Choosing the right courses during high school is an important step toward shaping a successful future. Whether you’re aiming for college, a professional career, or simply want to develop essential skills, thoughtful course selection can make all the difference. In this blog, we’ll outline the importance of strategic course selection, and then recommend courses that cater to general skill development, college readiness, and professional career preparation. 

Note: We will outline general course objectives rather than highlighting specific courses. This way, you can best cater to your situation based on what your high school offers. If your school doesn’t offer these courses, you can look for them at a local community college!

Why Proper Course Selection is Important

Assuming your high school offers flexibility in classes to take, planning your courses based on your future goals and objectives can pay great dividends down the line. 

  1. Tailoring Education to Interests: Selecting courses that align with personal interests fosters a passion for learning. When you engage with subjects you enjoy, you are more likely to excel academically and remain motivated throughout your high school journey.

  2. Building a Well-rounded Skill Set: High school is a time for you to develop a diverse skill set that extends beyond academic knowledge. Choosing a mix of courses can help build critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills – attributes that are valuable in any career path.

  3. Preparing for Future Endeavors: Proper course selection sets the foundation for future endeavors, whether it be entering the workforce immediately after high school, pursuing higher education, or delving into specialized professional fields.

Five Courses for General Skill Development

Below, we’re going to discuss five courses that will be beneficial for general skill development. These courses will help you hone skills that will be invaluable regardless of what path you choose to go down in the future. 

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: A critical thinking and problem-solving course will equip you to analyze information critically, solve complex problems, and make informed decisions. These are skills that are important in any academic or professional setting. 

  2. Communication Skills: Similar to critical thinking and problem-solving, communication is a skill that will be useful in all facets of your life. Courses in public speaking, writing, or debate can significantly enhance a student’s ability to express ideas clearly and persuasively.

  3. Financial Literacy: A course in financial literacy teaches you about budgeting, saving, investing, and understanding basic economics concepts, preparing you for financial independence in the future. 

  4. Foreign Language: Learning a second language not only broadens your cultural understanding, but it also enhances your cognitive abilities and opens doors to global opportunities, if you choose to move somewhere else later in your life. Knowing another language can be extremely helpful in this case. 

  5. Coding and Computer Science: This is more of a bonus, but in an increasingly digital world, understanding coding and basic computer science principles is crucial. This course provides you with a foundation for technological literacy and opens the door to a variety of career paths. 

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Five Courses for College Preparation

Now that we have the general skill development out of the way, it’s important to take some courses that will prepare you for the rigor of undergraduate academia. 

  1. Advanced Placement (AP) Courses: AP courses offer a college-level curriculum and provide an opportunity for students to earn college credit. They demonstrate academic rigor and commitment to higher education. If your school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) system, this is equivalent to AP. 

  2. College Admissions Test Prep: Preparing for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT is crucial for college admissions, but can be daunting. Consider enrolling in test prep courses to maximize your performance. Working closely with professionals will allow you to follow tried and true strategies for success. 

  3. College Writing and Research Skills: A course in college writing and research will be extremely useful for you. This course would ultimately hone writing and research abilities, which are both essential for success in college. It prepares you for the academic demands of higher education. 

  4. College and Career Counseling: A course focused on college life and career counseling can provide guidance on the college application process and career exploration, and help you make informed decisions about your educational future. This can come either in the form of a course or even a guidance counselor. 

  5. Advanced Mathematics and Science: For those inclined towards STEM, strengthening skills in advanced mathematics and sciences is extremely advantageous. Many schools nowadays expect students to come in with significant math knowledge, having completed Calculus I before entering university. 

Five Courses for Professional Career Preparation

Finally, we’ll take a look at some courses that can help you prepare for your professional career. Although it may still be a few years out, getting started early can help you get ahead of the curve in securing lucrative jobs. 

  1. Internship and Work Experience: While not a traditional course, gaining real-world experience through internships provides valuable insights into various professions and helps students make informed decisions about their future careers. Many high schools are beginning to implement direct connections to companies as a mandatory graduation requirement, allowing students to get a glimpse of the real world.

  2. Entrepreneurship: An entrepreneurship course instills a sense of innovation and business acumen, preparing you for the dynamic world of startups and fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. 

  3. Leadership and Management: Similar to the general skill development category, skills in leadership and management are important no matter what place you are in your life. These courses will help you develop skills in team collaboration, decision-making, and strategic planning, all qualities that are highly sought after in leadership positions regardless of industry.

