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Calculus AB vs BC?

julie239julie239 Registered User Posts: 9 New Member
edited June 2012 in College Admissions
I will be a junior next year and I am debating whether to take AB or BC calculus. This is my current schedule:
AP calculus AB or BC?
Honors Spanish III
AP english language and composition
Honors criminal law and justice
AP environmental science

At my school, both classes are year long. BC calculus covers both AB and BC, so I'm assuming it moves twice as fast as AB. My pre-cal teacher told me to take BC, although I'm a little hesitant. Math has always been the hardest subject for me. I have made A's in all my highschool math classes (geometry, algebra II, pre-cal), but I have had to work hard for them at times. I found geometry and trig to be much easier for me then alegbra II or the alegbra parts of pre-cal. One of my main questions is how much harder is BC than AB? Is there a lot more material covered in BC than in AB?

I am normally a person who wants to take the hardest classes and challenge myself as much as possible, but math is a subject where I'm not completely 100% confident because I have struggled a little in the past. I want to take BC because I know it will look better for college, but I also have a lot of other AP's next year, plus several extracurriculars. I don't want to stress myself out too much next year by tackling BC and finding out that it's too much for me to handle. Will it hurt my admissions to college if I take AB over BC, or will this not be all that important to colleges? Do I have a tough enough schedule as it is or should I try to push myself by taking BC?

Any advice is appreciated and thank you to anyone who read this whole thing!
Post edited by julie239 on

Replies to: Calculus AB vs BC?

  • rspencerspence Registered User Posts: 2,118 Senior Member
    Regardless of what you take, it shouldn't hurt your admissions much (unless you're applying to Caltech/MIT, even then it won't matter much).

    IMO, BC's only a little harder than AB. In AB, you learn limits, differentiation (i.e. how to find the instantaneous rate of change of a function), differentiation techniques, integration (inverse of differentiation, think "area under a curved function"). In BC, you learn everything in AB, as well as some additional integration techniques, and series (including Taylor and Maclaurin series).

    IMO, I would go with BC. It's a little faster pace, but worth it. In fact, some colleges (e.g. MIT) take AP credit from BC but not AB. Four AP's is quite manageable; I know students who took six AP's in one year and got 5's on most or all of them.

    Good luck with junior year!
  • nancydrewfannancydrewfan Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    Hi. You're lucky to be able to have the choice to take Calculus BC as a junior! I was only given the option to take Calculus AB in my junior year (I'm still a junior). Does your school offer any higher level math classes other than calculus AB and BC? If there is a higher level math class, then take BC as a junior, and then take the higher level math class in your senior year. If Calculus BC is the highest level math class your school offers (like mine) then take AB as a junior and BC as a senior. That is what I did and plan to do. I'm sure you'll be able to handle AB or BC just fine. Just some advice: buy some AP review books and look over them! Otherwise, you might end up like me, and trust me. With five AP classes and exams, it wasn't easy to cram during exam weeks. You shouldn't be totally certain that you'll cover all of the material you'll need for the exam. It's better to be prepared and study as early as you can (that goes for the SATs and ACTs too!). Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way! I hope it works out well for you and that the choice you make will benefit you!
    PS: college likes to see you challenge yourself!
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 62,890 Senior Member
    When I was in high school, the students who reached calculus as juniors (two years ahead of the normal sequence, not very common) were the top students in math. Such students took BC (then the only calculus offered at the school), and did not think it was that hard while getting an A in the course, getting a 5 on the AP test, and doing well in subsequent college math courses.
  • LakemomLakemom Registered User Posts: 2,946 Senior Member
    I think your load is heavy enough, I would suggest AB as a Jr and BC as a Sr. Our school only offers math above BC if there are enough students to take it, which there are not. If you take AB, it will set you up to do well in BC as a senior without stressing yourself.
  • julie239julie239 Registered User Posts: 9 New Member
    AP statistics is also offered at my school, and I was planning on taking that my senior year. My only problem with taking BC my senior year is that it is only offered with the AB/BC class, meaning that I would have to join the class at the beginning of the second semester. They may have already started covering BC material by the time I join the class, but hopefully not.
  • LakemomLakemom Registered User Posts: 2,946 Senior Member
    You mean they do AB over a single semester instead of a entire year? So it is AB one semester and BC the next? I'm confused. Each are an entire year at our HS.
  • nancydrewfannancydrewfan Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    If your school does offer AP Statistics, then I suggest you take BC junior year and Statistics senior year. Or you could do Statistics junior year and BC senior year. I'm not sure which one is harder. Like I said, buy some review books for AP Calculus. I personally prefer Princeton Review. They have a book for both AB and BC, and it's a good review of the course material. You should be fine as long as you review over the summer. Maybe you could go and talk to the AP Calculus BC teacher and ask if he or she have any suggestions as to what you should do to prepare over the summer for the class. Hope that helps!
  • julie239julie239 Registered User Posts: 9 New Member
    Yes, there is one class that does AB one semester and BC the next semester. And then there is another class that does AB all year long, but there is no class offered for BC all year long. I would really love to do both, but just not all in one year. So I guess I could do AB next year and try to take the BC portion the second semester of my senior year, as long as I don't forget everything covered in AB by then. And thank you for the review suggestions, I will definitely check out the princeton review this summer so I can start reviewing this summer.
  • LakemomLakemom Registered User Posts: 2,946 Senior Member
    Ah, I see. Well if you took AB in Jr. year, you would have to do some kind of review fall Sr. year to get your head back into it to to take BC spring Sr year.

