Hi! I just discovered this blog and have found the advice you give extremely helpful. Currently, I am in advanced/AP social studies and English classes as those are my stronger subjects. However, math and science are not my favorite subjects, so I am not in those advanced/AP courses and wouldn’t be until senior year due to my school’s policy. Nevertheless, I have maintained 90-100 grades in my math and science classes and I still would like to apply to top schools. Is it necessary for me to take advanced/AP math and science courses to get into schools like Princeton and Brown if I plan to major in political science/international affairs, or is it possible admissions officers would notice my success in the courses I take and value that instead?
At the most sought-after universities like Princeton and Brown, the vast majority of your “competitor” applicants will have taken all of their academic classes at the highest available level, so you will be at a disadvantage if you are in the “regular” math and science classes. BUT … whether or not your curriculum will be a deal-breaker will really depend on what else you bring to the table. For instance, if you hail from a disadvantaged background, a minority background or have an atypical life story to tell, this would go a long way toward making up for the advanced classes you missed. If your application includes unique activities and accomplishments, this too will help the admission folks overlook the fact that your math and science classes weren’t the most rigorous ones.
But I urge you NOT to choose the hardest math and science classes if it would be stressful for you to do so. It also sounds as if you may be in these tough classes by 12th grade, which is fine. However, keep in mind that, at the hyper-competitive colleges like the Ivies, top grades in a strong curriculum will only get you to the outer gates. Next, the admission folks will be asking, “What is special?” Even applicants who have taken a long list of AP classes will rarely get good news from the most selective colleges unless they also manage to stand out in the crowd.