A B in AP or an A in Regular Class?

AP exam changes books

For many high school students, summer means turning in a list of requested courses for the next year.

Admission offices often get calls from students and parents trying to figure out which classes will “look best” on applications. Most people know that advanced courses, like AP or Dual Enrollment, “look best”. Ultimately the conversation evolves into “then what would look better: a B in an AP class or an A in a regular class?” Any seasoned admissions professional will then crack themselves up with the well-timed delivery of “an A in an AP class.”

It Depends

But really…which one is better? Like so many answers in college admissions…it depends.

For admission to some colleges, B’s are fine and they might like to see that you’ve challenged yourself with some advanced coursework. For other colleges, B’s on the report card may be problematic – even if they are in AP classes. Highly selective colleges receive applications to fill their class from more than enough students who all present straight A’s in very advanced classes. If you’re looking at highly selective colleges, you probably need to aim for A’s in AP classes.

Finding Your “Fit”

If you can’t make mostly A’s in AP classes then, honestly, you might need to broaden your list of possible colleges. Include those that might not be quite as highly selective.

Part of the college admission process is about “fit.” If you’re not presenting the high school academic profile of students who are typically successful at that particular college in their classrooms full of students who all breezed through AP classes with A’s, then it’s not going to be a good fit. It’s the job of the Admissions office to make the appropriate decisions.

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A very small percentage of students ultimately attend highly selective institutions, though. So let’s talk about the average, or typical, college review process. Colleges want to see that you’ve challenged yourself in the context of what was offered at your school. If your school offered 26 AP classes, you should probably have a few on your transcript. Conversely, if your school didn’t offer AP classes, then you likely won’t be penalized in the review process for not having any.

AP (or IB or DE, etc.) classes are designed to prepare you for college level work. If you’ve had the opportunity to complete this level of coursework, you’ll likely transition well to college coursework. Colleges want to select students who are most likely to succeed in their classrooms.

A Good Mix

Over the years, my best advice was take as many AP classes as possible while still maintaining a good mix of A’s and B’s while also staying involved in a few interests (sports, Scouts, job, volunteerism, etc.) outside the classroom.

For most colleges, this will place you at least in a competitive range for admission on the academic side of things. Just remember that academic performance, while very important, is not the only factor colleges consider when making admission decisions. Most colleges use a holistic review process. If all you have to present is a strong academic record then you may not be a top candidate. Balance is key.

What are your plans for your classes? College students, was taking an AP class worth it? Discuss on our Facebook page or on Twitter! We’d love to hear from you!



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