What about Honors, AP, and IB courses?

We’re often asked about the importance of taking high level courses in high school.  

What impact do Honors, AP, or IB classes have on my student’s chances of college admissions?

Let’s be very clear, there is no one universal answer to this question.  The best answer is - “it depends...on your student”.

It’s probably best to start by quickly understanding these courses.  Honors classes have increased rigor, require students to consistently think and apply at deeper levels, and move at a faster pace compared to their non-honors counterparts.  Both Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses are typically considered “Honors + College” level courses - often earning college credit or placement.  All of these classes generally require additional reading and homework, sometimes 30-40% more than other courses.

What are colleges looking for?

Again, it depends on the institution.  A number of articles have been written on this topic - here is one from the LA Times specifically about AP but can apply to honors and IB coursework as well.  Many colleges are not looking for any Honors, AP, or IB courses.  Other universities (highly-selective ones) will be looking for applicants who have found success in multiple courses of this nature.  Colleges are really looking for students that appropriately challenged themselves and found the right level of success for them as individuals.  Students who struggled in multiple honors/AP/IB courses or who received high marks in ‘easy’ courses are generally grouped into a similar category - usually waitlisted or denied admissions (depending on the college).

So how do I know what is best for my son or daughter?

Here are 5 questions to ask them:

  1. Do you like ______ (insert subject)?
  2. Do you want to pursue a career in _______ (insert subject)?
  3. In your free time, would you choose to do extra work (reading, writing, assignments) in _______ (insert subject)?
  4. Do you want to take on a challenge?
  5. Are you interested in attending a highly selective university?

If they answered yes 4 or 5 times, then they are probably ready for the challenge.  A yes to 3 questions...you may want to consider having them take only 1 of these courses in the upcoming school year and only in subject that they are excited about.  (Fewer than 2 yes responses...probably not the best idea for them.)

Remember, colleges look at each student individually.  They want students who can demonstrate that they have risen to challenge when appropriate and found success through perseverance and hard work.  Teenagers also need balance in their lives - even if they are excited about multiple honors, AP, or IB courses they may secretly want you to protect their free time.  It’s good for their health.

More questions?  Let our team help you out - check out our counselor on call program to help you navigate the journey.

By Edsel Clark, Educator, Parent, and CEO/Co-Founder