free to check out all of my podcasting videos. And, please don’t forget to subscribe to the Be CollegeBound with IvyBound podcast and YouTube series, and leave me a review in the comments. Thanks so much.
A quick subscriber shout out to Justin from Madison, WI. Justin says, “Thank you Ruchi for opening my eyes in your last episode to the massiveness of Operation Varsity Blues and its effects on high school students, and especially athletes like myself who are working hard every day to be recruit ed by a top college. I’ll definitely continue listening to your podcast series to find ways I can best present myself on my college applications. And, I’m also going to share it with my friends.”
Thank you so much, Justin. I’m so glad you found my previous episode helpful. I know the details were a lot to take in, but necessary to understand the entire picture and really understand the implications it has on high school athletes like yourself, and other high schoolers. Justin, I appreciate you finding my Be Collegebound by IvyBound! Series useful and are sharing it with your friends. Stay tuned for much more to come…
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Today’s episode is sponsored by the Be Collegebound by IvyBound! Series where I guide, advise and support you along your high school to college journey. I have a lot of exciting episodes planned for the year. It’s everything and anything under the sun about college admissions, so please subscribe, rate, and leave me a review. If you have a burning college admissions question that you want me to answer in the Live Office hours with Ruchi S. Kothari, then write the question in the comments below. Please continue to listen to the Be Collegebound with IvyBound podcast or watch the YouTube video series. Click the link, to start listening or watching now at www.ivyboundconsulting/podcast.
As I bring massive clarity and integrity into the college admissions process, I have helped many high schoolers through their journey with the products and services offered at www.ivyboundconsulting.com. And, I hope to help countless more…
Without further ado, let’s get started with today’s topic at hand…
Many of you have already or are in process of having your course selection meeting with your high school guidance counselor. I’m going to use the word counselor, generically here, as some of you might have these meetings with your academic dean or advisor. This time, before you finalize your classes for the upcoming year, I’d like you to listen thoroughly to this insightful episode. If you would like a visual representation and want to enjoy following along, download the transcript from my show notes for this episode at https://ivyboundconsulting.com/004. No need to frantically take notes, I’ve got you covered.
Before we move on to the five things to consider before deciding on your classes, I will discuss the difference in academic curriculum expectations of your high school counselor (again, this may be your dean or advisor) and that of a college and its admissions officer.
Your high school counselor comes from the perspective of your school and the student body that attends it. The curriculum, whether it’s an AP, IB or another curriculum is usually determined by the school administration, board of education and the state you reside in, that is if you are a public school. If you attend an independent school, it may be an educational association that governs the independent schools of the area. Thus the course offerings are already predetermined. The primary goal of the counselor is for the student to meet all high school graduation requirements. They do not want any student not to graduate because the student forgets to take a graduation requirement. And, definitely, not on their watch. That’s their first and foremost concern– that all students graduate. Secondly, they want to make sure each student is following an upward trajectory of the classes they are taking, whether it’s English or math, but more importantly that the student is at their comfortable level, whether it’s an advanced, regular or the special education track. The high school counselor does not want any student to struggle. And, if you or your child is experiencing that, please reach out to your counselor at once. They are there to ensure the mental and physical well-being of each student and help them find resources to secure a smooth ride.
On the other hand, colleges and admissions officers have different expectations. For one thing, their community is much larger, spanning from students all over the world. Thus, their academic requirements maybe more general in the sense, it does not adhere to a particular system, be that an AP or IB or another one for that matter. Their goal for the course requirements for the entering freshmen class is to ensure that the students are prepared for the rigor of academia at the college. Remember, college classes will be challenging, and the admissions officers does not want you to choke under pressure. Thus, they have minimum requirements of each subject: English, math, science, history/social studies, and foreign language. We will discuss the expectations of colleges in greater detail later on this episode, where I ask you to actually stop and complete an exercise. More on this later. And, over the course of this episode, I will continue to provide you admissions tips, tricks and secrets of what colleges are looking for when they look at your course selections on your transcript. So stay tuned.
