It’s important, and sometimes difficult, to decide which courses to take. The most important thing to do when selecting courses is to plan early. High school course decisions begin in Grade 8 as students prepare to enter Grade 9. The choice between applied and academic streams can significantly affect a student’s path throughout high school and during post-secondary applications. So, what’s the difference?



Applied courses emphasize practical and hands-on learning, with abstract reasoning incorporated where appropriate. Applied courses in grades 9 and 10 prepare students for college preparation courses in grades 11 and 12. If the student plans to attend college in the future, entering the applied stream is recommended.

Academic courses emphasize theory and abstract reasoning, with practical learning incorporated where appropriate. Academic courses in grades 9 and 10 prepare students for university preparation courses in grades 11 and 12. If the student plans to attend university in the future, entering the academic stream is recommended. 

It’s also important to note the distinction between compulsory and elective (or optional) courses. Each student who earns an Ontario Secondary School Diploma must complete 18 compulsory credits and 12 optional credits. Optional credits allow students opportunities to explore different areas of study that interest them. However, optional credits are often require prerequisites, and many of the optional credits taken in grades 11 and 12 are considered by university officials when they assess student applications. Early planning can help to avoid prerequisite gaps and other admissions requirements not met.  

Outline of Ontario Secondary School Diploma Requirements

If you are unsure what you would like to do after high school, visit a career planning website to gain insight into what might be a good fit for you. Students whose Ontario Student Record resides at Virtual High School have access to Career Cruising. Contact your Guidance Coordinator to gain access to this career planning tool if you have not already done so. 

Once you have an idea of what you might like to pursue after high school, determine what you need to take in high school in order to meet the requirements for further study. For example, if you want to begin an apprenticeship in Carpentry, what courses would best prepare you for this career? If you are planning to apply for Fine Arts programs, what are the prerequisite courses? If you are interested in the sciences, but aren’t sure what you’d like to focus on exactly, survey various programs relating to science to see if there are prerequisite requirements that are consistent across post-secondary programs so you can best set yourself up for success. If you’re not sure what your post-secondary future holds, keep the following tips in mind while choosing your courses:

  • Take courses that sound interesting to you.
  • Try to job shadow in the workplace, and communicate with others who are already working in an occupation that interests you.
  • Consider what employment trends might be in the future based on what you can discover in news and business reports.
  • Talk with guidance counselors.
  • Try to keep your options for post-secondary open.
  • Learn a subject you have not spent much time in before. Who knows, you may love it!
  • Talk with others who have attended colleges or universities and decide which type of study would be of most interest to you.

Happy learning!