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It depends on how competitive the colleges you are applying to are. If you are an average student who is applying to average colleges, just do your normal course load. If you are in the Top quartile of test-takers with a B to B+ GPA and want to get into a top 100 college, then take a couple of classes that challenge yourself and make sure your grades (if they have grades at your school) are consistent with past grades or better. If you rank in the top 10% of your school and have an equivalent test score like >28 ACT or >1300 SAT, then you want to take the most rigorous course load possible. Why? 1.) In this test-optional cycle, colleges will weigh your course rigor and grades more heavily than test scores. 2.) It shows an upward trend and your willingness to challenge yourself and take more risks. You basically have 1 semester to show colleges that in spite of this compromised learning environment you are not backing down but rising to the occasion. Good luck.
Yeah, even though your senior year grades don’t factor into your GPA, you should still maintain the same if not greater level of difficulty of course load that you did junior year. Colleges (especially elite ones) want to see either maintaining or an upward trend of your grades. Don’t just give up your final year cause it will look suspicious and disappointing.
Absolutely! But till the point you feel you can manage to do well. Challenging workload is one of the top criteria for admissions but hand in hand with your grades. Therefore, make sure you don’t send them a disappearing mid year report in Jan/Feb. Strike a balance and good luck !