To make your high school to college journey even smoother, I’ve create an IvyBound Worksheet for you to complete and follow along with this episode. After all that’s my purpose– to help each and every one of my students get admitted into their “best fit” college– through the Be Collegebound by IvyBound! Series, and IvyBound products and services. So download your How to Best Select your High School Courses IvyBound Worksheet at https://ivyboundconsulting.com/004, and start maximizing on it! This is some good stuff.
Let’s move on to the five ways to best select your high school academic courses:
Number 1 is
1. Start with the high school profile.
As you can see this one document is a very essential piece, not only indicating to the student what classes are needed to graduate, the types of classes offered, whether it’s Honors, AP, IB, Advanced Topic, Dual Enrollment or other, but it is a crucial tool used by the colleges during the application process to understand the course offerings and grading scale of your school, and decipher your ranking amongst your school community. The high school profile is such a vital component of the college application process that I think it deserves in an episode by itself. Stay tuned for an episode about the high school profile and how it is used in the college application review process by the admissions officer. For the purposes of this episode, I will focus on how you can use the high school profile to best select your academic courses so that you are creating your high school curriculum that admissions officers find compelling and competitive.
Going back to the high school profile, many high schools do offer this, while others, especially independent or private high schools do not make this readily available to its students or parents. My daughter attends a private high school, that does not provide any such information. We are only given information on the high school graduation requirements. If your case is like that of my daughter, the best you can do is put some pieces together. The first place you should start is of course with your high school’s graduation requirements. Then, go on to the school website and look through the course offerings to determine the advanced, honors or other class offerings in each subject area. Yes, this will require some research on your part, but you can do it, now that I have given you the exact steps to take, and a worksheet to compile your findings. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Reach out if you need guidance. Just DM me @ivyboundconsulting on Instagram, or PM me at @ivyboundconsulting on Facebook.
I urge all my subscribers, to print your high school profile and keep it handy. It is a splendid tool to go back to each year for high school requirements and to gauge where your academic performance falls, whether or not you are moving in an upward trajectory in terms of the rigor of your classes, your grades and ranking.
I would like you to download the How to Best Select your High School Courses IvyBound Worksheet, and use it to answer the questions I have on high school graduation requirements and other data sets that can be found on the high school profile. If you are driving or can’t get to the IvyBound Worksheet at this minute, don’t worry. You may download it at your convenience from my show notes for this episode at https://ivyboundconsulting.com/004.
Moving on to point number 2.
2. Fulfill your high school graduation requirements.
I know I have already mentioned this, but this is such an important point, that it warrants a further conversation.
Getting back to choosing your academic classes, the first step is to verify each year, by looking at your high school profile, checking your school website and confirming with your high school counselor that you are on par with the graduation requirements. Remember, each high school is different and has different graduation requirements. Thus, it is important to understand and fulfill the graduation requirements of your own specific high school. Be proactive here, don’t wait to be reactive.
Come June of your senior year, you don’t want to be the kid that doesn’t get to walk because you missed a semester requirement of computer literacy, or you didn’t fulfill the three years requirement of the Science. You don’t want that, do you? Of course not. Neither does your high school nor do I want that for you. So, confirm these graduation requirements, if you haven’t done it already.
It’s usually typical for high school’s to have the following graduation requirements:
- Four years of English
- Three years of Math
- Two to Three years of Science, including at least one lab science (like biology)
- Two to Three years of History/Social Studies
- Two to Three years of Foreign Language
- One year of Art which includes (visual and performing arts)
There are other requirements, such as financial literacy, life skills, computer literacy, driver’s ed, or health. I have just stated some general requirements, again they change per school. For example, my daughter’s school requires three years of Art. Your best bet is look at the high school profile and confirm with your high school counselor.
