Preparing for College

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)