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Calculus at Community College or AP Calc at High School?

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Replies to: Calculus at Community College or AP Calc at High School?

  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 9,855 Senior Member
    Online AP courses may be a good way to go.

    Placement policy at colleges, for students with good AP scores, can vary of course. Many top students at Ivies etc. do not take the most challenging level their first year, regardless of their AP scores and/or placement test results. Students have the option of taking a less difficult course than they are entitled to, and we have been surprised how many take that path.
  • nemomnemom Registered User Posts: 1,607 Senior Member
    Folks should also note that they don't have to take an AP class to take an AP test. So, if the level of teaching at the local CC (or U) is better than the high school, you could take calc there , and still sign up for the AP calc (AB or BC as makes sense). The only tricky part might be scheduling since AP exams can overlap with university schedules.
  • PaperChaserPopPaperChaserPop Registered User Posts: 1,291 Senior Member
    I don't think having only AB would matter much, even for an engineer.

    This is not true at the most selective engineering and science school. CalTech & MIT, for example, want to see 1 year of calculus. In college terms, that’s calculus BC. I’m sure they will still consider the applicants who only took Calculus AB, but these applicants would be at a disadvantage.
    All in all, the community college class was 'very easy' according to my son, and the transition to Calc in HS has been with some bumps this year

    Very true. In fact, there can also be a huge difference between State U and Top Private U. My son cruised to an easy A on Calc 1 at UMass. He is now taking Calc 2 at Harvard Extension, and he told me that Harvard is much harder than UMass. The UMass class is very straightforward and mechanical, but the Harvard class is more in depth and the questions are more complex. There were some Calc 1 techniques Harvard assumed that my son never learned at UMass.

    Timing is also important. Unless the student is planning on continuing math beyond Calc 2, it is best that Calc 2 is taking in the spring to match the AP exam in May. Unless your kid is really math oriented and enjoy doing math in his/her spare time, a semester break before taking Calc BC AP test can be problematic, especially if the student will be overloaded with other classes & activities. My son will complete Calc 2 this semester, and we are thinking about taking Calc 3 (MV) in the spring to avoid a semester gap before the AP test.
  • FindAPlaceFindAPlace Registered User Posts: 4,706 Senior Member
    My S took AP Calc BC his sophomore year and got a 5 on the exam, A's in the class. Since S expressed interest in a college major in the math/science area, his calc teacher encouraged him to take a more rigorous route than the next class in the HS, which was AP Stats. Since S had already taken some summer classes with JHU CTY, he opted to take their higher online courses. The HS agreed, after reading the syllabus and understanding how JHU CTY grades the classes and transmits that information, that these classes could show on his transcript. So he took and did well on Linear Algebra last year, and is taking Multivariable Calculus this year. The JHY CTY math classes are no cake walk. The tests are, in my H's opinion and he's a math prof at USC who has taught these classes in the past, too long and rigorous than needed. Anyway, S survived it and his junior year.
  • UCSDJake12UCSDJake12 Registered User Posts: 399 Junior Member
    My Calc 1 teacher at community college took test questions directly from AP tests. Experiences may vary, but the difficulty should generally be equal. I'd take it at the college just to be taught by a PhD, which won't happen again until you take upper division electives.
  • hudsonvalley51hudsonvalley51 Registered User Posts: 2,474 Senior Member
    If you are assuming that high school teachers don't hold a PhD. you would be wrong. My wife teaches with several PhD's at her formerly "at risk" public high school.
  • aigiqinfaigiqinf Registered User Posts: 4,032 Senior Member
    If you are assuming that high school teachers don't hold a PhD. you would be wrong. My wife teaches with several PhD's at her formerly "at risk" public high school.

