Are you a high school student wondering what courses you should choose? Should you go for the AP class, the Honors class, or just the Regular class? Whether you plan to apply to competitive universities, or you’re just trying to graduate high school, this blog will go over tips on selecting your high school courses.
A in a Regular Class vs. B in an AP Class
One of the most frequently asked questions is whether it’s better to get an A in a Regular class, or a B in an AP/Honors class. To answer this question, there are a few different things to consider. Not everyone is planning to go to Harvard. Many students are looking to go to their local university, and know they have to maintain a certain GPA. So, the answer to this question may depend on who’s asking.
Brooke’s two mantras related to this question are to 1, always challenge yourself, and 2, never get a C. You should feel encouraged to take as many AP or IB classes as you can without imploding. No matter what your goals are, ideally, your unweighted GPA will stay no lower than a 3.5. So if you’re in all AP classes, and your grades are spanning Bs and Cs, you should consider taking less rigorous courses. It will look better to get some As rather than bog down your unweighted GPA with Cs.
Currently, 47% of US high school students have an unweighted GPA of 3.5 or higher. At the same time, 66.2% of high school students are college-bound. If we assume that 47% of students with a 3.5 or higher are all college-bound, that means about 70% of college-bound students have a GPA of at least 3.5. If you are planning on attending a 4-year university, you will want to be in that 70%. So, if you are getting straight Bs in your Honors and AP classes, you should swap some things out. Ideally, your unweighted GPA should land around a 3.6 or 3.7. However, this doesn’t mean you should just coast on all As in Regular classes. We do want to see at least some Honors or AP courses.
On the other end of the spectrum, students who plan on attending a University with an admit rate of less than 20%, or even less than 10%, should be taking the most challenging courses possible and getting as many As as they can. Of course, there is a risk to doing this. Overall, it will look better to have the most rigorous course load possible with 2 or 3 Bs, rather than taking only 2 AP classes and getting straight As.
An additional benefit to taking AP classes is that you have a 2nd opportunity to prove yourself in addition to the grade itself. You get a grade in the class, as well as an AP score. At some colleges, it’s optional to submit your AP scores. This means if you get a 3 you don’t have to report it. However, if you get a 5 on the AP and a B in the class, it signals to admissions that you were graded harshly. In this way, AP classes give you a second chance. Many colleges want to see between 7 and 12 classes if your school offers them.
AP vs IB Programs
People also ask if you should take AP over IB classes. The IB program is great, but it is not for the weak-hearted. When you get into the IB program, there are certain grades you have to get, and certain classes you have to take. Unlike choosing AP classes, with the IB program, you have to keep up with the course load and you can’t back out. The AP program allows you to be more flexible. However, at the end of the day, we love both programs. If you are competitive and can handle it, then you can go with whichever program you want. You should also check to see if the colleges you’re applying to accept IB or AP credit!
AP vs Honors Classes
If you’re deciding between an AP class and an Honors class, you will probably challenge yourself more with an AP course. And again, it’s always good to challenge yourself academically if you can. If you think you have a chance at an A, then go for it. However, if you think the Honors class will give you the GPA boost you need, and you think you already have a few too many Bs on your transcript, then do what works best for you.
Choose Electives That Tell Your Story
While you’re trying to balance your GPA and a rigorous course load, course selection is also a good opportunity to tell your own story. As you prepare for college, eventually you will write your college application. As you do that, you must have a story to tell. That’s the story of who you are, what you’ve explored, and what you’ve learned about yourself while exploring those things. So be mindful when picking your classes, and think about what direction you may want to go with your life. This might mean taking AP Environmental Science over something like AP Physics because you’re interested in studying the environment and climate change in college.
What areas are you potentially interested in? Instead of trying to only game your GPA, or take classes with your friends, take classes you’re actually interested in. As long as you’re looking to explore and tell your story, you’ll have a lot of options in terms of course electives.
Front-load Academic Courses
Junior year can be really tough. As long as you have the bandwidth, we recommend that you front-load academic courses in high school as much as possible. If you can double up on math or science early on, in freshman or sophomore year, do it and get it out of the way. Also, if there are any required electives such as health class, try to save those classes for junior or senior year. That way, you can have a little cushion while you’re studying for AP exams and the SAT. Of course, it depends on the rules of your high school, but if your high school doesn’t have those kinds of rules, try to push as much as you can into freshman and sophomore year.
Know Your High School’s Requirements
Every high school has different class requirements that you’re probably already taking into consideration as you plan your courses. Oftentimes, these requirements go beyond a simple “4 years of math, 4 years of English,” and include courses such as foreign languages, ethics, debate, or religion. Besides front-loading classes, another option to get these required courses out of the way is summer school. Some schools will also allow you to get out of a physical education requirement if you’re in a varsity sport. By looking into ways to offload class requirements, you may be able to add more academically rigorous courses as well as courses that explore your interests to your schedule.
Keep Your Eye on University Requirements
While you’re keeping track of your high school’s graduation requirements, make sure to keep your eye on the requirements for the universities you want to apply to. If you know you’re not college-bound, then you can simply focus on your high school’s requirements, and look into vocational classes like an auto shop class that your school might offer. However, if you’re reading this blog, then we assume you’re college-bound. College-bound students should go above and beyond their college recommendations.
Our recommendation is usually four years in each of the core subject areas (Math, English, Science, History, Foreign Language). If you can swing that, putting academic requirements over electives usually looks good on college applications. However, sometimes students will switch out social science courses. This could look like taking Economics or Psychology over History. Students interested in Engineering may choose to double up on Math or Science.
Finally, we want to stress how important it is to tell your own story. Although maintaining a good GPA is important, it’s important to explore who you are. Even with all the best grades, if you haven’t started to build a narrative of what your interests are in your classes, you will be at a disadvantage while applying to colleges. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, be curious, and go with your gut. But also challenge yourself!