Advice for Choosing Your High School Classes

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Cameron Devall
Cameron Devall

Cameron began his career as an English language teacher. After graduating from Heythrop College of Philosophy and Theology, University of London, he continued on to teach in Indonesia and Russia. Today, he fulfills his true passion by writing.

Students signing up for classes in high school need to examine the difficulty of each class. Further, students should determine their chances of getting an A to help their college application. The courses chosen, and the grades received in those classes, are very important. They will be a major factor in determining which university grants them admission. Having trouble choosing your high school classes? Empowerly has advice to help you weigh the options. Let’s discuss the major points, below.

Choosing The Best Classes

Students can quickly feel overwhelmed with the number of class choices they have in front of them. This can be true throughout your high school career, start to finish. This is amplified by the added pressure from counselors and parents. Many say that choosing the right one can be the determining factor in where students will go to college.

There are a few different directions a student can go when it comes to choosing which classes they will take. There are the regular classes, which aim to educate a majority of students. Additionally, there are also Honors classes, which are slightly more difficult and target students that wish to challenge themselves.

Class Options For College Credit

Advanced Placement (AP) classes focus on one subject, and are considered even more difficult than Honors. They also provide the opportunity and goal at the end of the course to take a test for college credit. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program is a college level course that offers a more comprehensive schedule and education. AP and IB classes both provide students with the opportunity to gain college credit before they enter into university. The main difference between these types of courses is mainly the end goal, according to an article by US News.

The variations between these courses are immense in terms of workload and the potential for credit. But how do colleges view theses differences? 

Should I Aim For:

  1. B Grades In An Advanced (AP) Class?
  2. A Grades In An Honors Class?

More often than not, colleges don’t look too hard at the difficulty of the courses, but at how well students have done in the courses they have chosen to take. If students are looking to simply use the classes they are taking to gain college admission with a good grade, rather than looking to get college credit, then getting an A is the most important. 

Students that feel confident about getting an A in an AP class should go down that path, but if a student feels that they cannot guarantee such a high grade, then this rigorous course is simply not worth the time and effort.

Especially for students applying to top-ranked schools, having a better and unweighted GPA is more important. To answer the question asked by millions of high school students, according to most expert research: getting an A in an Honors class is better than getting a B in an AP class.

Determine Your Competitiveness

We have determined that it is more beneficial for students to get higher grades in Honors classes than to get a lower grade in a harder Advanced Placement (AP) course or International Baccalaureate (IB) program–even if it also comes with college credit. While this is true, it does not mean colleges disregard those that have decided to challenge themselves. In this case, they look at the difficulty of the courses the student has taken.

If a student has various grades at various levels of coursework, then it can be much more difficult to determine their competitiveness. It’s easier for a student that has achieved the highest grades in the hardest classes. Students can use an academic index calculator, like the one provided by Empowerly, to determine how their results stack up.

The Difficulty Ratio

Part of determining how competitive you are compared to millions of other students depends on your difficulty ratio. This is the difficulty of the courses taken verses the difficulty of the courses that are offered. Even though most universities consider an unweighted GPA, they will look at the level of difficulty posed by upper-level courses. A difficulty ratio algorithm has been developed to help with this.

The total number of AP/IB classes is divided by the total number offered. This information is then divided into three tiers.

  • 0-25% = challenging
  • 26-50% = more challenging
  • 51% and up = most challenging

Students do not always need to take one more difficult class. They simply need to determine how the college admission boards will view the ones they would like to take.

Building Your Theme

While students want to achieve more in harder courses, they also are looking to achieve more when it comes to their extracurricular activities and summer courses. Admissions offices look positively on participation in a variety of activities but those at top-ranked schools are looking for the extra things that students do that require more focus and have a theme. 

Taking a college level course in the summer is only beneficial if it suits the theme of the student’s activities. For example students should excel in one or two activities, which demonstrates focus and commitment to colleges. If a student is especially gifted and interested in Math or strategy then joining the Math Club, Chess Club and taking part in supplemental math programs would show a dedication to one specific theme. These are all strong considerations when you sit down to start choosing your high school classes.

In conclusion, we hope that this has helped you in the process of choosing your high school classes. If you weigh your options and talk it through with a counselor, you can be confident in your choices. Then, you can focus on the real work: studying!

Questions? Let us know!