    If you are assuming that a significant proportion of high school teachers hold a PhD, you would be wrong. On average, high school teachers will hold at degree in something like "Math Education" or "History Education" and possibly have a Masters in "Math/Science Education." At least at a community college, you can be pretty certain the instructor has a Masters in that subject. Top high school vs. community college is not battle, but run-of-the-mill high school vs. community college? I'd go to the community college.
  • hoveringmomhoveringmom Registered User Posts: 383 Member
    To add to the discussion, many community college classes are far easier than AP Calc, particularly BC. In addition, the university has no way of knowing the college's grading curve, even if the college is a traditional one like U of Mass. There is often significant grade inflation in many college classes, so that a B in a college class could mean anything, from a potential 2 in an AP test to a 5. I also second the poster who said that many colleges won't accept credit from community or other colleges (for the above reasons).

    My advice:
    1. No matter whether you decide to take your high school AP class or a college one, or do it online, take the AP exam, preferably BC if you are up to it. This will give the college admissions people a chance to see what your grade really means. (This holds for high school too; many high schools call it "AP" when it's really not. If you get an A in your class, but a 2 on the test, this will sadly tell admissions that your class was a piece of cake.)
    2. If your high school is competitive and offers AP classes, you will absolutely need to explain why you took the college class. The reason is that competitive high schools often make that A very difficult to earn, so some students avoid the tough high school teacher and take the community college or college class, where there will be grade inflation in most cases. Then they say it 'looks good.' College admission officers are not stupid.
    3. The only legitimate reasons I can think of for not taking your high school's AP Calc class is a) you are already far beyond this (but take the AP test anyway) or b) you have some major scheduling conflict that the guidance counselor can verify. IN that case you shouldn't have gym class or lunch, and c) your high school offers the class but it is not really AP--it's not competitive and you know you won't learn enough. Admissions officers know which schools these would be, so if you go to Bronx High School of Science and try to say your AP Calc class isn't competitive enough, they'll know it's baloney.
  • hoveringmomhoveringmom Registered User Posts: 383 Member
    PS For the poster who claims that a good high school teacher needs to hold a PhD and that therefore the student should take a community college class, well, I'd have to disagree -- if the high school is a competitive one.

    I myself am a high school teacher with an MFA who has taught AP Language and Literature (have taught college too). More importantly, many colleagues I know don't hold a Masters or PhDs, but are remarkable AP teachers--they are just brilliant educators, have been highly trained in AP (there are workshops you go to and you can also sit on the scoring board). Whereas many community college teachers are untrained teachers and have little support. They may be fantastic - I've known many who are - but trust me, as a community college teacher myself, you are basically told "Teach," given a syllabus, and that's that. Don't assume that just because someone holds a PhD,they're a great teacher. Of course, you need content knowledge to be a good teacher, but most math teachers will have content knowledge for Calculus, which is pretty easy stuff.

    However, if the school is noncompetitive or poorly funded and the teacher is not really teaching AP but merely an honors class (check the students' average AP score in the school to gauge how effective the classes have been), then you should go to a community college or online. But you always need to take the AP exam.
  • TheMan777TheMan777 Registered User Posts: 685 Member
    My S took AP Calc BC his sophomore year and got a 5 on the exam, A's in the class. Since S expressed interest in a college major in the math/science area, his calc teacher encouraged him to take a more rigorous route than the next class in the HS, which was AP Stats. Since S had already taken some summer classes with JHU CTY, he opted to take their higher online courses. The HS agreed, after reading the syllabus and understanding how JHU CTY grades the classes and transmits that information, that these classes could show on his transcript. So he took and did well on Linear Algebra last year, and is taking Multivariable Calculus this year. The JHY CTY math classes are no cake walk. The tests are, in my H's opinion and he's a math prof at USC who has taught these classes in the past, too long and rigorous than needed. Anyway, S survived it and his junior year.

    I agree with your assessment of JHU CTY mathematics. I felt the were abnormally hard (i took it when I was in 8/9th grade via online courses. They are LONG and fairly difficult.. I used my Algebra I skills up till Geometry, Algebra II/Trig, and even a little bit of precalc.

    I can only imagine what your son had to go through for Linear Algebra and now Calc III.

    On another note adding on to what I had posted earlier - AP credits do not count as transfer credits - but college classes do. So you may want to consider planning out a "possible" schedule and how transfer credits may fit in (if you want to take the classes at a cheaper college)..
  • maligirlmaligirl Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    So to summarize some solid advice across a bunch of posts so far...