  4. Digital Marketing: In an era dominated by online presence, understanding digital marketing strategies is essential for anyone considering a career in business, media, or communications. 

  5. Health and Wellness: As the importance of well-being gains prominence, a course in health and wellness can pave the way for careers in healthcare or fitness. Additionally, it’s good to take care of your body physically, as it will help you perform at your best in your career. 

Qualities to Look for in Pre-College Courses

Finding a good pre-college course is easier said than done, as there are many online nowadays. Here are five qualities to look for in pre-college courses that tend to help narrow down your choices:

  1. Reputation and Accreditation: Ensure that the courses are offered by reputable institutions with a history of academic excellence. Look for accreditations or partnerships with recognized educational bodies. 

  2. Course Content and Flexibility: Opt for courses that align with your academic interests and goals, and consider the flexibility of the courses in terms of schedule and format if that is of interest to you. 

  3. Interactive Learning: Courses with interactive components, such as labs, group projects, discussions, or quizzes, help to enhance the learning experience. They are much easier to follow than a course that is solely lectures. 

  4. Support and Resources: Check for available support services, such as tutoring, mentorship, and access to resources like libraries and search materials. 

  5. Transferable Credit: This is a bonus, but if applicable, investigate whether the course offers transferable college credits. These credits can be extremely useful during your time in school. 

Top 15 Pre-College Courses for High School Students

Having many pre-college courses to choose from is surely a good problem to have, but to help you feel a little less overwhelmed about it, the following is a list of the top courses available now that may be worth your consideration: 

#1 MIT OpenCourseWare: Introduction to Computer Science and Programming

  1. Cost: Free

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: None

  4. Course Dates: Self-paced

Dive into the world of computer science with MIT's Introduction to Computer Science and Programming. This free, self-paced course introduces fundamental concepts such as algorithmic thinking and problem-solving. Students can explore different programming languages and have the sound fundamental knowledge required for a future in the dynamic field of technology.

#2 Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies: Artificial Intelligence

  1. Cost: $3,050

  2. Eligibility: Sophomore/Junior at time of application

  3. Application Deadline: March 29

  4. Course Dates: Session One (June 19 - June 30), Session Two (July 10 - July 21)

Embark on an intellectual adventure at Stanford with their artificial intelligence course. This immersive college prep program delves into the realms of AI, machine learning, and robotics, providing high school students with hands-on experience and insights into the future of technology.

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#3 Harvard Extension School: Introduction to Data Science

  1. Cost: Depends on amount of credits and level

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: Rolling 

  4. Course Dates: Offered year-round

Uncover the power of data in "Introduction to Data Science" at Harvard Extension School. This course equips high school students with essential skills in data analysis and visualization, preparing them for the data-driven challenges of the modern world. Harvard offers three paths to take depending on your familiarity with data science coming into the course. 

#4 Yale Young Global Scholars: Innovations in Science and Technology

  1. Cost: $6,500

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: Nov. 1, Jan. 10

  4. Course Dates: One of three two-week sessions between June and August

Immerse yourself in groundbreaking scientific research with Innovations in Science and Technology at Yale. This program invites students to explore cutting-edge advancements through breakout discussions, lectures, seminars, and a capstone project, fostering a passion for innovation and discovery.

#5 UC Berkeley: Business Academy for Youth

  1. Cost: $6,050 (in-state), $7,050 (out-of-state)

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: March 15

  4. Course Dates: Session I (July 7 - July 20), Session II (July 20 - August 3)

Gain a competitive edge in the world of entrepreneurship with UC Berkeley's Business Academy for Youth. This course introduces high school students to the complexities of the global economy by tackling topics such as entrepreneurship, finance, accounting, game theory, and more. 

#6 Carnegie Mellon: National High School Game Academy

  1. Cost: $11,313

  2. Eligibility: At least 16 years old by program start

  3. Application Deadline: March 1

  4. Course Dates: June 22 - August 3

Unleash your creativity in the world of gaming with Carnegie Mellon University's Game Design course. From conceptualization to implementation, students explore both the artistic and technical facets of game development, honing skills that are increasingly relevant in our digital age.

#7 Princeton University: Laboratory Learning Program

  1. Cost: Free

  2. Eligibility: At least 16 years old by program start

  3. Application Deadline: March 15

  4. Course Dates: 5-6 weeks starting mid-June

Cultivate your lab experience with Princeton University’s Laboratory Learning Program. This free 6-week program guides high schoolers through a research opportunity of their choice, either between engineering or natural sciences. Students get hands-on experience working in a lab with experienced Princeton faculty.

