College Corner: Planning the high school curriculum you need

Published on Monday, 17 March 2014 20:53 - Written by

Planning a high school curriculum always is complicated: students must squeeze in required courses and desired electives, but they also must make sure they’re taking everything in the right order so they can get to those advanced courses by senior year. And of course, they must keep an eye on the college application process, so they’re taking what they need to get accepted into the college — and the degree program — of their choice.

But this year, it’s even harder than usual. That’s because of House Bill 5, which is changing the graduation requirements for Texas high school students. With the process already well underway at most area schools, how can parents help?

My colleague, Capstone student advisor Chaundra Thomson, spent years as a high school guidance counselor, so she’s got lots of good advice for families facing this issue.

Understand which graduation plan applies to your child, and become very familiar with the details of this plan. Students who will be freshman in 2014-2015 will graduate under the new Foundation High School Program. This new designation includes a certain number of required courses and requires students to earn one of five “endorsements” by taking a concentration of courses that apply to one of five areas: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), public services, arts and humanities, business and industry, or multidisciplinary studies. Older students may have a choice as to which graduation plan to follow.

Your best source of information for which graduation plan to follow is, of course, your individual school. Local districts are doing a great job of keeping up with all the changes, but parents need to make sure they’re staying current with the flood of new information. Review all handouts carefully, sign up to make sure you’re receiving any email alerts, attend any parent meetings that are called, and make a point of visiting your district’s website frequently.

Make sure your child isn’t just meeting graduation requirements, but taking the high school courses that will help prepare him or her for a career. High school courses can’t be taken in a vacuum; choices that students make now will help prepare them for future jobs. Help your student make the connection between classes they’re taking now and jobs they think they might one day like. For a student interested in engineering, for instance, that might mean planning ahead to take algebra in eighth grade, so that she will have time to take all the advanced math classes she’ll need.

Keep an eye on the admission requirements of favorite schools. Recognize that some schools, especially elite universities, may have admissions standards higher than Texas’ graduation requirements. If your child is interested in a specific degree and/or a certain university, check with that school to see which courses are needed. Certain schools may prefer applicants who’ve taken advanced foreign language, advanced math such as calculus, or certain science courses.

Be proactive, not reactive. This can’t be stressed enough. Your student doesn’t want to realize that he forgot to take a half-credit in speech or health midway through senior year — when it might be too late to correct that failure in time for graduation. Review curriculum choices and four-year graduation plans frequently and thoroughly, and make sure students treat class selection as a priority.

Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to You just may see your question answered in a future column.