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To AP or Not to AP and Which APs?

Today's blog wraps up the four-part series: The High School Schedule for Highly Selective Colleges. In the first week, we discussed how colleges analyze your high school classes and compare you to your peers in your own school before they compare you to the rest of the applicant pool. Here's the link if you missed it. Then we discussed the anti-study hall mentality that is imperative for establishing the right attitude toward classes in the eyes of highly selective colleges. Nearing the end of our Schedule Series, we shared what is considered the best high school schedule to be competitive with other applicants to highly selective colleges. Catch up here. Now we come to the final end of talking about high school class schedules (WHEW!) - you made it! Our discussion today is two-fold: first, should you even take AP classes, and second, which APs should you take?

To AP or Not to AP?

It's not as difficult a question as Shakespeare's "To Be or Not To Be?", but it could be just as confusing. As you've learned, taking a challenging schedule at your school is a necessary element to your college application to highly selective colleges. But, is that your only option? For many schools, there are classes that are dubbed as College Credit Plus. That's when you take classes at your high school, taught by your high school teacher, but you earn college credits from a university or college. The credits are also used toward your high school credit hours as well. This is called Dual Enrollment. Like APs, CCP classes are weighted in grading, so it can boost your GPA just like taking an AP course. Now, you won't find Harvard or Yale involved with College Credit Plus (CCP), but college credit is college credit no matter from whom it comes. Play your cards right, and you can actually have a whole college semester or more under your belt before setting foot on your future campus! This can save you time, money, and even buy you the opportunity to explore your interests outside your primary major by minoring or double majoring, all within four years of time. So, if given the choice between an AP class and a CCP class on the same subject, which should you choose?

There you sit contemplating your English class choices for next semester. Staring you in the face you evaluate your options before you: AP English and Literature & Composition or CCP English Composition and Literature. Either fulfill the English requirement, but which one to choose? Here are some things to think about:

  1. Are you trying to earn an AP Scholar award from College Board? If so, you'll need to line up your AP courses accordingly. Besides the fact that you need to score well, you also need enough APs to qualify. The highest award, AP Scholar with Distinction, is granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams. The least amount of APs to get any AP Scholar award is at least three courses. If this is your goal, take the AP course.

  2. Are you a good test taker? If you truly hold your own on standardized tests, then take the AP class. If you busted out in laughter at the question, then take the CCP class. When you take a CCP, you still earn college credit, even if you got a B in the class. With AP classes, unless you score a 3, 4, or 5, you ain't gettin' nothing! In fact, most highly selective colleges are looking for you to score at least a 4 to earn any credit at their university. That's a big gamble if test-taking isn't your game. Take the CCP class.

  3. My school doesn't offer CCP classes, and I'm not a good test taker. Now what? You can still earn college credit - on your own. You can take online classes or classes at a local college as a guest student to earn college credit that, more than likely, could be transferred. It just won't be applied toward your high school transcript or high school GPA.

Each college's requirements are different, so if you have a certain institution in mind, do your research on their rules and criteria when it comes to transferring credit from college-level courses you've taken prior to arriving.

Although both have the potential of earning you college credit before ever stepping foot on a college campus, taking the AP route can be a bit more risky and less of a guarantee. Both routes will earn you credibility in the eyes of an admissions counselor because taking AP or CCP classes is the more challenging path at any high school.

Which APs?

Maybe you don't have a choice in the matter, but you've decided to go the way of the AP. Now the question becomes, which APs should I take? The list below isn't saying you take ALL of them, but four APs during your high school career is pretty much the norm to remain competitive as an applicant. When deciding within a certain category, you'll do your best if you take the subject you are most interested in learning more about. Many highly selective colleges suggest the following subject areas to make college admission rep hearts go all-a-flutter.

• Foreign Languages

• Sciences: biology, physics, chemistry

• Math: calculus AB or BC, statistics (many take calculus and stats simultaneously)

• English literature or language

• History: US; European; government and politics comparative; government and politics US

• Macro and micro economics

• Music theory

•Capstone has been gaining some traction (AP Seminar/AP Research) if you could fit it and you're interested in taking a deep dive

Remember, any AP, CCP, or advanced class is worthwhile.

These are hard and important choices to make that could affect your future college considerations. I get it. But take a deep breath and be honest with yourself. What's a manageable workload that still leaves you time to explore subjects you find interesting that aren't school-related? Will taking one more AP or CCP class disrupt your happiness balance? Are you ready for this level of instruction? Sacrificing your health, mental and/or physical, and well-being is never worth it. Be kind to yourself and make the best choice for YOU.

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