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Articles / Applying to College / Will Online AP History Class Hurt College Admission Chances?

March 9, 2016

Will Online AP History Class Hurt College Admission Chances?

Question: As a rising junior, I will be having a full schedule next year(Chemistry AP, Physics 2 AP, Chinese AP, English AP, Pre-Cacl Honors, and Engineering ). However, I am still required by my school to take US History.

I did some research and saw that several institutions( Apex Learning Virtual School) offer US History Honors/AP online.


Therefore, I plan to take US History Honors at Apex Learning Virtual School over the summer as I feel that this would be the best fit for me.

However, upon speaking with my school, they advised me that taking an online class at Apex Learning Virtual School (or any other out of district online institution) shows lack of academic rigor and is a bad indicator for college admissions. They stress that when it comes to college admissions, taking an online class is a bad sign for college admission officers.

Instead, they suggested that I take US History(regular) over the summer or during the school year with my local school district as they will also be offering the course online (regular level only). In other words, my school would rather have me take a regular level class with them online than take an advanced/honors class with another institution, with the justification being that it would hurt college admissions.

May I please know your opinion on this? I am skeptical of their recommendation.

You are correct to be skeptical of the advice you received from your school administrators. While it is true that admission officials usually prefer to see “real" classes on a candidate's transcript rather than online classes, the admission folks also realize that in some cases (such as yours) a “real" required class doesn't fit the student's schedule or, sometimes, the student has sought out enrichment opportunities beyond the high school's curriculum which can only be found online.

Thus “The Dean" sees no disadvantage in taking a history class offered by an organization such as Apex outside of the high school's network, especially if it's an AP class rather than a “regular" one.

BUT …

1) Before you enroll in this online class that is not endorsed by your district, make sure that it will fulfill your high school requirement. I knew a boy who took an online class to meet his high school's American History requirement and, although it was a Johns Hopkins virtual class (and thus presumably reputable and rigorous), his high school would still not accept the credit because he was supposed to have taken only the class offered by his own school.

2) When it comes time to apply to college, use the “Additional Information" section of your applications (or a separate email or letter) to explain why you took history online. Briefly point out that it was a required junior class but that you couldn't wedge it into your busy schedule. If you took the “regular" online class and not the AP, also explain that you elected the option that your school recommended, even though it wasn't an AP or Honors course, because of your counselor's insistence on it.

3) Consider taking a “real" AP US History class in your senior year, if it will still meet your school requirement to postpone it until then and if it is more likely to fit in your schedule than it will in grade 11.

Bottom line: Taking an online AP history class instead of the district's online class will not hurt your college acceptances at all. However, before you sign on, be sure to confirm (in writing is best!) that the outside class will definitely meet your school's requirement, even if your school counselors or administrators are cranky about you taking it. You don't want to end up with a slew of college acceptances but no high school diploma! 😉

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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