ap classes

Should Your Student Take Harder High School Classes, or Play It Safe?

High GPA’s are essential in today’s college admissions climate. Some student’s instincts might tell them to take easy classes, those they know they’ll do well in so they will end up with all A’s. Not a bad strategy except that the admissions directors would disagree.

Colleges want to see rigor. When reviewing an application, one of the first things college admissions directors do is check the courses offered in your student’s high school. They will want to see if your student is taking advantage of the courses offered. They can tell the difference between a straight A student who has taken an easy route and the B student who has loaded up their schedule with honors or AP classes. From what I hear, colleges would prefer the latter.

Not every school offers AP classes or honors classes. So how can the colleges fairly compare students from different types of schools? The colleges are familiar with high school honors programs in the different and can weigh them evenly. If your child wants to be a journalism major and the college sees they did not take an honors writing class that was offered in the school, they may determine that the student might not be as interested in journalism as they claim to be.

Suggest to your child when they select classes for the fall that they take the most advanced classes that are in sink with what they want to major in in college. But make sure they do not take on too many honors or AP classes that might overload their schedule and causes stress. Balance is important. If your student is stronger in science than in English, then an AP in science is a good idea, maybe not the AP in English.

Electives are important too. Colleges want to see a well rounded student and one that takes advantage of what the school has to offer. They’d like to see that the student can balance their academics with being on a sports team or in the high school musical. They’d also like to see that they participate in clubs or perhaps student government.

High school is the time for students to explore their interests as well as academics. So encourage both.  Besides, the student will perform better in their academics if they also have physical and creative outlets.

Should You Take Easier Classes to Earn Better Grades?

This time of year, as the clock on summer runs down, you might have the opportunity to review and adjust your class schedule for the upcoming school year. If yours has been a relaxing summer, it’s easy to see words like ‘honors’ and ‘AP’ on your schedule and feel a tinge of nervous anticipation. Man, that’ll be a ton of work. Wouldn’t it be easier if I made my AP courses honors courses and my honors courses regular courses? That way I can make straight As next year. Yeah…

If you have one or more APs on your schedule, you probably already know where this article is going: you should take the more difficult classes. But unlike other articles that offer this advice, I’m going to avoid the ‘You must apply a Puritanical work ethic in high school so you can crush your enemies, also known as your peers, when it comes time to apply to college’ manta other articles espouse. So why should you take more difficult classes? The answer’s easy:

As long as you pass, you have nothing to lose.

Let me explain.

Let’s Break Down the Numbers and Letters

So you’re taking a course load full of honors and APs. That’s great. But oh no! You’ve made a B in an honors class and a C in an AP class one quarter. What will the colleges you apply to think?

They probably won’t care.

Follow my reasoning. First of all, if you get a B or C one quarter, you still have time to fix it in the next quarter and improve your overall semester grade. More importantly, not all letters are created equal. Earning a B in an honors class might as well be an A in a regular class. You can say the same thing about a C in an AP class. The fact that you’re 16/17 years old and passing a college-level class says a ton of positive things about you as a prospective college student.

Let’s take this reasoning one step further. If you make As in honors classes and Bs in AP classes, you’re ahead of the game in more ways than one. In the eyes of college admission counselors, you are a more attractive candidate than every student who made straight As in regular courses.

To put it another way, by taking honors/APs, you get to make some mistakes and get ahead; if you take regular classes and make straight As, others will still surpass you no matter what. Students who take regular level classes to make straight As always lose the college admission game….unless their school doesn’t offer honors or AP courses, which believe it or not, is still the case in some parts of the country.

Gotta Love Grit

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: college admission counselors love grit. Grit says more about a college applicant than GPA, AP scores, or extracurricular activities.

If you take a look at the link in the previous paragraph, you’ll see that teachers around the nation are trying to teach their students grit. As a former teacher, I’m not too sure if you can teach grit like you can teach an academic subject. But it is possible to encourage someone to improve their grit, which is what I’m going to do right now. If you want to up your grit game, do so with something that has nothing to do with school. My suggestion: buy a moderately hard puzzle toy and stick with it until you solve it. Oh, it’ll frustrate and confuse you, but that’s the point. You have to strengthen your grit muscles if you want to excel in your classes next year.

Being Bored Stinks

Just think about it: being stuck in 6-7 courses that are way too easy, the clock ticking away at an agonizingly slow rate…

I think I’ve made my point.

Final Thoughts

Instead of the standard wrap up, I want to end this article by discussing a BIG EXCEPTION to the advice I’ve given in this article. Over the last decade, more and more high schools have started to offer 1-2 APs to incoming freshmen. This situation doesn’t sit right with me. Except in the very rarest of circumstances, high-achieving students still need a year to adjust to high school before they can tackle APs. By all means, take as many honors courses as you want to your freshman year. Strengthen those grit muscles and grow up a bit before jumping into APs as a sophomore.

Good luck in the coming year!

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