- Pros and Cons: Taking Honors Courses
- Negative conceptions
- Positive aspects
- The purpose of honors courses
- Is It Better to get a B in an AP/IB/Honors Course or an A in a Regular Course?
- If you are at risk for earning a low grade in an honors class…
- Considering the course itself
- If you are not applying to top-tier colleges…
- A final note
- 5 Benefits of Taking AP Classes in High School
- 1. Prep for college
- 2. Rise to the top of the pile
- 3. Strengthen your transcript
- 4. Study what you love
- 5. Get a head start on college reqs (and save some tuition dollars)
- AP Classes: The Bottom Line
Pros and Cons: Taking Honors Courses
People believe that students who are in “honors” tend to forget about the rest of their classes, pay less attention to them, and drop their grades. But it isn’t the truth. Students tend to improve their grades once they start taking honor courses. That’s due to the quality of the instruction, and the new techniques they learn. Techniques they apply to all of their courses. When they get better grades, they find motivation and keep studying harder, improving their grade, even more, is a never-ending cycle. Honor students surround themselves with other high-achieving students and colleagues who inspire them to get better and greater. It is an environment of competition, a healthy one, that pushes everyone to be the best they can.
Because classes are smaller, instructors have the time to pay more attention to each student separately and give them personalized attention. Instructors also help them with any doubts they may have, face to face and not by e-mail. Students with special abilities should have individual attention from instructors in order to improve their skills even more. Some parents say this doesn’t help their children development at all because they get used to the attention, and once they get into a 200-people class they tend to minimize their achievement in that area. This may be true, but specialized classes don’t only teach a certain area, they also show students values that will stick with them and can be applied to every class they take during their college years.
The purpose of honors courses
Honors courses celebrate students’ accomplishments and fill them with pride during all of their college years. They weren’t created to stress scholars, and give them impossible tasks to do. Their objective is the opposite, they want to show students they are capable of everything and anything in life. They assign homework, not to force the student to “do something”, but to help them learn quicker in a deeper way. Yes, these classes work faster and are a little stricter, but the rewards overshadow the negative aspects. Students graduating with honors classes receive a special certificate. The certificate shows others that these students are advanced learners, young people motivated to experience every aspect of life, business, and education.
Is It Better to get a B in an AP/IB/Honors Course or an A in a Regular Course?
If you are at risk for earning a low grade in an honors class…
If you think you may earn a C or lower in a high-level course, you should take the regular version instead, or replace it with something else entirely if it is an elective. Earning a low grade or failing a course will have a significant adverse effect on your application, even in a challenging course. It is much better to earn an A or a B in a regular-level course than a C or below in an honors course. Additionally, you are unlikely to earn a 4 or a 5 on an AP exam if you are struggling with the material in the course itself, so you probably won’t be able to earn college credit if you are not doing well in the class.
Considering the course itself
If you are concerned the class in question may be too demanding, you should also think about how it fits into the rest of your schedule. As we discuss in “Can You Be an Engineer without Taking AP Physics: How the Classes You Take Can Affect Your Chances at Admissions”, colleges want to see well-rounded candidates, but also ones who show some degree of specialization. Therefore, if you consider humanities to be your strength, and you have already loaded up on AP Literature, AP History, and AP language courses, you may not need to take AP Calculus as well, because colleges will understand that this is not your strength or what you intend to pursue in college. If you don’t think you will do well in a rigorous class that is not in your area of specialization, it may be better to skip it in favor of a course that is more in line with your interests.
However, you should take a challenging course that does fall within your strengths or talents. For instance, if you are an aspiring medical doctor, and you don’t take AP Biology, that will not reflect well on your application with admissions committees. Even if you think you will get a B in a case like this, you should still take the course and aim to do as well as possible.
If you are not applying to top-tier colleges…
If you are not planning on applying to extremely competitive schools, it probably isn’t as necessary to load up on AP, IB, or honors classes. In this case, it is fine to take regular classes and earn strong grades in them, especially if you are worried about not being able to manage the material.
