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Articles / Applying to College / Which "Looks Better"--Calc, Stats, or Computer Science?

Jan. 15, 2009

Which "Looks Better"--Calc, Stats, or Computer Science?

Question: I'm in 10th grade now and planning my future high school classes. In 8th grade, I took Algebra I; freshman year, took Geometry, sophomore year, taking Algebra II. A normal course at our school would to be continue on for PreCalculus/Trig junior year and Calculus senior year.

The only prerequisite for taking AP Statistics and AP Computer Science (1 semester each) is passing Algebra II. My question is would it be worth it to skip Calculus in high school to take AP Statistics and AP Computer Science in my senior year after taking pre-calculus junior year? Which one would look better on my transcript?


Calculus is considered the "Big Kahuna" of all classes--math or otherwise. That is, admission officials seem to hold Calculus in higher regard than just about any other high school course. It's almost as if Calculus (even the regular college-prep version and not just AP) is synonymous with "challenging," and both AP Stats and AP Computer Science take a back seat.

Granted, I certainly realize that Stats and Computer Science may be more appealing to many students; they may also mesh better with long-term academic or career goals; and--at some high schools--might even be tougher classes than Calculus. But I'm just trying to look at all of this through the Typical Admission Officer lens. And so, I pick calc as the big crowd-pleaser, especially at the more selective colleges and universities.

If you can't fit everything into your schedule over the couple years ahead, you can consider taking Calculus--or the other options--during the summer or perhaps online. When choosing between Stats and Computer Science, it's pretty much a wash. In other words, admission folks may have their preferences, but, in the long run, those preferences probably even out. But, again, while it's certainly not mandatory that you include a calc class on your transcript, you asked which would "look better," and that's what gets my vote.

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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