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Do the high school classes students take really affect their college application?

The classes your child takes in high school say a lot to admissions officers reviewing their college applications. Admission officers are looking for students who are eager to learn, embrace challenges, and are always looking for the next opportunity to expand their knowledge — not the student that is taking a class because it’s easy and all of their friends are in it.

There are a few key things that admissions officers are on the lookout for when reviewing an applicant’s high school course selection:


Was there an upward trend of difficulty?


Did the student challenge themselves by taking rigorous classes?


Did the student maintain a favorable GPA?

Choosing classes

Selecting classes can be a confusing and difficult process for students, especially when it comes to finding the perfect balance between challenging themselves and boosting their GPA.

How can my child choose classes wisely?

Selecting high school classes can be overwhelming, especially when there are so many to choose from — AP, IB, Pre-AP, and more. Students are faced with the question, “Do I take easier classes for an easy A or do I challenge myself but run the risk of ruining my GPA?”.

That being said, students need to find the right level of difficulty for themselves. Often times high schools have periods at the beginning of each quarter, semester, or trimester where students can add or drop a class. This means that if a student feels like they aren’t being challenged enough — they can opt for a more difficult class. If a student feels like they are struggling — they can drop down a level.

Students should consult their high school counselor to find out the details of their add-drop period.

How does course selection impact GPA?

When selecting courses, you should do so with an eye on maximizing weighted GPA. Almost all schools offer weighting – or extra grade points — for AP and Honors courses, and also calculate student grades and class rank based on these weighted grades.

Your child should be focusing on selecting courses with weighted GPA in mind rather than unweighted. Even if his or her high school sends transcripts to colleges with unweighted GPAs listed, college admissions officers will adjust grades in AP/Honors courses upwards before evaluating for admission.

What type of courses should my child consider?

Honors Classes

These classes are usually specific to the high school, meaning they determine its standards. They offer a more rigorous version of a regular course and are fast-paced. If they are weighted, it’s usually at a lesser degree than AP and IB. An “A” in AP might be 5 points but an “A” in honors might be 4.5.

AP Classes

These classes provide students access to a standardized level of challenging coursework. If a student passes the AP exam, he or she may be able to earn college credit.

College Prep Courses

These classes refer to the core requirements of a high school in order to graduate. For example, one high school might require 4 years of English, 3 years of Math, 3 years of Science, and 3 years of Social Studies. These are standard classes and are between remedial and AP/IB/Honors classes.


These are classes that aren’t the “core” subjects — English, Math, Science, Foreign Language, and History. Students should use electives to find their passions and select classes that align themselves with future goals. For example, a student interested in a Business degree can opt for an Intro to Business class.


These classes, although highly regarded by college admissions officers, there are less than 2,000 high schools that offer them in the United States. They are available to 11th and 12th graders and the class runs over the course of two years. If a student passes the IB exam, he or she may be able to earn college credit.

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