AP or College Courses

My daughter is finishing up her senior year in high school. I’ve been reading the book Who Gets in and Why and it has me thinking whether it’s better for college admissions to take AP courses at her high school or taking college courses at a regional campus for a state university? She took an AP course her sophomore year and got a B in the course and a 3 on the exam. Now in her junior year she decided to take 12 credits at the university and only one course, Honors Spanish III at her high school. She has all A’s in her college courses and a B in Spanish. Her GPA was 4.3 for the first semester. Her senior year she planned to take AP Spanish in high school and 4 college courses, Calculus and Chemistry and two other courses. She’s retaking the ACT but so far her highest score is 24, this is not a super score.

My D’s HS recommended AP courses over dual credit college courses. I think they are more of a “known entity” for colleges because the AP tests are standardized so everyone is learning/mastering the same material. There can be big differences in college courses depending on the school. The AP courses at my D’s school were definitely more rigorous than the dual credit college courses she took.

That said, I think it depends on the courses and also the type of colleges you are looking at.

And FWIW, it was easier for my D to get AP credit from her college. For AP courses, there was a grid with what score you needed and which classes you could place out of. For dual credit courses, she had to send the syllabus and course material and they weren’t approved until just a few weeks before classes started.

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Our experience was the same.

Of course, it matters what the college courses are. Some courses may be more advanced than AP courses, or be in subjects not offered in high school (AP or otherwise).

The other thing to consider is that if a high school student takes a regular college course at a college (not a “college course in the high school” type of course) that may give the student an idea of and experience with how college courses operate (i.e. with less supervision and requiring more of the student’s own self-motivation and time management) before diving into it as a frosh in college. That may make the adjustment to college less difficult for some students.

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One thing to keep in mind is that college courses will be “forever”. For college and grad school she will be required to list all college courses taken (and supply transcripts). For a student who gets A’s in those courses, not an issue. But a kid who finds the colleges classes tougher than expected when taken at age 16 or 17, those grades will always be part of their overall college gpa.

Another thing that may or may not matter depending on what college she enrolls in is repeating the class. One reason freshman science classes can be so tough at a system like UC in CA is that students taking a class for the first time ever are competing with grades with those who took the AP class (and perhaps even the test). These latter students may decide they didn’t understand it as well as they’d like and so they retake it in college, choosing not to report those AP scores. Someone taking the same class in college doesn’t have this option, they must report the class.

All the courses she’s taking are at the college. She’s taken College Writing I & II, Algebra for Calculus, Trigonometry, 2 History courses, nutrition and a theatre course. This coming fall she will take Chemistry with a lab and Calculus plus two other courses. Her college advisor told her not to take any sciences this year because of Covid and classes being online only. So far she’s gotten all A’s and a couple A-'s.

She’s gotten all A’s and A-'s in the college courses she’s taken so far, College Writing I, Nutrition, American Politics and Algebra for Calculus. These were in the fall 2020. She’s still on track for A’s this spring semester in College Writing II, Theatre, Trigonometry and a World History course.

In terms of comparison to AP courses, the likely comparison:

Same level as AP:
College Writing I & II
Calculus (if regular, not business, calculus)
Chemistry with a lab (assuming general chemistry, not preparatory chemistry that is like high school chemistry)
2 History courses (if frosh/soph level; may be on topics not the same as AP history courses)
theatre (not an AP subject)

Lower level than AP:
Algebra for Calculus
Calculus (if business calculus)
Chemistry with a lab (if preparatory chemistry like high school chemistry)

Higher level than AP:
2 History courses (if junior/senior level)

I would agree that it depends on the associated college, but would recommend APs as the known entity.

Out HS has been on a “College in High School” kick, adding courses from local colleges but also just aligning existing courses with colleges to get “college credit” in exchange for fairly steep tuition prices. The Honors Chemistry course my older daughter took a few years back became “CHS Chemistry” when my younger took it last year with the local CC. Same course. (She’s now in AP Chem, a follow-on).

They require at least Sophomore standing, but the Honors Algebra 2 course she took in 8th is now “CHS Algebra 2”, for what has always been the standard honors 10th grade math class.

We haven’t bothered with the (several hundred $) tuition as I can’t see any decent school giving meaningful credit for what is basically HS Chem and Algebra courses.

The closest my oldest came was her Senior year AP/CHS Physics, which has been around a long time, offered by Pitt. They have additional tests for CHS students which are the actual tests are from the Physics for Engineers course that on-campus Freshman take (that’s what is on her Pitt transcript). But even there, she got an A- from Pitt and a B in the AP course.

My youngest also took a semester-long “CHS Sociology” course this semester. Started January 18, she’s already complete with a 99.7%.

So our experience has also been that AP courses are more rigorous and I’m confident AO’s realize this. But I’m sure it depends on the school. (Though Pitt Engineering isn’t exactly CC-level). And whether APs are available.

(My youngest took Sociology because they are weighted mid-way between Honors and AP and she needed 1 semester CHS of weighting to hit the cap).

College courses. APs are mostly ridiculous and not really like college courses at all.