Picking your classes for next year might not feel like a momentous decision, but your class schedule can have a huge impact on your chances for college admission.
Year after year, college admissions officers identify grades and class difficulty as two of the most important factors in their admissions decisions. The schedule you create for yourself next fall will have a huge impact on these two factors, so choose wisely.
Learn more about what college admissions officers look for in our 3-part series:
- What College Admissions Officers Look For: Grades
- What College Admissions Officers Look For: Course Rigor
- What College Admissions Officers Look For: SAT and ACT Scores
Balancing Grades and Course Rigor
One of the most common questions from students is, “What’s better: an A in a regular class or a B in AP?
The best (if unpopular) answer is, “An A in an AP class.”
Getting top grades in tough classes is a balancing act. If you register for too many AP classes, you risk getting bad grades; if you take easy classes, you’ll get great grades but colleges will think you took the easy way out. It can seem like a no-win situation, but it’s really a matter of knowing your limits and being willing to seek help when you need it.
Start Out Slow
Rigorous classes like AP classes aren’t for the faint of heart. These classes require a lot of reading, a lot of effort, and a lot of time. Just as you wouldn’t try to run a marathon when you’ve always been a couch potato, you shouldn’t try to take a full load of AP classes without the proper preparation.
Preparation starts with your non-AP courses. If you’re already enrolled in honors or gifted level classes and earning top grades, you’ll probably be able to handle AP coursework. If you struggle in honors or gifted level classes or you’ve never taken an advanced course before, you might need help to succeed in an AP class. Study groups or tutoring can be useful as you transition into these difficult classes.
If you’ve never taken an AP class before, even if you’ve got a full load of honors classes on your plate right now, limit yourself to just 1 or 2 AP classes at first. This allows you to demonstrate a commitment to course rigor without placing your GPA at risk. Then, if you do well in these AP classes, you can take a heavier load next semester or next year.
Consider Your Experience This Year
What kind of classes did you take this year? How are you doing in them?
If you tested the waters with AP classes this year and you’re doing okay, you might consider increasing your AP load next year. Now that you’ve got a good idea of the demands of AP-level work, you should feel more confident deciding how many AP classes you can reasonably handle.
If you took some AP classes this year and you’re struggling, you need to be more careful with next year’s schedule. Increasing your AP class load next year isn’t likely to help your GPA any, so you probably want to either stick with your current number of AP classes or scale back a bit.
If you’re thinking about taking your first AP classes next year, think about how you’re doing in each subject. It’s not a good idea to take your first AP class in a subject area you struggle with.
Dealing With a Disappointing Schedule
What if your fall schedule ends up being terrible even after you carefully weigh your options when registering for classes this spring? Never fear: we’ve got some advice for making your tough fall schedule work for you.