Back in my day, the only career courses that a college-bound student were likely to take were in accounting, computer programming, foods and personal typing. These courses were electives. I knew several bright classmates who suffered in typing. I join them in being thankful for computers and spell-check. 

Forty years later, New Jersey’s public high schools offer more choices, and these courses fulfill five or more credits towards a diploma. Our Department of Education phrases the career course as “21st century life and careers, or career-technical education.” The career course may be in business, family and consumer sciences, Junior ROTC, technology/industrial arts, and co-op work experience. 

It’s a good idea to get some exposure to the workplace, work-life skills or military service in high school. The ‘A’ in Cooking or Robotics might make a student feel good, and it might provide background material for a good college admissions essay. But while the course offers experience, exposure or skills, it will not be counted by college admissions offices when they calculate a student’s GPA. Only the college-prep course grades will count.

I offer some thoughts on how to choose the right career course that may help with college admissions, even if the grade is unlikely to count towards the GPA:

  • Choose a course that relates to something that you really want to learn for enjoyment or the future. I wanted to work in the auto industry as a car designer until I was 14. Had I wanted to follow through on that dream today I would have taken an automotive technology elective, along with art, math and physics classes. That would have helped me in further education at a design or engineering school. 
  • Choose a complement to a college-prep course. Robotics is complementary to math, physics and computer science courses. A business course is complementary to Economics. One course might help a student to succeed in the other. 
  • Junior ROTC is a good option for students who are considering military service after high school, ROTC for college or a military service academy. It is also a subject that students may take more than once. It’s really a combination of a class and co-curricular activity. It also offers some of the best leadership training experiences that a high school student can have. 
  • Choose a course where you can start saving for college, and possibly become noticed by colleges. High school DECA chapters offer business instruction and case challenges to overt 225,000 students, and provides over $300,000 in scholarships each year. DECA reports that over 90 percent of its participants will pursue a business career. 
  • Choose a course that relates to an activity that you are already involved. If your high school offers, for example, a Robotics class, and you are one of the more important members of the Robotics club, why not use the class to help your club learn to make a better robot?

Choosing the career course might be almost as important as choosing the right college prep courses to get into the degree program you want. While it might be tempting to find a career course that is less demanding, it is wiser to take one that will make you more in demand by colleges and future employers. 

Got questions about choosing the right courses? Contact me at

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