High School Graduation and College Acceptance Requirements: Guide for Students | Student Handouts
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High School Graduation and College Acceptance Requirements: Guide for Students

Plus General Advice on How to Succeed and “Not Be Stupid” in High School
Required Courses and Electives
Each state–even each district within a state–has its own set of requirements for a high school diploma. Many states also require that students pass a proficiency examination. To find the requirements for your area, try internet searches such as “Montana Board of Education.”
A school district website may display a chart like this:
Subject Credits
English  3
Health .5
Math 2
Physical Education 1
Science 2
Social Studies 3
Unspecified Electives 7
The “credits” typically translate into “years.” In the example above, the student must complete three years of English (English I, II, and III), a semester (half-year) of Health, two years of math, etc., in order to earn a basic high school diploma. “Electives” are courses that you get to pick–drama, music, painting, etc.
Remember that these required courses are for a basic high school diploma and will not, on their own, necessarily gain you admittance into college. State universities and community colleges which accept students who have taken only these basic courses will require remedial coursework. This means that if you don’t take it in high school, you have to take it in college. High school classes are basically free and usually easier than their college versions. The question then is, “Should I take a third or fourth year of math for free as a high school student, or pay $100-$2500 to take a required math course in college?”
To avoid remedial college classes, and to get into a more exclusive university, a student should follow the college preparatory (“college prep”) curriculum. This basically amounts to four years of all core subjects–English, math, science, and social studies–along with numerous electives, often with a focus on a certain area of student interest. A college-bound student should take at least two years of a foreign language and a fine arts course (such as painting or general art).
More about Electives
For electives, a student may choose a music or fine arts course as an elective each year. As stated, electives should cluster around an area of student interest. Music lovers should be encouraged to take choir, band, orchestra, etc. It is irrelevant to colleges’ offices of admission whether a student has taken four years of band or has taken a different music course each year. Really, it is fine to take electives which are “all over the place.” The point of electives is to round out the student’s education and illustrate that he or she has a range of interests.
Another thing to consider when choosing high school electives is how the course might help you. Can you type? College courses (and many jobs) require a lot of typing. If you cannot type well, a basic typing/word-processing course might be a good idea. What are you interested in for college? If you think you might go for a business degree, take electives in economics and office skills.
Whatever you do, do not waste time in a study hall unless you absolutely, positively need the time for studying (because of sports or clubs).
More about Foreign Languages
Take a foreign language, preferably for four years. Don’t just show up to class–make a genuine effort to learn the language. If you take French and the teacher plans a trip to Quebec, France, Haiti, or somewhere else French is spoken, go on the trip. Proficiency in a foreign language will help you no matter what job you have. Most American corporations have offices overseas. Local companies have foreign-born customers. Speaking a foreign language will put your résumé at the top of the pile for pretty much any job.
Clubs and Organizations
You may have heard from friends and family that you should join as many clubs as possible to make your college applications look good. This is true, but only to a certain extent. You should not join every club, group, team, etc., because you simply will not have the time. You are better off selecting those clubs which interest you the most and putting some real effort into your membership.
You are better off devoting a lot of time to a particular club than showing up to half of the meetings for six clubs. Why? You want to be able to tell a college what you did with the club. You want to be able to say, “I spent two years in Drama Club where I helped organize presentations at local senior centers. I acted in the ‘Seeing Shakespeare’ troupe, playing numerous roles in a montage of the most famous scenes from Shakespeare. I not only participated in the group, but I helped plan our funding campaigns by working with local businesses and holding fundraisers within my school.”
Groups outside of School
Many universities will ask if you have participated in activities outside of school. Warning: Church and ethnic organizations typically do not count. If you teach Sunday school or volunteered at the Polish festival, good for you–but this information does not belong on a college application. Colleges are looking for secular (non-religious) and inclusive (not ethnic) activities. To fulfill this college-entrance requirement, try volunteering as a reading tutor at your local library, or working as a candy-striper at a nearby hospital.
Dealing with Teachers and School Staff
Let’s be honest–teachers can sometimes be difficult to deal with. Sometimes, the work seems stupid. But remember that come senior year, you are going to be asking your teachers, coaches, etc., for letters of recommendation. If you rolled your eyes in class all year and complained about the teacher, the teacher is not very likely to give you a letter of recommendation. And trust us–teachers have “super hearing.” You may think they can’t hear you mumbling, but they can. Just don’t do it. Save your complaints for when you are alone with your friends. Spend classroom time trying to impress your teachers so that they think you’re terrific.
College Applications
There it is–senior year, and you are looking at a college application and thinking, “I have nothing to write on this.” Here is a trick that works not only for college applications, but job résumés and all sorts of things.