    1) Understand that there are 3 main reasons the "AP Calc vs. Community College" question may come up, and the right answer will be different based on different reasons for asking the question:

    --Application purposes: "I want my college application to reflect the best possible level of competence so they'll accept me"

    --Placement purposes: "I don't want to have to take something in university that I could get out of the way in high school; I want to be able to just jump in at a higher level"

    --Credit purposes: "I want to be placed at a higher level AND be awarded credit toward my major or general education requirements at the university I go to."
    (This is the trickiest goal to shoot for because it involves the most variables: prestige of the college you're shooting for; quality of your high school; quality of your community college; how well the cc class versus the AP exam mirror course content of equivalent classes at the university you're shooting for. The best approach involves calling up 1) colleges you're interested in, 2) the community college math department, and 3) the AP math teacher at your high school--and asking each of these your "AP vs. community college" question. DO NOT take just one or two of these three sources as the gospel truth; compare their answers and use that to make a decision.)

    2) Go where your learning experience will be the best. If you KNOW your high school's AP Calc class is a joke, then of course choose community college. If you know, deep down, that the reason you're interested in a community college class is that it might be easier than your high school's AP, that's a good indication that you need to stick with AP. (And I'd say you're in competent hands if your high school's AP Calc class generally has a few students who earn 5s every year.)

    3) AP Calc AB and AP Calc BC are two VERY different propositions as you're deciding whether to do AP or community college. If your high school only offers AB (even if it's taught well), don't spend a year in AP Calc AB (equivalent to Calc I placement/credit) if you can take Calc I and II at the community college.

    4) AP exams serve colleges as a sort of universal measure of achievement, and whether you take an "AP" class or not, you should take the AP EXAM anyway--if for no other reason than to validate, in a sense, what you did elsewhere. This holds whether you're interested in college applications, placement, or being awarded credit. Even if you have a good reason for taking a cc class (e.g. the high school AP teacher is incompetent and nobody in the class does better than a 2), and you get an A in the cc class, still take the AP test. It's undeniable that a cc "A" resulting in a 5 carries a lot more weight than a cc "A" resulting in a 3.
  • nemomnemom Registered User Posts: 1,607 Senior Member
    Well put maligirl. You also need to consider what sort of college and degree you are aiming for. If you are a liberal arts person, unlikely to actually make much use of Calc once you are in college, then , in all probability, passing the AP AB test, through whatever route is best , is more than sufficent. If you are interested in science/engineering/math, then look at the policies for the schools you are interested in.
    Consider the logistics as well. CCs and colleges run on different schedules than high schools and it can be difficult to coordinate them. If you can, talk to kids at your school who have tread the path before you and see what they say.
  • GeekMom63GeekMom63 Registered User Posts: 1,957 Senior Member
    Agreeing with maligirl here on taking the test as well as the class. My son (VERY math-focused) took calc at the CC primarily because we're homeschooling and he's taking LOTS of classes there. He also took physics at the CC. He took Calc BC and Phys C (both parts) AP tests and got a 5 on each. We feel like it does more than validate those classes, but validates the entire CC experience. AP tests are universal gold standard. NOT TO SAY that they are necessarily the best way to teach a class, etc., but that they are respected as a benchmark.

    ALSO, we're finding that lots of colleges don't allow transfer credit for college classes taken while in high school, but will grant AP credit.
  • mintylinguistmintylinguist Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    I'm surprised to hear some people having trouble having their kids community college Calculus class cleared at their 4 year University. Majority of community college classes (especially the essential ones like math, foreign language etc) are quite easily transferable.
    AP classes are typically harder than just taking it at a local community college.
    I know a young lady that basically dropped out of high school, got her g.e.d just so she can start community college early, by the time she was 18 she was at Caltech with more than a year already finished of college level courses.
    Majority of University professors send their own kids to local colleges to start college credit early rather than gruel through AP.
  • skyfallskyfall Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
    i think that ap classes are easier than college but since I am in high school i wouldnt know about the college classes. Also, it depends on the college you go to.
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