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Articles / Applying to College / Comparing AP Classes to Advanced (etc.) Classes

Oct. 19, 2011

Comparing AP Classes to Advanced (etc.) Classes

Question: I attend North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and I am wondering how much importance college give to taking AP classes in high school. If my classes are not considered AP courses but are advanced, do colleges take this into consideration? What weights more - AP class or advanced classes? Also, I see more high schools not teaching "AP courses" but teaching advanced courses but students still take the AP exams. Your comments on this?

Admission officials allow high schools to determine which of their classes are the most rigorous. College applications ask the school counselor to indicate whether a student's overall course schedule is "Most Demanding," "Very Demanding," "Demanding," etc. when compared to what is offered at that school. So, in some high schools, the counselor will recognize that an "Advanced" class is just as rigorous (or even MORE rigorous) than an AP class, and will respond accordingly when completing the "School Report."

The way that the high schools themselves weight their grades (if they do, in fact, weight them) also affects how colleges respond to the rigor of a class. For instance, in many high schools, an "A" in an AP class counts as 5 points rather than the more typical 4. Often an "A" in an "Advanced," "Accelerated," or "Honors" course is worth 5 points as well. So, if the grades are weighted equally, a student will get as much bang from an advanced or honors class as from an AP. If the classes are not weighted equally, then the student's GPA and rank will not get the same boost, and this might have some effect on college admission outcomes. (When a student applies to college, a “School Profile” will accompany every transcript. The School Profile should explain grading and weighting systems so that admission officials can see at a glance if classes with varying titles … AP, Advanced, etc. … are considered comparable.)

Note also that most college admission offices assign regional representatives who are responsible for specified parts of the country. Each of these reps is supposed to become familiar with the high schools on his or her turf. A school such as yours, which attracts some of the brightest and most high-achieving students in the state, is usually well known to regional reps, especially at the hyper-selective colleges. Thus, most will be familiar with your school's curriculum and will understand that many classes, even without an "AP" designation, will be challenging and competitive.

In fact, students at NCSSM will get extra "points" (often more figurative than literal) for simply choosing a school with such rigor.

(posted 10/19/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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