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Understanding the advantages

Studies have shown that the rigor of a student's high school curriculum is the single best predictor of success in college. In his seminal study, The Tool Box Revisted: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2006), Clifford Adelman demonstrated that the academic intensity of a high school curriculum is essential to student success in college.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC) annual State of College Admissions survey consistently finds that student performance in college preparatory classes is the most important factor in the admission decision. With this in mind, encourage enrollment in honors and AP courses even if your students have the impression that only "top" students should take these courses or the fear that taking a challenging course might result in a lower GPA. Advanced-level courses are worth the extra effort.

Implications for admission

Students don't understand how much weight college admission officers give to advanced-level courses on an applicant's transcript. Explain to your students and their parents that admission officers are not impressed by straight As when they are all earned in easy courses. Many colleges recalculate applicants’ GPAs, giving extra points for honors or AP courses.

Students should take a balanced load, one that allows them to devote the necessary time to each course. Colleges look for quality, not quantity. According to Dan Saracino, former assistant provost for enrollment at the University of Notre Dame: "Nothing is more important than the quality of the course load."

If your school does not yet offer AP or honors courses, encourage students who have exhausted all your school offerings to enroll in courses at a local college.

Honors courses

Honors classes often offer the same curriculum as regular classes but are tailored for high-achieving students — covering additional topics or some topics in greater depth.

AP courses

  • Cover the breadth of information, skills and assignments found in corresponding college courses
  • Align with the standards and expectations of leading liberal arts and research institutions
  • Provide motivated and academically prepared students with the opportunity to study and learn at the college level

The College Board encourages all educators to make equitable access a guiding principle for their schools’ AP programs and to make every effort to ensure that their AP classes reflect the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of their student body.

Most U.S. colleges and many international ones have an AP Credit Policy that allows students who have taken AP courses or exams to earn college credit, placement or both.