Colleges look for students who work hard in challenging courses. That's why your child's high school transcript is one of the most important parts of their application—it lets colleges know your child’s ready to take on college coursework.
Your child should take at least five solid academic classes every semester. Here's what colleges want to see on your child's transcript:
- Four years of English
- Three or four years of math
- Three or four years of lab science
- At least two and a half years of social studies
- Foreign languages and the arts are often required or recommended
Keep in mind: The courses required for high school graduation might not be enough to satisfy the colleges your child applies to.
Electives include any course that isn’t a graduation requirement at your child’s high school. Your child elects, or chooses, to take them.
Encourage your child to take full advantage of elective courses. They offer students the opportunity to pursue their interests, strengthen their transcript, and show colleges who they are.
Avoiding Basic Skills Courses in College
It's not just about getting in. Students with a solid foundation don't have to take remedial courses in college to strengthen their basic academic skills.
- They can start right away with classes that interest them and count toward their degree.
- They're more likely to graduate on time.
- They'll save money on tuition.
Taking Challenging Courses
Students who take honors and AP courses in high school explore new ideas, build new skills, and try entirely new subjects. And their college applications stand out: 85% of selective colleges report that a student's AP experience has a positive impact on admission decisions.
AP courses are college-level courses students can take in high school. If your child receives a high enough score on an AP Exam, they may be eligible for college credit, advanced placement, or both at most U.S. colleges.
Developing College Skills
To succeed in college courses, your child needs to build skills in these areas:
- Time management: In high school, you may have helped your child keep track of deadlines and get motivated to work. In college, they’ll have to plan and finish assignments on their own.
- Collaboration: The ability to work with others on an academic project is an important college skill.
- Communication: Speaking and writing skills, including making presentations and writing papers, are essential to almost any college course.
- Research: Whatever your child’s major, they’ll need to know how to find and analyze information and evaluate the sources.
Taking challenging courses in different subject areas can help students develop these skills. If your child’s school participates in the AP Capstone program, look into AP Seminar and AP Research, which help students build those specific skills.
Your child may take standardized tests such as the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 in high school and the PSAT 8/9 in grade 8 or 9. Schools and districts use these tests to track student progress. They're not college entrance exams, and your child's scores are not sent to colleges.
The PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9 are all aligned with the SAT (also a standardized test) and with each other: they use the same score scale and test the same knowledge and skills in ways that are appropriate for each grade level. This makes it easy to see how students are progressing over time.
Here are some good reasons your child should take the PSAT-related assessments:
- They provide a baseline for measuring how ready your child is for college.
- They pinpoint the areas your child needs to focus on to stay on track for college.
- They help your child get familiar with the SAT’s format and content.
- They connect your child to free, personalized SAT practice.
- They can open the door to scholarships to help pay for college.
What You Can Do
Encourage Your Child to Meet with Their Counselor
School counselors can help your child stay on track. Here are some questions your child can ask:
- How should I plan my schedule so I'll complete the courses I need for college?
- Which AP courses should I consider taking?
- Should I consider going to summer school?
- When do you recommend I take the SAT?
Use the Academic Tracker
You and your child can use the Academic Tracker to look up specific colleges and see what courses they require students to take to gain admission. To access this free tool, students just need to log in to BigFuture using the username and password associated with their College Board account.
Once they're logged in, students can:
- Go to any college's profile page by entering its name in the "find colleges" search bar.
- Click See if you're on track at the top of profile.
- Compare the courses they're taking to the college's requirements.
Help Your Child Find Inspiration
Imagining the future can be a strong motivator. If your child's taken the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, or PSAT 8/9, point them to the Roadmap to Careers website to see where their interests can take them.
How important are grades for college applications?
Your child's high school transcript is one of the most important parts of their college application, but it's not just about earning high grades. Colleges look for students who challenge themselves by taking honors and college-level courses like AP.
To get a copy of your child's transcript, talk to their school counselor.
What courses does my child need to take to get in to college?
Your child should take at least five solid academic classes every semester. Be sure to check college websites to see if specific courses are required for acceptance into certain majors.
Your child's school counselor can help them choose courses that will fulfill college requirements. Read more about the high school courses colleges often look for.
Who can take an AP course?
We don't have any requirements students must fulfill to take AP. However, individual schools may have their own AP enrollment policy. If your child wants to take an AP course, they should talk to their counselor. Students are more likely to succeed in AP if they’re willing to work hard and if they’ve taken the courses recommended by their counselor to prepare for a particular AP course. See the Get Started in AP checklist.
What are my child's options if an AP course isn't offered at their school?
If your child wants to take an AP course that's not offered at their school, they might be able to take it online or complete an independent study.
To take an AP Exam, they'll need to reach out to their school's AP coordinator.
Can students take an AP Exam without enrolling in the course?
Yes. Although it's not recommended, any student who feels prepared for the exam can take it. They'll have to find somewhere that's offering the exam—often a nearby school—and talk to that school's AP coordinator about signing up.
Can students who are homeschooled take AP Exams?
How does a student qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program?
The National Merit Scholarship Program is an annual competition for high school students (both traditional and homeschooled) planning to attend college. Students need to take the PSAT/NMSQT, usually in their junior year, to be eligible for scholarships and recognition through the program. Taking the PSAT 8/9 or the PSAT 10 won't qualify students for the program.
Can ninth graders take the PSAT/NMSQT?
Yes, but they won't be eligible to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program. The PSAT/NMSQT is designed for 10th and 11th graders.
Some schools offer the PSAT 8/9, which tests the same skills as the PSAT/NMSQT, but in ways that are appropriate for earlier grade levels. Check with your child's school counselor to see if your school offers the PSAT 8/9.
How are the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT related?
The SAT® Suite of Assessments is made up of the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT™ 10, and PSAT™ 8/9. Each test measures the same knowledge and skills for different grade levels, from grades 8–12. The tests use a common score scale, so educators and students get consistent feedback to help monitor growth across grades and find areas in need of improvement. Learn more about the score structure.
What score does my child need to get on the PSAT/NMSQT Math Test to do well on the SAT?
The PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT share a common score scale. This means that a PSAT/NMSQT Math score of 500 is similar to an SAT Math score of 500. However, the definition of "doing well on the SAT" varies, depending on which colleges your child applies to and what else their applications say about them. Read more about good SAT scores.
Where can my child get their PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, or PSAT 8/9 scores?
Students can get their scores for all PSAT-related assessments, as well as for the SAT, by logging in to Student Score Reports with the username and password they use for their College Board account. If they don't have an account, it's easy to create one.
PSAT/NMSQT scores will be available in December. PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 scores should be available about 4–6 weeks after test day.
When will my child's test scores be available?
Scores for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests are generally available two to three weeks after the test administration date.
Scores for the PSAT/NMSQT, which students take in October, should be available in December. See when scores will be released in your state.
Students will receive an email at the address associated with their College Board account when their scores are available.
If my child opts in to Student Search Service, will colleges get their PSAT/NMSQT scores?
No, colleges won't receive your child’s actual test scores. By opting in to Student Search Service, your child is allowing us to share the information they provide on the student data questionnaire and on our website, BigFuture, with colleges and universities. They use these data to send your child information about their institution. Please note that we never share the following:
- Disability status
- Self-reported parental income
- Social Security number
- Phone numbers
- Actual test scores