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How to Schedule “Rigorous” High School Classes Colleges Want

Colleges will look closely at the level of rigor a student has in their schedule.  What does “rigor” really mean? Honestly, something different for each student.  Rigorous courses are meant to challenge the student; colleges want to see that a student has appropriately challenged herself.

Choosing rigor can start as early as eighth grade when many students have the opportunity to jump-start high school by taking high school courses for credit.  If a student is ready for that level of work, go for it! Keep in mind, grades earned in these courses will in most cases impact the high school GPA and class rank which eventually will be of paramount importance for college application.

Once in high school, students have a choice on what “level” of a course to take. College prep, accelerated, honors, dual enrollment, college credit plus or AP are among the choice in increasing level of rigor. This is where there really is no one right fit.  While a student may be honors or even AP material in math, for instance, he may never be ready for anything beyond college prep in English.  That is okay.  Do not feel pressured to take on more than you can handle. Getting in over your head can result in lower grades and a stressed-out year.  It’s not worth it.

Are you ready for more “rigor”?

If a student is getting straight A’s in college prep classes, the admissions team will be left wondering why the student didn’t throw in an honors class or two to challenge herself.  In many cases, the college would rather see a student earn a B in a more challenging weighted course or two than straight A’s in less challenging courses. Just ask on your college visits.

For juniors or seniors toying with taking AP courses, it can feel like jumping off into the deep end wondering if you can thrive or survive. There are several indicators considered in making the right decision.  First is your current teacher’s recommendation.  Ask her if you are AP material.  Your teacher sees who you are every day as a student and should know the expectations of the AP courses in her department. Finally, if you’ve taken the PSAT, Collegeboard identifies your AP potential in your score report online.

In the end, do what’s right for YOU and your educational goals.  It is the rare student who can take 4 AP courses and not be part of the 56% identified as being “in over their heads” in a Thomas Fordham Institute study. Balance is what you’re striving for.

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