So, before you start picking and choosing your classes, make sure your classes are in line with meeting all graduation requirements. Done! Now, that we have this important task crossed off the list, let’s move on to number 3.
3. Take the “Core 5 all four years”.
Hey guys, if you’re multitasking here, please come back to me because this is a very important point. You might not be aware of this, so I have an admissions tip for you…if you are in any way thinking of applying to the Top 50 nationally-ranked universities and colleges, you must take the “Core 5 all four years.” There’s no way around it. Right about now, you’re probably asking me, what’s the Core 5? The Core 5 consists of the following fields of study:
- History/Social Studies
- Foreign Language
You might be a bit confused right now because your high school graduation requirements may be different from the “Core 5 all four years”. You may be only required to fulfill two years of history classes or two years of a foreign language. So, you might ask me why do I have to take history or foreign language classes all four years then, especially if I am not interested in these classes, nor planning to major in these classes in college? If you have been attentively listening to the podcast or watching the YouTube video, you already know the answer. Do you want to take a stab at the answer?
My answer is to look beyond your high school classes to your ultimate goal of being admitted to XYZ college or colleges. In fact, I going to give you a one-second pause here so that you can state your goal of being admitted to _______________ (please fill in the blank here) university. Next, I would like you to go on this college’s website and find the high school curriculum requirement for the college. These requirements are usually listed under admissions, then the first-year applicant section of each college website. I have my first admissions trick for you here, go to the website of the top three colleges you would like to attend. Then, note down the high school academic requirements of the college before you confirm your high school classes for the upcoming year. In fact, I made it very easy for you, I provide a table for you enter the course requirements for your top three picks in the How to Best Select your High School Courses IvyBound Worksheet.
If you look at this table that I created, I provide Stanford as an example. Stanford’s requirements for the high school curriculum are as follows:
- English: four years, with significant emphasis on writing and literature.
- Mathematics: four years, with significant emphasis on fundamental mathematical skills (algebra; trigonometry; plane, solid and analytic geometry).
- History/Social Studies: three or more years. Such courses should include the writing of essays.
- Science: three or more years of laboratory science (including biology, chemistry and physics).
- Foreign Language: three or more years of the same foreign language.
Even though highly-selective colleges like Stanford may suggest three or more years of a subject. In this case, it’s history, science, and foreign language, it is your safest bet to take these “Core 5 all four years.” I have an admissions secret for you here, it’s actually expected of you to take these “Core 5 all four years.” So, take my advice, just take the “Core 5 all four years.” This way you won’t put yourself out of the running during the application review process when your application may be compared to that of another candidate, and he or she does take the “Core 5 all four years.”
Of, I think I have said this enough. But, since it’s oh sooo important, go back to your high school profile, or your school website to look at your school’s course offerings and definitely take the “Core 5 all four years.” Enough said, let’s move on to #4.
4. Take the most advanced class of each subject if possible.
As the years progress from your freshman year to your senior year, your high school and the colleges you will be applying to want to see an upward progression of your classes, in terms of the rigor of the classes. Typically, many students in their freshman year may start out with foundation courses and should move onto honors, AP, or whatever advanced type of classes available to them in their high school curriculum, again it’s best to refer the high school profile and your counselor to understand your high school curriculum.
The point being here, I don’t want you to miss this, is that colleges want to see if you can successfully handle the challenges of an advanced curriculum, which to them correlates to you being academically successful in their college community.
My advice to you here is to take the most advanced classes as you can possibly take and will still perform well in them. There are two important things here that I am talking about:
- Take the most advanced class possible in the subject. For example, if English Honors is the most advanced class offered in your sophomore year than take that course, and follow the upward trajectory.