#8 Caltech: Da Vinci Camp

  1. Cost: $4,000

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: Rolling

  4. Course Dates: Session I (June 18 - July 8), Session II (July 2 - July 22), Session III (July 17 - August 5)

Embark on a fulfilling academic experience at Caltech’s Da Vinci Camp. This course is meant to promote academic excellence among Latino students. Students can take part in courses ranging from the arts to applied sciences depending on their interests. Choose from one of three sessions to be a part of and explore your interests.

#9 Brown University: Summer@Brown

  1. Cost: Dependent on program

  2. Eligibility: Ages 14-18

  3. Application Deadline: May 10

  4. Course Dates: June 23 - July 12, July 7 - July 26

Merge the worlds of different subjects through courses at Brown University. Brown is known for its interdisciplinary focus, and this is apparent even in its pre-college programs. Courses like Business, Economics and Legal Studies, and Physical Sciences and Math allow students to connect concepts from different subject areas. 

#10 Oxford Royale Academy - Medicine Summer School

  1. Cost: £6995

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: Mid-May

  4. Course Dates: Two weeks starting June 30, July 14, or July 28

Aspiring medical professionals can get a head start with Oxford Royale Academy's Medicine Summer School. This comprehensive program covers essential topics in medicine, from anatomy to medical ethics, providing a glimpse into the rigors of medical education.

#11 Duke University Pre-College Courses

  1. Cost: $795

  2. Eligibility: 6th-11th grade

  3. Application Deadline: February 1, April 1

  4. Course Dates: July 7 - July 19

Explore the complexities of different subjects at Duke University. Students get the chance to take part in a Duke course online, with both synchronous and asynchronous activities. These courses can delve into critical and pressing issues such as climate change, stock markets, and more.

#12 NYU Tisch: Future Filmmakers Workshop

  1. Cost: Free

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: January 18

  4. Course Dates: Every Saturday from February 3 - May 11

Unleash your cinematic creativity with NYU Tisch School of the Arts Future Filmmakers Workshop. From scriptwriting to post-production, this program provides hands-on experience in the art and craft of filmmaking. For those dedicated to a career in the film arts, there are far fewer courses that can set you up for success than this.

#13 Johns Hopkins University: Summer at Hopkins

  1. Cost: $1,230 per credit

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: Dependent on course

  4. Course Dates: Session I (June 24 - July 4), Session II (July 8 - July 18), Session III (July 21 - August 4)

High school students interested in the intersection of medicine and engineering can explore the many fields at the renowned Johns Hopkins University’s Summer at Hopkins. Some courses include Anatomy, Physiology & Disease, Applications of Chemistry in Medicine, and Developmental Genetics Lab. These courses cover a wide array of topics like medical device design, tissue engineering, and biomechanics.

#14 MIT OCW: Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Design

  1. Cost: Free

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: None

  4. Course Dates: Self-paced

For aspiring aerospace enthusiasts, MIT's Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Design offers a comprehensive exploration of aircraft design, aerodynamics, and space exploration. This free, self-paced course opens doors to the fascinating world of aerospace engineering.

#15 MIT OCW: Introduction to Psychology

  1. Cost: Free

  2. Eligibility: Open to all

  3. Application Deadline: None

  4. Course Dates: Self-paced

Explore the intricacies of the human mind with MIT's "Introduction to Psychology." This free, self-paced college prep course delves into fundamental concepts of psychology, covering topics such as cognition, behavior, and the biological basis of mental processes. Gain insights into the workings of the mind and develop a foundation for further exploration in the field of psychology.

With access to the Internet, there are plenty of college prep courses available, both in-person and online, that you can take part in to expand your knowledge outside of the classroom. Whether you’re exploring the realms of science, technology, literature, or business, these courses offer a valuable opportunity to expand your knowledge, challenge yourself, and prepare for an exciting academic journey ahead.

At Polygence, we believe in empowering high school students to take charge of their education. Proper course selection is a key factor in this journey, shaping not only academic success but also future career paths. By carefully considering courses for general skill development, college readiness, and professional career preparation, you can pave the way for a bright and fulfilling future. Remember, each course is not just a step in your academic journey but a building block for the foundation of success in the years to come.