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Honors, AP, and Dual Enrollment

At every college information session, a parent will ask, “Is it better to get a “B” in an AP class or an “A” in a regular class?” The admissions officer answers, “It’s better to get an “A” in an AP class,” and everyone moans. With an increasingly intense admissions process, decisions about what higher-level classes to register for can feel daunting. Honors, Advanced Placement (AP), and Dual Enrollment all offer a competitive edge to applicants; however, there are differences between the levels of rigor, work, impact on GPA, and attainment of college credit.  

A student’s curriculum is evaluated in the context of their high school, so if ten AP courses are offered, and a student has only taken one, admissions officers at competitive colleges will wonder why. But if a high school only offers a couple of AP courses, students can’t be expected to take classes that don’t exist, and they would not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process. 

While students in honor classes cover the same material as their regular counterparts, honors provides a rigorous study of each subject, requiring more projects, tests, and time. Honors courses follow a teacher-designed curriculum and are usually offered at every grade in high school. 

Honors are valued in the admissions process. However, unlike APs, they don’t offer any college credit and are not as highly regarded. 

As honors classes feature advanced high school work, APs are designed to give students the experience of a college-level course within a high school setting. With a high score on the AP exam, a student could potentially earn college credit and save money on tuition in the future. 

AP exams are scored on a system from 1 to 5, with anything above 3 considered to be passing. While every university has a different policy, most colleges award credit for scores of 4 or 5 on an AP exam, and some for a score of 3. If they don’t give credit, APs can be used to place out of introductory courses, have the flexibility to double-major, or even help you have a lighter class schedule while doing an internship. 

In dual enrollment classes, high school students can take actual college courses taught by college professors. Programs, pricing, and course schedules vary by school and state, but classes are usually one semester and are scored based on a combination of assignments and tests. However, it’s not a guarantee that dual enrollment classes will be accepted for college credit. Despite this, dual enrollment offers students flexibility by providing a wider range of subjects, and the time to engage in extracurriculars outside the classroom. 

Taking higher-level classes prepares students for a more successful future in college, while simultaneously giving them an extra nudge on the admissions table. Preparing for college is important, but so is preserving mental health and not overloading the plate with challenging classes. This might involve opting for AP classes in one’s stronger subjects and honors in others or selecting a handful of APs to spread out throughout high school. Admissions officers, of course, like to see intellectual curiosity, but they also like students who will contribute to the college community. Students who also spend time discovering and pursuing their passions outside the classroom will be attractive applicants. This means that finding a healthy balance between scholarly pursuits and extracurricular activities, community service, or other interests is just as important. Colleges are searching for dynamic individuals with various talents and perspectives who will diversify their campuses. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by The College Advisor, and prepared for our clients and their families.


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