- Strive to get an A in these most advanced classes. I know, I know, it’s easier said than done. And, yes, I’m not taking the course, you or your child is. Nevertheless, do everything humanly possible to get an A in that class, other than cheating, of course. Yes, no cheating allowed. You don’t want to get suspended, expelled, or worse have this course of action written in your high school counselor report which is provided to the colleges you apply to. So, don’t cheat. If you would like to hear or watch something really juicy on the biggest college admissions scandal, then tune into episode 003 at https://ivyboundconsulting.com/003. It’s worth listening to. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive…
Ok, going back to taking the most advanced classes that you can take. Since we are talking about subjects, let’s go on to discuss the common trajectory for the Core 5 classes. Again, I’m going to give you a disclaimer here, each school has various types of classes that are offered in the subject and different requirements. It is best to double-check with your high school counselor.
Most high schools require four years of English. The typical progression is
- English 1, possibly honors may be offered here to
- English 2, possibly honors may be offered here to
- Advanced English. In junior and senior year, English classes move
on to Advanced English, like if you are in the AP system, you may have an option of taking AP English Language & Composition or AP English Literature & Composition. You may also have multiple choices of English electives like Black Literature, Medieval Poetry or more.
The goal here is again to show an upward progression of the most advanced classes you can possibly take.
Moving on to
Usually, math has a pretty straightforward progression. Most students start out with Algebra I or Geometry as a freshman. There is usually an advanced and need-help track for each class. The progression is as follows:
- Algebra I
- Algebra II
Most colleges want students with three years of high school math. The more competitive colleges prefer four years. So, like I said stick to the “Core 5 all four years.” As more and more electives are being offered, many high schools are offering AP Statistics, Stats in Sports, AP Microeconomics, or AP Macroeconomics as math course offerings, again usually in the junior and senior years. I have an admissions tip for you, it is best to follow the traditional math progression of the subjects I just mentioned. My business, engineering and math students, listen up to this admissions secret, completing an advanced level of Calculus is almost compulsory these days to keep your application in the running during the application review process. So if you’re thinking of taking AP Statistics in lieu of AP Calculus, don’t do it. AP Statistics is considered an elective and doesn’t hold the same weightage as AP Calculus. We’ll talk more about electives soon.
Moving on the Sciences.
Science is again pretty self-explanatory. Colleges want to see that you’ve taken at least three years of science classes and at least one laboratory science like Biology. The traditional courses that are still preferred are, in some combination:
Here’s another admission secret for you that colleges that are more competitive and selective, expect four years of lab science courses. The fourth year, again “the Core 5 all four years,” can be an advanced class in Biology, Chemistry or Physics or another advanced science course. Some science electives that are offered are Environmental Science, AP Psychology (this can also be a Social Studies elective), Design and Engineering category. Again, it is best to check the science offerings by referring back to your high school profile, website or counselor.
Let’s talk about history or social studies
- History/Social Studies
This subject has the most flexibility in terms of course offerings and when the specific class is offered. For example, many high schools offer some form of US History, usually during a student’s junior year. But, some high schools may offer it sophomore year or another year in high school. Nevertheless, US History is always a required course for those students studying in the US. Usually, the high school requires students to take some combination of:
- U.S. History
- World history
Moving on to last Core 5 subject, foreign languages
- Foreign Languages
High schools these days offer a myriad of foreign languages to choose from, ranging from the more popular ones like Spanish, French and Chinese to the ones that are gaining popularity like Arabic. Many colleges require at least two years of study in the same foreign language, however, this course selection is tricky, and not evident– So, I’m going to give you another behind-the-scenes admissions secret, colleges expect you to take four years of foreign language, preferably one language taken for all four years of your high school so that you develop some proficiency and mastery of the foreign language.Now that I have thoroughly covered the Core 5 and hopefully ingrained it your mind to take the “Core 5 all four years.”
Let’s move on to the last point to consider before selecting your classes for the upcoming year,
5. Choose your electives wisely
As a freshman and sophomore, you may not have many options for choosing your electives. You may spend these two years fulfilling graduation requirements like driver’s ed or health. Usually, as a junior and senior, that is when your schedule allows you to consider the multiple electives that might be offered by your high school. Some schools do have a plethora of options, while others offer the more common ones like computer science, psychology, or economics.
