So you’re in high school and not sure which level of classes to pick. You probably have regular, honors, and Advanced Placement classes available. How do you know where you stand and what to sign up for—and why? Is it better to get an A in a regular class, or a B in an Advanced Placement (AP) class? Good questions; let’s brainstorm.
The rule of thumb is that it is better to do “well enough” in a hard course versus coasting through a lower-level one. If you think you are pulling a fast one on college admission officers by getting straight A’s in full schedule of entry-level and easy classes, you’ve got another thing coming. And they look at what classes your high school offers to see what you have available and if you’ve been challenging yourself. This rule works both ways, meaning if your school doesn’t offer AP courses or their equivalents, but you are taking the toughest courses available to you, they know you’re trying.
Admission departments look very closely at the rigor of your course work when looking at your application. So if you can do well in an advanced course—that is to say, roughly a C+ or better—take it. There are still far too many students who opt to take an easier course in order to get that surefire good grade, giving up an opportunity to be challenged and quite possibly excel in a rigorous course.
Some students are reluctant to choose AP-level courses, and they shouldn’t be. According to a College Board report issued earlier this year, more than 60% of students considered to have AP potential did not take the exams last year, even though their PSAT score showed they could perform well on one. Why do they opt out of taking AP classes? One main reason is they are worried about not passing the AP test at the end of the year. The AP test is in all likelihood significantly longer than your standard final, and it’s graded by a total stranger. You might be thinking, So what? Well, regardless of how you perform on exam day, the rigor of the course throughout the year is extremely beneficial for you. Furthermore, there are an increasing number of inexpensive tools available online to help high school students prepare for the AP exams, such as GetAFive.
You should definitely work with your teachers and advisors to determine which courses to take. Taking a non-advanced class freshman year should not preclude you from taking an advanced class sophomore year. The College Board actually has a tool for educators and schools called AP Potential that shows which students have a good chance of scoring well on certain AP exams, which is based on students’ performance on the PSAT/NMSQT. Your teachers should use that tool and their knowledge of your work to help you determine which courses are best for you.
Most importantly, don’t forget to listen to yourself and your trusted advisors—parents, teachers, or tutors—when making these decisions. And don’t be scared to push yourself. There are inexpensive resources out there today to help students with their AP course work and exams. GetAFive is one available tool, but there are dozens of other resources to help boost the confidence of students to go just a little further than usual.