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Articles / Applying to College / Value of Harder Classes

Feb. 24, 2002

Value of Harder Classes

Question: Is it better to get an A in an easier course, or risk getting a lower grade in an advanced course? I've got a 4.0 now, and I'm interested in schools like Columbia and Yale. There are some math and science courses at my high school that I can probably get through but I'm not sure I can ace them.

The thing to remember about Ivy League and elite admissions in general is that the admissions people look first at how well you've done in what level of course challenge in your school. Specifically, it's better to get a high B or low A in an AP than it is to get an A+ in a lesser course.

If your school offers an array of APs, then you should take advantage of as many of them as possible. If it offers just a few, try to take as many as make sense. If your school offers no APs, then take as many advanced courses as possible. Are you getting the picture? Make your course schedule as challenging as possible.

To get an idea about what kinds of curricula Ivy admits have on their transcripts, read a review of a book I co-authored called "America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Applicant's Guide to The Ivy League and Other Top Schools." It's available through Amazon.com. My co-author is David Hawsey, also of College Confidential. See:


The book also shows the role of essays, recs, and ECs in a successful Ivy applicant's approach. You may be surprised as to how hard it is to get into schools like Columbia and Yale. All you can do now, though, is just try your best. That's all anyone could ask.

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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