Before you choose your electives, I’d like you to take some time– 5 minutes, 15 minutes, e ven a day or two if needed, take this time and reflect on the major you are considering for your college. You may not have narrowed down your choice of major, and that’s ok. Work with me here, you may have an idea of subjects you like or are stronger in and possibly a career you would like to pursue. So, start with that. Let’s say your interest is in computer science, go ahead and choose the computer science electives. If you are thinking of being a history major, choose those electives that are offered in the history department. And, if you are considering a business major, do take an economics course if it is offered in your school.
Follow this admissions trick, even with electives, it is imperative, you take the most advanced classes as possible. Going back to the examples I just mentioned, over the course of your four years in high school, move up to AP Computer Science if you’re interested in computer science, AP Comparative Government if you’re considering history, and AP Microeconomics for a business major. Again, this is, if these courses are offered in your high school. Retort back to your school profile and keep it handy to find the most advanced courses possible.
In regards to electives, there are some students who might be undecided for the major they want to pursue in college. For those students, I suggest selecting those electives that allow you to learn about a subject area you would like to pursue. You never know, you might find an academic field that you are passionate about this is a good time to branch out and discover new things, but don’t forget to get decent grades, preferably A’s. And there are other students who are very eager to try something new, go ahead and take a class you were dying to take. Electives offer a perfect opportunity to explore a particular interest or hobby. However, my highly-motivated students listen up here, I have an admissions tip for you, selective colleges like to see that you are choosing electives that complement your choice of major and not randomly choosing electives or core courses, here or there.
Before we move on with this episode I have another admissions secret for you. It looks like I’m just showering you with lots of admissions tips, tricks and secrets love today. I hope you’re taking it all in and will act on these strategies when selecting your high school classes. Ok, the admissions secret is elective courses, regardless of how advanced they are, do not hold the same weightage as advanced classes in the Core 5 subjects. Please be aware of that and choose your core classes and electives wisely.
Here’s a quick recap of five ways to best select your high school academic courses:
- Start with your high school profile
- Fulfill your high school graduation requirements
- Take “Core 5 all four years”
- Take the most advanced classes in each academic fields as possible
- Choose your electives wisely
As we’re reaching the end of our discussion for this topic, I’d like to leave you with a recap of all the admissions tips, tricks, and secrets that I provide you in this episode. Remember, these strategies apply usually to selective and highly-selective colleges:
- Before you start picking and choosing your classes, make sure your classes are in line with meeting all graduation requirements.
- If you are in any way thinking of applying to the Top 50 nationally-ranked universities and colleges, you must take the “Core 5 all four years.” It’s implicitly expected by these colleges. So, take my advice, just take the “Core 5 all four years.” This way you kill two birds with one stone, meeting your high school requirements and you showing to the colleges that you are applying to your love for learning and desire to continual challenges, in terms of academic coursework.
- Go to the website of the top three colleges you would like to attend. Then, note down the high school academic requirements of the college before you confirm your high school classes for the upcoming year.
- Colleges want to see if you can successfully handle the challenges of an advanced curriculum, which to them correlates to you being academically successful in their college community.
- It is best to follow the traditional math progression of the subjects I just mentioned.
- Business, engineering and math students, completing an advanced level of Calculus is almost compulsory these days to keep your application in the running during the application review process.
- Colleges that are more competitive and selective, expect four years of lab science courses.
- Colleges expect you to take four years of a foreign language, preferably one language taken for all four years of your high school so that you develop some proficiency and mastery of the foreign language.
- Even with your choice of electives, it is imperative, you take the most advanced classes as possible.
- Selective colleges like to see that you are choosing electives that complement your choice of major and not randomly choosing electives or core courses.
- Elective classes, regardless of how advanced they are, do not hold the same weightage as advanced classes in the Core 5 subjects. Please be aware of that and choose your core classes and electives wisely.
