Taking a rigorous course of study ensures adequate preparation for success in college and the work force, demonstrates maturity and gives students a competitive edge for college and scholarship applications.
Many high school courses are determined by the curriculum prescribed to each student, but there is some wiggle room—room to demonstrate rigor and commitment. For instance, just because an English class is required doesn’t mean a student has to take the same level of English as everyone else. Furthermore, if selecting elective classes (i.e., a menu of classes from which students may select) are an option, students striving for the best academic record should seek out International Baccalaureate (IB),Honors or Advanced Placement (AP) courses if available. These courses are reserved for high-achieving, motivated students, and they help engender important student outcomes and experiences, such as:
- College preparation. Not only do students get a head start on college-level work, but they can also improve writing skills and sharpen problem-solving techniques. These attributes will help prepare students to be academically successful once admitted into the college of their choice.
- Good study habits. Because succeeding in rigorous courses requires determination and commitment, students develop the study habits necessary for tackling rigorous college courses. Such commitment in high school enables a more smooth transition into the academic demands of college-level work.
- More interaction. The student-to-teacher ratio in these courses is lower, so students have more one-on-one interaction with teachers and classmates. More participation is expected from each class member.
- Critical thinking skills. Because the courses tend to delve into subjects more deeply than regular courses, students will probably explore the world from a variety of perspectives. They will develop critical thinking skills as they assume the responsibility of reasoning, analyzing and understanding for themselves.
- College credits. Additionally, students can earn college credits during high school by performing well on AP tests, typically given at the end of a semester/school year.
- Enhanced application. College Admissions departments view taking AP or Honors courses as demonstrating maturity and readiness for college.
Don’t Wait for an Invitation
If a student’s previous academic performance warrants it, he/she will be invited to take AP or Honors courses. If not, interested students MUST be proactive and talk to an AP teacher or coordinator or consult with the school guidance counselor to express interest in taking more rigorous classes and understand how and when they can begin taking them. Students should consider the workload and preparation required by AP courses and they should know that parents may need to submit a request form.
What if AP Courses Aren’t Offered?
If a high school doesn’t offer AP courses, students aren’t out of luck. Each year hundreds of students engage in a college preparatory curriculum through independent study, and some states even sponsor online AP courses. For more information on the AP program, check out the Collegeboard.com AP site.
Most important: In the absence of AP or honors courses, students should take the most challenging, rigorous courses available. Striving for academic excellence in any context is what’s important.