However, you should still consider the advantages of taking rigorous classes. In additional to the benefits outlined above, having a high GPA—which improves with the rigor of your curriculum—can make you a candidate for many honors programs and scholarships. For more information on scholarships, check out our post, “Helpful Scholarship Resources and Tips.”
A final note
AP, IB, and honors courses have a lot to offer in terms of challenging you and helping you become a competitive candidate in the college admissions process. But if you don’t think you are going to perform well in a particular course, you may want to take the regular version instead and compensate with other challenging courses or in other areas.
If you are concerned about enrolling in a course and want more advice on how to proceed, try talking to the teacher of the class or your current teacher in that subject. He or she is familiar with your abilities in the subject and may be able to steer you in the right direction.
Looking for more tips and advice on how to build a competitive academic profile in high school? Read CollegeVine’s posts below.
What Is a Good GPA for Top Schools?
What Class Rank Do I Need to Get into a Top School?
Is GPA or Class Rank More Important?
Should I Take AP/IB/Honors Classes?
Can AP Tests Actually Save You Thousands of Dollars?
How Do I Decide to Drop a Course?
Will Failing a Class Impact My College Application?
Can You Be an Engineer without Taking AP Physics: How the Classes You Take Affect Your Chances at Admission
5 Benefits of Taking AP Classes in High School
Why take an Advanced Placement class? After all, high school is a pressure cooker. You already have to take the SAT, apply to college, and keep up with your extracurriculars. The last thing you may want to do is take a very demanding course, especially one that’s not mandatory. But we recommend you consider it. Here are five ways AP classes can be a smart choice.
1. Prep for college
AP classes can be as challenging as introductory college courses. They are fast-paced, cover more material than regular classes, and require independent work like research and analysis. Getting a dose of a college-level curriculum early on could ease your transition from high school senior to first-year college student.
2. Rise to the top of the pile
Advanced Placement classes show admissions officers that you’re ready for college-level work. Admissions counselors consistently tell us that good grades and academic rigor are the most important factors when schools evaluate applications. Even over standardized test scores!
3. Strengthen your transcript
Many high schools give extra weight to AP grades when calculating your GPA. Taking an AP class and getting a B is often a better choice than getting an A in a regular course.
WATCH: Why Take AP Classes?
4. Study what you love
There are 38 AP subjects from computer science to Japanese language and culture, although your high school may only offer some of these. If you’re a science whiz, AP Biology or AP Chemistry may give you the extra challenge you crave. If you’re the next Ernest Hemingway, head to AP English. Choosing a subject you’re interested in, or have had previous success in, will help you commit to the workload.
Read More: What AP Courses Should I Take?
5. Get a head start on college reqs (and save some tuition dollars)
Taking an AP class is great prep for the acing the corresponding AP test. Held every May, AP tests are scored on a scale from 1–5. If your college offers AP credit, a score of a 4 or higher could allow you to earn college credits without paying college tuition. Some students are able to skip the entire first year of college this way, thus cutting the entire cost of their college education by one quarter.
AP Classes: The Bottom Line
AP classes can boost your GPA and strengthen your college application. But the number of advanced courses you choose to take should depend on your academic interests and your schedule. Concerned you won’t be able to handle the tough concepts of an advanced course? We can help. Our AP tutors can give you a hand with your class work and get you ready for the test.
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Honors courses generally refer to exclusive, higher-level classes that proceed at a faster pace and cover more material than regular classes. Honors classes are usually reserved for talented high school students who excel in certain subjects. Passing an honors class is an excellent way for high school students to demonstrate their academic competency and discipline to college admissions boards.