So there you have it. Take what you want, create an action plan, and leave the rest. And don’t forget to share the Be Collegebound by IvyBound! Series with your friends.
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- Screenshot yourself listening to this podcast or watching the YouTube
- Share it on your stories along with your biggest takeaway
- Tag 3 friends
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Before we wrap up, let’s have a quick Office Hour session with myself, Ruchi S. Kothari, where I end each episode by answering three real-time college admissions questions.
The first question I will answer is a question about academic classes that I answered in episode 001. The question is so important and pertinent that I am going to repeat it here:
Tejas from Fremont, CA. asks:
1. He asks: Is it better to get a B in an AP class or an A in a Honors or regular class?
Hi Tejas. That’s a common question I get from many of my students. The answer to this question is not very straight forward. If your high school offers more weight to an AP class over an Honors or average class, I would suggest taking the AP class and settling for a B. However, Tejas, if you are applying to a highly selective college, maintaining your GPA is critical. I highly recommend using all your resources if you are struggling to improve your grade. There are numerous resources out there. Refer back to the list of supporters you created in question 5 in Your 2020 Goal Setting and Planning IvyBound Sheet, like your teacher, friends, and family. You also seek tutoring or get help from online programs like Wyzant, Varsity Tutors, Khan Academy, or Albert.io for AP help. There are plenty of resources out there, so go find them. With that being said, if a certain AP class like AP Physics II is not your cup of tea and will give you anxiety, then take the class that is more manageable and you can get an A in that class. Hope I answered your question Tejas.
Moving on to question #2. Janine from St Louis, MS, asks:
2. It isn’t easy getting an A in an advanced class. Can you suggest resources that I can use to ensure an A?
Your absolutely correct Janine. These advanced courses are pretty rigourous and demanding, many often being at the college-level. In episode 001, I provided a downloadable worksheet called Your 2020 Goal Setting and Planning IvyBound Sheet which talked about various resources to use to ensure your or your child’s success in high school. You may find the link to this invaluable worksheet on the the show notes to this episode at https://ivyboundconsulting.com/001. Ok, let’s go back to the question. The resources I recommend to ensure an A or your success in your high school courses are first and foremost your teachers. Go to them and ask for help, they would be more than happy to help you. Many high schools offer writing, math, science or tutoring centers, use them, they are an excellent resource. You may approach your friends, parents or family for assistance. Other resources are getting outside tutoring or you may look at online programs like Wyzant, Varsity Tutors, Khan Academy, or Albert.io for AP help. Janine, make a list of all of these resources and make sure to use them. I’m sure you will get that A.
Our last question for today comes from Tye from Seattle, WA. Tye asks
3. If I do not plan to major in Spanish, do I still need to take it for four years?
That’s a good question and a question that I get asked very often. Like I mentioned in this episode, foreign language is one of the Core 5 subjects. Selective and highly-selective colleges implicitly expect you to take all four years of a foreign language. So, Tye, follow my advice take Spanish for all four years, even if you do not plan to major in it. Are we golden, or should I say, are we Ivy? Yes? Good!
Ok folks, that’s all the time we have for today. I’m thrilled that you are tuned in to listen to the Be Collegebound with IvyBound podcast or watch the YouTube video series. I have a lot of exciting episodes planned for the year. It’s everything and anything under the sun about college admissions, so please subscribe, rate, and leave me a review. If you have a burning college admissions question that you want me to answer in the Live Office hours with Ruchi S. Kothari, then write the question in the comments below.
Don’t forget to join me next time for an entire episode dedicated to rapid-fire questions and answers about everything and anything under the sun about college admissions in Live Office hours with Ruchi S. Kothari.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and thanks so much for tuning in. I’m leaving you with something to think about: Make it Your Own!
Your college admissions journey is unique to your experiences and circumstances. Use your intelligence and your talent, and yes you have many of them, to make the best of your journey, so Make it your Own! Bye for now!