    You would also have the fall semester to fill to match something before Calc BC if there is a semester of something you think you would like to take.

    Alternatively, if you started with the AB/BC sequence Jr year and you felt the load was to hard, would they let you transfer down to the full year AB class?
  • julie239julie239 Registered User Posts: 9 New Member
    Yes, I would probably have to do some review to get myself back into it. I would probably take another non-math class the fall semester of my senior year, seeing as AP statistics is almost always offered in the spring at my school and all of the other math classes are ones that I am not interested in taking.

    I'm sure they would let me transfer down if I felt AB/BC was too hard, but from what I understand AB and AB/BC are usually not offered during the same class period. So if I did want to transfer, my whole schedule would have to be altered and I may not be able to switch because it may interfere with some of my required classes. There is still a chance that both classes could be offered during the same class period though.
  • LakemomLakemom Registered User Posts: 2,946 Senior Member
    Hmm, you are probably right, the period times wouldn't match up. That would be a drag to have to swap schedules.

    AP Stat is also a entire year at our HS. Interesting that schools do things so differently. Our HS has very few semester classes overall.

    I think if there is a semester class you would like that would match up with BC (which means it also has to be in the same time slot) then you could consider it. Maybe your guidance counselor has a idea of what would be available.

    The only real advantage to taking BC in HS is that if you are planning to major in something in college where you need Calc, then taking BC and getting a high enough score on the AP exam allows you to skip the first semester in college.

    If you don't plan on majoring in a science, then you may not even need Calc so taking AB will be fine. My friend's son majored in business. So he got to use his Calc BC credit and Physics credit for school credit because business majors don't need those subjects. I guess they applied it elsewhere.
  • rspencerspence Registered User Posts: 2,118 Senior Member
    If your school offers AP Stats, it's probably better to take Calc BC junior year and Stats in senior year (or vice versa). Stats is very useful for just about any science.

    You could also take multi-variable calculus or linear algebra if your school offers it (my school does, but only to the top students). I had the opportunity to take multi-variable calculus my senior year. It's a lot more fun than single-variable calculus IMO :)
  • julie239julie239 Registered User Posts: 9 New Member
    I think the reason why AP stats is only one semester at my school is because most classes are only one semester long, with some of the AP classes being exceptions. My school is on block schedule, so all of our classes are 90 minutes long.

    I have thought about majoring in a science, possibly biology. I kind of want to be a dentist or orthodontist but I'm starting to reconsider because I know it involves a lot of math and chemistry. I've also considered a career in law. As you can see I'm really undecided at this point, so I don't know if BC will be beneficial to me or not.

    And my school does not offer multi-variable calc or linear algebra, so I think BC is the highest I can go.
  • LakemomLakemom Registered User Posts: 2,946 Senior Member
    That explains it. My son has a friend who goes to school in North carolina and they do block scheduling too.

    Hope you are able to decide. As I said before, if you don't take BC in HS then you can just start with Calc in college. You will have so much other AP credit, that will also lighten your college load.
  • tangentlinetangentline Registered User Posts: 1,113 Senior Member
    AB + BC = double the weighted GPA.
    ~The college I'm going to BC doesn't get you any further than AB did, but some let you go right to multi-variable after BC.

    Spending a whole year on AB though feels incomplete and is really slow, taking on BC too shouldn't be too much of a challenge because the material can be learned pretty quickly. In case you're doing Calculus competitions, AB people are at a huge disadvantage :D
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