The term honors course is commonly applied to a variety of high school courses that are considered to be more academically challenging. Students who enroll in honors classes typically receive more academic recognition and use this to help them secure scholarships and entrance to their target college. From a historical perspective, honors coursework implied demanding college-preparatory classes that were intended for high achievers or academically accelerated students. Nowadays, honors classes are open to any student who secures a teacher recommendation or maintains an average grade of B or higher in a similar class. Note that there are no official standards when it comes to the term honors course, so these classes may greatly vary in design, quality and content.
Honor Course vs. AP Course
An honors course may advertise itself as the most challenging course available, but specialized Advanced Placement (AP) are more academically rigorous. That is, the primary difference between the two is that AP courses result in college credit. In order to receive college credit for a completed AP course, the high school student must pass the AP exam with a score of three or higher. Most colleges require a score of at least four with the maximum score of five. The levels of rigor for honors and AP courses drastically vary by state and by school. Some factors that contribute to the academic variation and class outcomes include the faculty, students and geographic area. The most significant factor is which organization determines the curricula. The academic authority CollegeBoard determines the AP curricula, but honors curricula may be determined by state officials, school district administrators and even the honors teach themselves.
The Benefits of Honors Coursework
Successfully graduating from a high school honors program shows colleges how serious the student is about academics and how prepared they are to challenge themselves. In certain situations, the honors student may be exempt from taking certain beginning college courses, which will save significant time and money, but only AP coursework guarantees college credit. Being accustomed to faster paces and higher levels of challenges will help the honors student deal with difficult college classes. However, taking too many honors classes may overwhelm the student if they have many social plans, personal obligations and extracurricular commitments. Honors students will have less time for other meaningful activities, so they should carefully select classes and manage their time effectively.
Finally, the biggest difference between high school and college honors courses is the academic focus. High school honors classes require more work hours at a faster pace, but college honors classes focus more on promoting a student-centered education. That is, they provide students with educational opportunities to develop their own ideas, discuss issues and embrace innovation. College honors programs strive to create an open atmosphere of student engagement that emphasizes diverse thinking, small class sizes, interdisciplinary course work and more student-professor engagement.
You might also like: 20 Great Colleges for Atheists and Agnostics
One of the key factors of your college application is your high school transcript. This not only includes grades but also the strength of your curriculum. Colleges want to see that you can push yourself, taking the most challenging, yet appropriate, courses.
So what looks better to admissions officers: playing it safe and getting the A in a regular course or taking a more challenging Honors or AP course, but getting a B or a C? The answer that most colleges will give you is that it’s better to get an A in the Honors/AP class. And most highly-selective schools will expect that you do.
But many colleges would rather see a B in an Honors or AP course than a higher grade in a regular college prep course. They want to see that you are truly challenging yourself but that you are still mastering the material. If you’re getting C’s or D’s in the class, you clearly aren’t mastering the material and should rethink your placement in the course.
If you enroll in college prep level courses and get all A’s, it may look as though you’re capable enough to take a few Honors or AP courses but are playing it safe. Colleges may be put off by this. If this is you, try to take on a couple of Honors or AP courses, potentially in the subjects you feel most comfortable in, where your strengths and interests lie.
But will this impact my GPA?
At most high schools, Honors and AP courses are weighted differently than other courses, thus giving “extra credit” to students in the higher-level courses for performing well. Colleges typically know which high schools do not use weighted ranks and take this into consideration while reviewing and comparing students. Ask your guidance counselor about the exact grading and weighting system that your school uses. Your guidance counselor should also be able to recommend whether you should move up a level in a particular course.
Colleges will know what classes your high school offers and will evaluate you in terms of what opportunities you had. You won’t be penalized for not taking higher-level courses if they aren’t offered. However, if Honors or AP courses aren’t available at your school, there may be other opportunities available to you, such as taking courses at a local college or community college or through an online program.
Ultimately, colleges are looking for students who push themselves, who take the most challenging, yet appropriate, course load that’s available to them, and who can handle this course load while performing well. Not every student can realistically take on a full course load of Honors and AP courses and do well. Know yourself and ask those around you who know you well, such as your teachers and guidance counselor, to help you navigate your courses.