Schools around the country offer different programs to challenge their students and to enable their students to earn college credit while in high school. Schools, though, tend to only offer one of the programs, so some students worry that their curriculum is not up to the same standards as other schools’ curricula. This fear especially arises for students looking to go to top schools that do not have access to any of these programs. That being said, there is no need to freak out about this! Colleges are well aware that every high school is a bit different. All they want to see is that you took advantage of the educational opportunities available to you.
Yale states on their website that the admissions counselors “only expect that you will excel in the opportunities to which you have access” (Yale University Admissions). Stanford wants its applicants to “take advantage of the opportunities available to you in high school” (Stanford Undergraduate Admission). Colleges across the country know that every school is different, so in order to give every student a fair chance at admission, they view each student’s transcript in the context of the school’s academic offerings. Students without AP classes, for example, will not be penalized for making the most out of their high school curriculum. Instead, those students would simply be expected to take the most challenging courses their high schools had. On the other hand, students with easy access to a well-established AP program who take very few to no AP courses will struggle to impress admissions counselors because they did not take advantage of the challenging curriculum available to them.
Now, don’t overstretch yourself by signing up for every single AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment course available in your high school. Colleges certainly are not expecting you to spend every waking moment doing homework. Instead, strike a healthy balance with your schedule where you are taking interesting courses that challenge you academically and enrich your learning experience. Taking difficult classes that you are genuinely interested in is a great move.
Some students are lucky enough to have access to multiple challenging programs. AP, IB, and Dual Enrollment are three common ways students can earn college credit through difficult coursework and exams in high school. Students aiming to go to selective colleges should target these courses, if available, during their high school careers. However, these three programs offer vastly different opportunities, and often, only one curricula can be pursued.
Advanced Placement (AP) Program:
The Advanced Placement (AP) program is run by the College Board, the same company that runs the SAT. AP courses go in depth on a topic and are centered around an AP Exam, which is taken in May. The courses cover the college-level material and skills tested by the exam. Currently, 38 exams are offered in areas like Physics, Calculus, English, and History. A complete list of topics is available on the AP website. The exams contain both multiple choice and free response sections, and they are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. Students who earn qualifying scores can earn college credit or skip introductory courses. (Scores of 3 and above are commonly accepted for credit, but every college has their own policy. Check with your college’s AP credit policy to see the minimum scores necessary.) The AP program has no set order or list of required courses. Instead, students pick which courses appeal to them. AP courses are excellent for motivated students looking to take difficult classes and earn college credit in a variety of areas.
International Baccalaureate (IB) Program:
The International Baccalaureate program is an internationally recognized education curriculum. The program started in 1968, and it is run by the International Baccalaureate Organization. The curriculum includes 6 advanced courses with standardized exams in various subjects like literature, foreign language, science, and math. The IB Diploma program also requires an elaborate essay and presentation of the Theory of Knowledge, an in-depth research essay, and a Creativity, Activity, and Service project. Specific details on individual courses and projects are available on the IB website. IB courses are offered in Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) difficulties. Students take 3 to 4 HL courses with exams, and, with qualifying scores, students can claim college credit from those HL exams. Students who fulfill all of the requirements for the IB Diploma can earn the special diploma upon graduation. IB programs are great for students looking for a multifaceted high school curriculum with challenging independent work.
Some school districts allow eligible students to take classes at local community colleges or universities with undergraduate students for both high school and college credit. Students receive transfer credit that can be sent to colleges upon matriculation, and, in some cases, students receive an associate’s degree upon graduation. Dual enrollment policies differ by school and by school district, so if it is available, research your local area’s policies. Some colleges do not accept dual enrollment credits, so double check to see if the colleges you are interested accept transfer credit from community colleges. Dual enrollment is a great option for students looking to take real college classes while still in high school.
Students who are offered the opportunity to pursue any of these three programs should pick the one that best fits their educational goals and interests. All of them offer opportunities for earning college credit, but they have different teaching styles (high school versus college classroom) and different curriculum requirements (individual courses versus full degree plans). College admissions officers view all of these three programs as equals in terms of rigor. As long as students are challenging themselves with the opportunities that are available to them, college admissions officers will not be too concerned whether AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment courses were taken.