#The High School Experience

When we speak to students about the five factors under your control, one of the most important factors is grades and rigor. Colleges look not only at grades a student earned in a class but also at the difficulty of the class in which the grade was earned. While selecting courses is about balancing mental health, academic rigor, and a student’s other interests,  students applying to the most selective colleges and universities should strive to earn the highest grades possible in the most rigorous courses they can take.  

However, discerning the most rigorous courses can be easier said than done, as schools can offer various options, including International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, and Dual Enrollment. Some high schools offer none of these options; some offer one, while still others offer more than one. 

So, what does each course type mean, and how do you choose between them? 

Advanced Placement

Coordinated by the College Board, these rigorous courses come in various subjects and offer the ability to take an Advanced Placement exam at the end of the year. Depending on a student’s score and the policies of the college they choose to attend, they may be able to use these scores to place out of introductory college courses. 

Because you can choose AP courses a la carte, this option may be better for students who wish to explore a few subjects in depth. For instance, a student may take AP Physics and Calculus, but honors history and English, or vice versa. It also gives a student the chance to explore non-core subjects, like Psychology and Economics, with high rigor. 

International Baccalaureate

The IB program offers an internationally recognized diploma after a two-year course of study. Students take 7 IB courses each year, designating at least 3 “Higher Level” courses to focus on over junior and senior years. Its international recognition allows students to be recognized for their achievements beyond the United States. This program can be useful for students considering going abroad for college. Colleges and universities may also offer college credit or placement for IB courses.

International Baccalaureate courses are typically regarded as having the same rigor as AP courses. However, because they are frequently offered as a program, students may have less flexibility to explore one subject over another. 

Dual Enrollment

While AP and IB courses remain roughly the same from high school to high school, dual enrollment courses can vary. Rather than being administered by a centralized organization (College Board or the International Baccalaureate Organization), high schools partner with specific colleges and universities to make college courses available to their students. Because of this, speak with your counselor about any available dual enrollment program. 

At its best, dual enrollment offers an authentic college experience that allows the student to pursue topics they may not otherwise be able to pursue. For instance, students who have exhausted their high school math or language offerings may be able to find offerings that appeal to them. Students may also be able to pursue more specific courses. However, dual enrollment credit may or may not be accepted by the university a student eventually attends. Students should remember that not every college class will be as rigorous as the most demanding high school classes. Students should also not replace high school core classes with elective college courses.

Overall, any of these options can offer valuable and fulfilling options for students. However, if your high school only offers one (or none) of these options, don’t worry! When it comes to college applications, admissions officers evaluate students based on the context of their school. They will have received a school profile (a document created and sent by your counselors) that explains the courses available to students at your high school.

Still have more questions? We’re here to chat!