As a freshman or even eighth-grader, do an internet search of various colleges. Print up their application forms. What are the admission requirements? What kinds of personal questions do colleges ask? Does a particular college want a copy of a paper you have written? Spend your high school years completing these college applications. Make sure that you do and accomplish things that will fill up all of the lines and boxes on the applications. If your top pick college wants to see how well you can write, save your old school papers. The idea is that you do not have only a few weeks during your senior year to complete a college application–you have nearly four years to work on what you are going to write.
Careers after High School
Even if you are not planning on going to college, the “College Applications” trick can work for you. Look through the employment listings in your local newspaper. What skills are employers looking for? If you hope to get an office job, you may notice that most office ads require skills with Microsoft Excel, typing, etc. Be sure to take these courses as a high school student if your school offers them.
If you are planning to go to college after high school, chances are that you will need to find a part-time job during your college years. Would you rather round up shopping carts in a parking lot for minimum wage, or work in a nice office at a decent salary? Electives offering basic office skills might be a good idea.
MySpace, Facebook, Blogging, and Your Life on the Internet
“It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln
Let’s be honest–Tumblr, Facebook, blogging, IMs, etc.–they are all fun. In the modern internet age, it is nearly impossible to stay in touch and connected to people without using at least one of these things. However, you have to be careful. We’re not going to warn you about dangers from online predators or anything like that; we assume that you have already been told. We are going to warn you about online risks that you may have never considered before.
Anything that you put on the internet is available to the public unless you take precautions. Even when you have taken precautions, things can happen.
Start thinking about your “online persona” this way: What would happen if your parents, teachers, or a college admissions office saw your profile or blog? Are you “Googleable”? That is, if someone typed your name into a search engine, would they find things you have published on the internet? What do these things say about you as a person?
Most of us act different ways around different people. We know better than to cuss around our parents, but might not think twice about saying bad words around our friends. Although we are certainly not advocating the use of foul language, acting differently around different people is perfectly normal. It’s not “acting fake,” but is part of our basic social skills. Changing how we act to fit a group, unless it involves doing something harmful or illegal, is a good and natural thing.
Where does the internet fit into this? When we log onto a site like MySpace, we are typically trying to connect with our friends. We assume that only our friends will be looking at our profile. Very quickly, we find ourselves chatting and posting with friends in ways that we would in real life. However, MySpace is not a private conversation. It is open for anyone to look at and read.
Picture this: You are a senior applying to college. The college knows your name and email address. The college uses your name and email address to search for you on MySpace. The college finds your profile where your friend has posted: “LOL I got the test answers so copy from me at lunch. kegger at josh’s Friday.” This may seem a bit extreme, but it is extreme to prove the point. You definitely should not be cheating or drinking alcohol. You may not even plan to cheat or drink, and might think your friend is an idiot for posting this on your comments page. But does anyone else know this? The college looking at your MySpace page is going to assume that you are an under-age cheating drinker because that is the way you appear–that is the “online persona” the world sees.
Speaking of “picture this,” what of your pictures? Did you know that even with a private profile, most pictures can be found by searching Google Images? Once your photo has been posted on the internet, you no longer have control over it. That picture could turn up years later on a website you never imagined. Every time you post a picture, imagine that picture landing on the desk of your teacher or boss. If you think the picture might get you in trouble, do not post it on the internet.
Try this: It should go without saying that you should not be doing anything online that might embarrass you if your parents were to see it. You should not be drinking, cheating, etc. But just in case you have a snotty friend who posts inappropriate comments on your page, (1) make your profile private to all but your friends. (2) Do not publish every thought that enters your head. Remember the old adage: “Never write anything down that the whole world can’t read.” (3) Do not use the internet to attack people, either as yourself or anonymously. It can be illegal. You cannot pretend that you did not say something that has been published. The police and other officials can find what you wrote, even after you have deleted it. You can be tracked down even if you posted anonymously. Just don’t do it and you won’t have any problems. (4) Do not bad-talk your peers, teachers, employers, etc. It really has happened that people have lost their jobs after employers found out these people were blogging about how much they hate their jobs/bosses. (5) Never ever post pictures of yourself that you could not show to your parents and teachers.
Have you ever heard the saying: “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead”? Publishing things that only your friends can see does not keep these things private. You may not share passwords, but your friends might. Having a private profile is a hope, not a promise. You can hope that only your friends see your profile, but there is no guarantee. Be careful what you put out there.
High School and College Plan
Following these steps will help you get into a good college and generally prepare you to join the workforce:
1. Research college applications and job postings to gain some idea of what you need to accomplish in high school.
2. Take four years of English, math, science, social studies, and a foreign language, plus lots of interesting electives.
3. Don’t just show up to class–try to learn as much as you can.
4. Join a few school and community groups, and genuinely devote a good chunk of time to them.
5. Be aware of your public and internet persona.
6. Be a good person. You get what you give.
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